On this special day, I would like to share with you a story of an ancient philosopher who came to a city, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and wickedness. Night and day the philosopher walked streets and haunted marketplaces. He preached against greed and envy; against falsehood and indifference. At first people listened and smiled. Later they turned away; for he no longer amused them. Finally, a child asked, “Why do you go on? Do you not see it is hopeless?”
The man answered, “In the beginning, I thought I would change men. If I still shout, it is to prevent men from changing me.”
This is a story that Admiral Rickover tells -and has used in many speeches. It is the timeless story of a visionary man who perseveres, who does what he knows .is right; story of a teacher, who desires to impart his knowledge to others; a story of courage, the search for excellence, the use of every skill and god-given capability that one man possesses; it is the Admiral Rickover story.
I speak from personal experience, for I am one of his students. And there are others here today who have come to share the honor of observing this historical event. Military and civilian -active duty and retired — these students of Admiral Rickover come from the ranks of the former Atomic Energy Commission, Naval Reactors Directorate, both Houses of congress, and from the nation’s scientific and engineering communi ties. While their backgrounds are varied, they share one thing in common — they are all better human beings because he taught them to strive for excellence and not settle for
mediocrity. They know, because he taught them; intellectual integrity, technical honesty, sound
analysis, and courageous decisions are essential ingredients in managing the development of
These are the qualities often overlooked by the sensationalist or gossiper who watches the Admiral
from afar — who has no direct linkage; who speaks of personal-interview folklore; who feeds on and
reproduces rumor ever more exaggerated with each one-sided source input. These people miss the
mark. They do not begin to understand the depth of this brilliant American, his dedication to
American ideals, his quest for excellence in himself and others, his undaunted spirit.
Even biographical summaries found in the libraries of the world only tell part of the Admiral Rickover story. While properly crediting Admiral Rickover as the father of the nuclear submarine, these accounts still miss the mark. An engineer, educator, patriot and critic, Admiral Rickover’s range of interests and knowledgeable teachings have run from conservation of our natural resources to the study of ethics and morality.
Admiral Rickover has said that “One must learn to reach out, not to struggle for that which is
just beyond, but to grasp at results which seem almost infinite.”
Reaching for the infinite that aptly describes much of Admiral Rickover ‘s work as a teacher. Thirty years ago, the Admiral reached for the infinite when he envisioned the warfighting potential of the nuclear submarine. Because of his perseverance, and despite many others who were doubting and narrow-in-vision, our Navy is the world’s foremost source of knowledge in design, construction and safe, efficient operation of nuclear power plants.
Last month I had the chance to visit USS Nautilus, now readied at Mare Island naval shipyard for delivery to her memorial home in Groton. As I walked through that submarine, I was reminded of how revolutionary she was back in 1954. With Nautilus, we slipped the confines of having to surface frequently to recharge our batteries and refresh our air supply. We were able to stay submerged and run at high speeds almost indefinitely. That marked a watershed in submarine development and the beginning of a revolution in strategy and tactics. USS Nautilus was the first true submarine.
This success story goes back even further, to the 1940s when few were enthusiastic about nuclear power and many thought it outright impossible. So it took a visionary to circumvent the ever-present naysayers and get this program going. Against all odds, Admiral Rickover proved that nuclear power could be safely used, both in shipboard propulsion and civilian powergeneration applications.
Admiral Rickover knew that investments in proper design, quality control in manufacturing, and excellence in training were prerequisites for safety and success. He recognized that if you pay ~ for quality assurance and environmental protection, you avoid paying later in potential environmental damage, tragic loss of life and prohibitive remedial costs. While others looked for short cuts, Admiral Rickover insisted upon establishing his standards of performance — with checks and balances, concern and quality, and extra care that have become the hall mark of our navy’s nuclear power program.
From the very beginning, Admiral Rickover was particularly concerned about safety — it was a fundamental consideration in every facet of his program. The Admiral has testified repeatedly, “Where radiation is involved, we are dealing not just with the lives of present-day individuals,
but with the genetic future of mankind. 11 From the beginning he designed each nuclear ship with the
thought that his own son would be a member of the crew.
Long before environmental impact statements were even thought of, Admiral Rickover was
concerned about man’s ability to properly use new technologies, hailed as advancements, and what
long-range effect they might have on our environment and our children’s children.
The teacher also knew that the vital link in any technological advancement was the human
element could people be trained to safely operate and use what scientists and engineers produced?
Many others failed to understand what Admiral Rickover already knew — it is the quality of
people that makes the difference. An engineering system could be designed perfectly, but still it
could be made to fail, if those required to operate it did not understand and respect every theoretical and practical aspect of what they were doing.
Because the Admiral understood human significance in the equation, he did not produce technocrats alone. Instead he developed the Navy’s nuclear power program around a solid core of dedicated individuals who showed the same care, understanding and quest for excellence. The crew that stands aboard the ship we launch today is a legacy of that philosophy.
This philosophy led the Admiral’s searching mind to question the very capability of our national education system to give him the raw material he needed to successfully operate the nuclear power program. When he saw just how weak our nation’s educational standards were, he put his energy and drive toward correcting the discovered inadequacies. Not only did he build his own schools and trainers in the navy to do what had to be done, he embarked on a one-man campaign to improve the educational system throughout the country.
Let me quote Admiral Rickover: We need “To develop to the utmost our human resources — the
minds of our young people. They will need far more highly trained minds than the ones we now
get by with in order to cope with the poorer and more crowded world we are bequeathing to them.”
That was written by the Admiral over twenty years ago. Yet it still encapsulates a driving
motivation in his life which may well surpass all others in intensity — the proper education and
training of our young people.
Admiral Rickover also wanted each of his students to make full use of their God-given talents to do the job right. He knew that all too often the mediocre and status quo were the world’s standards of performance not the exceptional and the excellent. He acknowledged that success was only possible with hard work and heavy sweat, reminding his students that the hard-fought is the sweetest victory of all.
Individual responsibility for excellence is a central philosophy of his life. He incorporated
this belief into the very organization of the naval reactors directorate which he founded.
When the res·t of the navy — and government -were rushing off to reorganize and build large
bureaucracies, he fenced off his own organization to insure against obfuscation of individual
responsibility and accountability. He has always been fully accountable for his actions, first and
foremost, to himself — the toughest judge of all.
He also championed the cause of not cheating the taxpayer out his his tax dollar, long before “fraud, waste and abuse” became Wsahington buzzwords. He was concerned not only with blatant subterfuge and outright evasion of the law by industry, appointed officials and government
employees, but also with attempts to circumvent established practices of responsible behavior. He
did not subscribe to the Roman maxim caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, but believed that
everyone had a moral and technical responsibility to provide a quality product – whether it was a
piece of equipment from a manufacturer or the dayto- day performance of an employee, nobody should cheat the taxpayer.
His efforts in this area were recognized early by some of the military’s toughest critics, like Senator William Proxmire, who has said that Admiral Rickover is a “National Treasure” because of his tireless protection “of the taxpayer.”
Admiral Rickover’ s visionary teachings and leadership have set tone and pace for a wide variety of vital initiatives, which improved the quality of our Navy’s overall warfighting capabilities. Many of the Admiral’s doctrines, first strongly opposed, are now accepted standards throughout the navy. Why? Because they work and they’re the right thing to do.
The legacy of superb performance continues today. Since Nautilus first put to sea in 1955,
our nuclear-powered ships have steamed over 55 million miles and have accumulated over 2,600
reactor-years of operation. Further, in the 30 years since the Nautilus land prototype first
operated — and with 127 nuclear submarines, 4 nuclear carriers, 9 nuclear cruisers, a total of
170 reactors in operation today — there has never been an accident involving a nuclear reactor, nor
has there been any release of radioactivity which has had a significant effect on our environment.
To date, almost 60 thousand officers and enlisted men have been trained in this program, all
striving to meet that Rickover mark of personal excellence.
The Admiral often talks about the proper utilization of our limited national resources -human,
financial and natural. It is appropriate then, to name this submarine after the Admiral, for his teachings of properly using our resources to the fullest are embodied in this submarine and
her sisters. This is today’ s most quiet — most “stealthy” — most sophisticated submarine; this
submarine is the result of applied knowledge, which produced solid, well-designed and tested
engineering systems; this submarine has the Admiral’s concern for system reliability,
redundancy and simplicity, built in as standard equipment, not as options; and the crew of this
submarine will reflect the Admiral’s reliance upon well-trained people who use their full potential.
This submarine and the fine crew that will take her to sea are symbolic of a much larger group of submarines that already bear that unique mark of Rickover excellence. They will be the principal determinant of victory during any protracted war at sea.
It is difficult to properly honor Admiral Rickover for what he has accomplished. This same problem confronted the Admiral’s headquarters starr at Naval Reactors. They wondered, “What type of recognition do you give man whose service performance has transcended all others? How do you honor a man after 64 years of active duty service who already has 15 honorary degrees?
Who has won over 60 different awards, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional gold medal?
What you give him is a special, very personal gift that shows your respect for the man. To do
that, they chose to support Eleanore Rickover ‘s work as a member of the Board of Hospice of
Northern Virginia. Eleanore, our lovely sponsor, is not only a hospice board member, but is also
an active volunteer, caring for the terminally ill in the hospice as well as in their own homes.
The staff raised over five thousand dollars for the hospice. This loyalty, commitment and
compassion in his staff tells more about Admiral Rick over and his life’s accomplishments than any
other biographical footnote. This honors him and his wife better than any other type of special
award or recognition.
It is an “Admiral Rickover Story” such as this, which best tells about the man and his life. This
is a story about undaunted spirit, Diogenes-like intellect, an untiring man who is seeking
excellence and takes individual responsibility for each and every action. It is the story of a
patriot; the story of a winner who values the proper development and education of our young
people because he knows that each American can only be a full partner in citizenship, if he or
she has the knowledge and determination to seek such a partnership. That is the real Admiral H.G.
Rickover this new submarine represents.
So this is an important day, not only for Admiral and Mrs. Rickover, not only for our nation
and navy, but for the many students of the teacher who have come to know the true Admiral Rickover
story and this submarine will serve as a constant reminder of that story.
It was the Admiral’s demanding leadership; his technical wisdom and engineering foresight; his
frank and knowledgeable discussions with our nation’s elected leaders; and his consuming
pursuit of a strict adherence to standards of excellence, that his given this nation a nuclear
navy second to none. Without this man’s contributions, Nautilus’ famous “Underway on
Nuclear Power” would probably still be an unfulfilled Jules Verne vision.
Thank you for coming today and helping this talented navy crew take the initial step, on their
long journey, into the deep. God Bless.