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Ex-US President Jimmy Carter had brush with death twice during navy days

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Jimmy Carter

New Delhi: During his early days in the navy, there were two occasions when former US President Jimmy Carter nearly lost his life while serving on submarines, he reveals in his memoir. In “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety”, Carter, who was the US 39th President from 1977-1981, looks back on moments that changed his life and reflects on some of the memories that are especially important to him.

Some of these events, he says, affected him profoundly or taught him lessons, large and small. Others are amusing, and some makes him contemplate who he was at that time. There are also some that he enjoyed and savoured, and others that he wished had never happened or that he could change. The first of the two incidents when Carter had a brush with death was during a storm, which he says, exceeded anything he had known. “I was standing watch on the bridge about two hours after midnight, with my feet on the slatted wooden deck, when I saw an enormous wave dead ahead. I ducked down beneath the chest-high steel protector that surrounded the front of the bridge and locked my arms around the safety rail,” he recalls in the book, published by Simon and Schuster. The wave, however, smothered the ship, several feet above Carter’s head and he was ripped loose, lifted up and carried away from the ship.

“I could only swim around in the turbulent water, striving to reach the surface. This was my first experience with impending death, but when the wave receded I found myself on the main deck directly aft of the bridge and was able to cling to our five-inch gun,” he writes. The second incident took place when some error in opening of valves led to the ship “rolling over to the right as it was driven downwards by our planes at the bow and stern, and we approached the point of capsizing”.


Carter says only the furious blowing of high-pressure air into the tanks prevented the loss of the vessel and its crew. “This was the closest our ship ever came to a total disaster. I realised how fragile was my existence, and how fallible were even the most dedicated and experienced seamen.” Some of the more personal and intimate events of Carter’s life are covered in the book for the first time, including his 17 years as a farmer involved in local community affairs, his reasons for entering politics and eventually running for president, the campaigns themselves and some of the unpublicised things that happened to him or his family duringtheir years in the White House.

The book also mentions how Carter had an amazing interview with Admiral Hyman Rickover to get selected as one of the two young officers in a program to build atomic submarines. Carter also describes the profound influence his mother had on him, and how he admired his father even though he didn’t emulate him. He admits that he decided to quit the Navy and later enter politics without consulting his wife Rosalynn and how appalled he is in retrospect.  I spent four of my 90 years in the White House, and they were, of course, the pinnacle of my political life. Those years, though, do not dominate my chain of memories, and there was never an orderly or planned path to get there during my early life. At each step in my career, I made somewhat peremptory decisions about the next one,” he writes.

According to Carter, he had no idea of returning home during the 11 years when he served in the navy, or of running for political office while he was farming and expanding his business. “I ran for Congress and then shifted to governor to fill a competitive urge, and then really enjoyed making decisions as a top government executive. I saw the presidency as a way to accomplish specific goals that I considered important, decided four years in advance to be elected, and my entire family joined in the all-out campaign,” he says. He also says he wanted another term in White House, but seemed to be plagued with a series of misfortunes when the time for re-election came. “I look back on those four years with peace and satisfaction, knowing that I did my best and had some notable accomplishments. Vice President Mondale summarized our administration by saying, ‘We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace.’ I would add, ‘We championed human rights’.”