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WORLD FOCUS: A visit by Admiral Rickover

May 4, 2017
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

Tom Hanks of Williamsburg remembers clearly one of the official visits of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy," at the Newport News Shipyard in the early 1970s.

Hanks served as Senior Engineer in the Atomic Power Division at the Newport News Shipyard. He was part of the team working on the design and construction of the nuclear aircraft carrier CVN68, Nimitz.

The visit of Admiral Rickover, who directed the original development of naval nuclear propulsion, and controlled its operations for three decades, was an occasion of utmost importance. The senior personnel at the shipyard had been advised on how to behave in his presence.

"All concerned shall be courteous in answering questions or providing information, but shall not attempt to engage the Admiral in conversation," they were instructed.

No wonder that when Hanks was about twothirds down the ladder into the Reactor Auxiliary Room of the USS Nimitz, and encountered Admiral Rickover and his party as they were starting up the ladder, he retreated to avoid breaching any of the rules. And those rules were multiple.

A memorandum issued at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, another stop on Rickover's inspection tour, provides an example for hosting the Admiral.

"During the visit of Admiral Rickover, he will stay on board Tecumseh's living barge. ... He will be working and sleeping in the commanding officer's state room. He will eat and hold meetings in the Wardroom. ... The barge 02 level and barge topside area shall be kept clear of personnel other than Adm. Rickover, his visitors, CO. XO, and assigned personnel."

Additional rules instruct that there should be no smoking in the admiral's presence and no stereo music played. The barge announcing system could be used only in case of emergency. The level 02 stateroom and passageway area should be treated as flag country.

The supply officer received those instructions: Provide wooden clothes hangers. Have three pillows available. Have back rest available (naugahyde). Make up bunk with one blanket, one folded at foot. And have clothes, clean, pressed, ready: one khaki shirt, long sleeve, (141/2 x 32); one khaki trousers (33x29); one pair black nylon stretch sox (10x13,); one black jacket with name patch, but no dolphins.

There was a host of other items waiting for the admiral at his desk, from bond paper to three mechanical lead pencils, lemon drops, salted peanuts, fruit baskets, snacks, and vanilla ice cream. The wardroom mess servicemen were instructed to answer questions by "Yes, sir" and "No, sir," avoiding conversation. There should be three personnel to serve dinner and supper to the admiral and personnel should be available to shine shoes and provide haircut.

One item in the memorandum was indicative of Rickover's attitude toward pomp and circumstances.

"Following his wishes, there will be no honors or ceremonies for the admiral."

In an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette, Hanks said, "Based on my observations, Admiral Rickover was viewed as powerful, brilliant, and unapproachable. He was highly respected for his accomplishments in the Nuclear Navy, but was not a people person."

Indeed, military historians say that Rickover had such a profound effect on the Navy and its most powerful warships that he may well go down in history as one of the Navy's most important officer. He is the only person who has ever been awarded two Congressional Gold Medals. That's quite an achievement for the son of an immigrant father who made a living as a tailor.

According to Rickover's biography, he had his first paid job at 9 years of age, earning 3 cents an hour for holding a light for a neighbor, as he operated a machine.


Frank Shatz's, column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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