Learning about the Father of Nuclear Navy

My son Garrett called from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington CVN-73, to say that Adm. Kirkland Donald was coming aboard for an inspection. He is the fourth successor as a nuclear power inspector since Adm. Hyman George Rickover. That got me curious as to who Rickover was and with the Internet so handy, I looked up "Father of the Nuclear Navy."

Rickover was born in Poland in a Jewish family before World War I while Poland was under Russian occupation. Lots of his family and village were killed during the Holocaust. His parents escaped and immigrated to the United States in 1905. Rickover graduated with honors in 1918 while holding down a full time job delivering Western Union telegrams. While maintaining this job he became friendly with a U.S. Congressman named Adolph Sabath. Sabath was a Czech Jewish immigrant who nominated Rickover for an appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

After graduating 107th out of 540, Rickover was commissioned as an ensign midshipmen in 1922. He was assigned to a new destroyer and so impressed his commander that he was promoted to ship's engineer, even though he didn't have the experience. He was then the youngest engineering officer in the squadron, less than one year from leaving the naval academy. Then he served on the battleship USS Nevada, BB-36.

He continued his education to earn a master of science degree in electrical engineering. While attending Columbia University, he met and married his first wife Ruth Masters who was a graduate student of international law.

At that point he volunteered for submarine duty. Did you know when you are in the Navy you have to volunteer for submarine duty? I didn't know this until Garrett was in boot camp. He is 6 feet 4 inches tall and I discouraged him from submarine duty. It was bad enough he split his head open on a pipe his first day on the aircraft carrier because he forgot to duck.

Anyway, in 1946 Rickover applied for a program that was going to develop a nuclear electric generating plant. The Navy needed creativity, drive, imagination and engineering expertise in a time frame that could result in a reliable nuclear reactor in a form which would fit into a hull with no more than a 28-foot beam. Rickover won many awards while in service to his country including two Congressional Medals.

Our son Garrett was complaining about spending 16 hours one day, 12 hours the next day and 16 hours the next day preparing for Adm. Donald and he was only in his compartment for five minutes. My husband said, "Get used to it."

One time his ship painted the entire right side of the ship for a seventh fleet admiral to come aboard and he entered from the left side.

Yep, get used to it.

-- Lisa Welch is a Johnson Lane resident and can be reached at 267-9350.


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