Doug Smith: Admiral Rickover helped shape his century

8 Jul

doug smith

Doug Smith: Author, historian and regular contributor to Free State Patriot.

“The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in war”

Admiral Hymen G Rickover


In 1904, half a century before my birth, Abraham the Tailor sent for his family in the Russian Empire, to join him in New York. I would owe Abraham a debt someday.  For he brought with him his son, Hymen.  Hymen was a very driven, scholarly, and hardworking boy. Demanding, and a loner, Hymen did not endear himself to people.  He was educated at the Naval Academy and at Columbia.

He did little to endear himself to the Navy brass either; ignoring rank in favor of ability, working hard and demanding the same of others. His standards were simple: Excellence. By 1948, he was head of the Naval Reactors brand of the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1954 he presided over the launch of the USS Nautilus, SSN 571, and the world’s first nuclear powered submarine.

My debt, and yours, to Admiral Hymen G Rickover, increased markedly that year. I was quite unaware of it, having not yet reached the level of a “twinkle in my Daddy’s eye.”  By the time I would make my entrance, late the following year, Nautilus would have signaled “Underway on Nuclear Power”, and would be on the way to circumnavigating the world, sailing to the North Pole, and steaming 250,000 miles under the oceans.

Under Rickover’s direction, the world’s first nuclear power plant would be built, around the time I turned 2.

A strong proponent for excellence in education and safety in Engineering, Hymen Rickover was the force behind a United States Nuclear force with a 60 year record of Zero serious accidents or deaths. Our Russian counterparts cannot make that claim.  That Naval Submarine Force was silently, secretly, but integrally involved in pressing back the Soviets during the Cold War, and behind us all, there was Rickover.


Yes, my more direct debt to Admiral Rickover.  As I grew up, so too, did the Submarine Force. On 4 July, 1976, I reported for duty to the USS Gato, SSN 615; a hard charging Permit class Attack Submarine, a sleek, silent, and deadly predator; a shark. I became a “steely eyed killer of the deep”; ready to do incredible violence on your behalf, to protect you, or perhaps your parents, from enemies on or beneath the seas. What did we do? Well, I could tell you, but then…  No. Much of what we did will never be told. But we were out there, between our homes and our enemy, and behind us was Hymen Rickover. His name and his spirit and his presence were felt on every boat in the fleet, and by every sailor calling them home.

He helped to shape his century. On this date, July 8th, in 1986, Admiral Hymen G Rickover died, and was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery. So today I will remember my debt to the tailor, and the engineer and leader.  Thanks, Abraham, for bringing him. And thanks, Admiral

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