Captain Warren R. Cobean, Jr., USN (Ret), 84, died at home in Greenwich, CT on June 27, 2007. He will be best remembered as one of the original members of Admiral Rickover’s Nuclear Navy and as the first reactor officer and later executive officer of USS NAUTILUS, the world’s first nuclear submarine.
Captain Cobean, or “Bus” as he was known, is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jean Beaumont Cobean; sister Ruth C. McPherson; son Warren R. Cobean III; son Charles S. Cobean; daughter Lisa C. Muse; and nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Bus Cobean was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1923 and spent the first eight years of his life in Monterrey, Mexico, before his parents returned to the U.S. He spent the rest of his youth in Roswell, New Mexico, working on his uncle’s ranch, and, later, attending New Mexico Military Institute. He always blamed his ugly feet on a life of ill-fitting boots.
He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943, where he wrestled and played Plebe and Jayvee football. A blocking back, he was ultimately kicked off the football team for losing too many teeth.
It was at the Naval Academy where he met his wife-to-be, Jean Beaumont. The daughter of Captain Charles Beaumont, then teaching at the Academy, Jean was, so the story goes, dating Bus’s roommate. The roommate got sick on the eve of a big dance and asked Bus to escort his date in his place. He dutifully stepped in, and that was the beginning of a lifelong love affair.
Because of World War II, the famed class of ’47 graduated in three years, in 1946. He served first in NEW JERSEY (BB-62), then LST6 l l. But the world under the sea had captured his interest, and in 1949 he graduated from Submarine School. He then served in BESUGO (SS-321) before becoming Aide and Flag Lieutenant to the Commander Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet.
It was shortly thereafter that Admiral Rickover picked him to be in the first group of four officers to help him reach his dream of creating a Nuclear Navy. He once said, .. All those stories about Rickover putting people in closets and shortening the legs of chairs just to intimidate them-they’re all true.”
With the others in this select group, then-Lt. Cobean reported to the Pittsburgh Area Office of the Atomic Energy Commission for instruction in the operation of nuclear propulsion plants and for graduate studies in nuclear power at University of Pittsburgh and Bettis Atomic Energy Lab.
His training came to fruition in Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the Naval Reactor Center, where he participated in the initial criticality of the first naval nuclear propulsion prototype. The biggest challenge, he said, was to fit a working reactor into the prototype hull replicating NAUTILUS, which was then under construction in New London. The work at Idaho Falls was ultimately successful, and Warren Cobean was the first member of the U.S. Navy to bring a reactor critical. He was granted reactor license number #1.
From March, 1954, to January, 1958, he served on NAUTILUS (SSN-571) as part of the commissioning crew, first as Reactor Officer and then as Executive Officer. He participated in the first arctic exploration by a nuclear submarine and completed a cruise that became known as 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
During this time he was designated as Qualified for Command of Submarines and soon received his first command, TIRU (SS-416), stationed in Pearl Harbor. TIRU won the coveted “E” for excellence, not once, but twice in consecutive years.
After the TIRU, he served on the staff of Commander Submarine Squadron 14 from 1959 to 1961, which at the time was formulating plans for the training, construction, testing, and deployment of the first fleet of Ballistic Missile Submarines.
He returned to sea duty in 1961 as captain of HALIBUT (SSGN-587). a one-of-a-kind nuclear-powered guided missile submarine. HALIBUT, too, earned the “E” for excellence while Capt. Cobean was in command.
His most harrowing assignment (at least of those he would talk about) was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Instead of joining the blockade of Cuba, the HALIBUT’s orders were to travel to Vladivostok and sit on the sea floor to monitor the movements of the Soviet fleet. Should the Soviet Navy appear to make a move to confront the naval blockade around Cuba, that would be considered an act of war, and the HALIBUT was to surface and attempt to stop the Soviet fleet. Fortunately, the Soviets backed down in Cuba, and the order was never sent.
From 1963 to 1966, Capt. Cobean commanded JAMES MON-ROE (SSBN-622), and from 1966 to 1967 commanded GEORGE C. MARSHALL (SSGN-654), both of which began active duty under his command.
He became Deputy Director of the Strategic Systems Project, which directed both the Poseidon and Trident missile systems, from 1968 until 1972, when he retired, receiving the Legion of Merit. During this period, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Captain Cobean began his second career, first at Con Edison in New York, and later at Bums and Roe, in New Jersey, where he eventually became President. After retiring from Bums and Roe, he became a consultant to the Boards of TVA, Duke Power, Toledo Edison, and other utilities.
His ashes were committed with honors at the USNA Columbarium after services in the Chapel on 23 July.
– Charles S. Cobean