- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dressed in his starched, white dress uniform, Capt. Hyman Rickover basked in a ticker-tape parade, waving from the Canyon of Heroes to New Yorkers celebrating the Navy officer’s phenomenal creation.

The Soviets had beaten the Americans into space in 1958 with Sputnik. The satellite further rattled a nation trying to adjust to doomsday scenarios of all-out nuclear war. How would President Eisenhower respond?

A documentary on Rickover by filmmaker Michael Pack and his Manifold Productions in Chevy Chase, Maryland, gives the answer.


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Four years earlier, Rickover oversaw the development and launch of the first U.S. nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. Thankfully for the commander in chief, Rickover won his internecine battle with top flag officers and built the boat in a relatively brief three years.

It gave Ike a trump card. Go north, the president ordered.

In August 1958, the sub did the unthinkable for its predecessors powered by diesel. The Nautilus became one of history’s great explorers, traversing the dark, frigid waters of the North Pole and relying on a basic gyrocompass to prevent an underwater disaster.


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A delighted president had the skipper, Cmdr. William R. Anderson, flown from the Arctic to the White House for a photo opportunity. Eisenhower told the world that the U.S. was indeed a nuclear power both above and below water. The Soviets owned no nuclear submarines.

As if propelled by some special fuel himself, Rickover went on to serve a total 51 years, longer than any other Navy officer, attaining four-star rank. He accumulated enemies in the Pentagon. He hated Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s “whiz kids,” but he made friends where it counted — in Congress.

Mr. Pack debuted the two-hour biopic “Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power” recently at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington.

The screening brought together old Rickover hands and current submariners, including Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations. He is one of the dwindling active-duty sailors who went through the famous (some would say infamous) Rickover interviewing process to select Naval Academy graduates for the nuclear Navy.

Mr. Pack uses a mix of on-camera interviews, newsreels and dramatizations to capture the uniquely combative bantamweight. Played by actor/director Tim Blake Nelson, Rickover tells one applicant he has 10 seconds to make him mad or flunk the session. The midshipman hears Rickover tick down the seconds, then suddenly sweep’s half the contents of Rickover’s desk onto the floor.

“I’m mad,” Rickover concedes before hiring the young officer.

Father of the nuclear Navy

Like millions of other American dreams, Rickover’s began when he was a turn-of-the-century immigrant. At age 6, he and his parents escaped Russian domination and squalor in Poland and headed for a new life via Ellis Island.

America gave him the freedom to think about the vast new universe of electrical engineering. A stellar high school student in Chicago, he became one of the few Jews at that time to gain admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. As an example of anti-Semitism in the 1920s, the yearbook allowed graduates to pull out the perforated pages showing Jewish midshipmen.

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