Recollection from Charlie Nesbitt
By Charlie Nesbitt
Interview at the Old Navy Building in 1970: I had the misfortune of an interview the day after the sinking of USS Guitaro at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Obviously Adm. Rickover wasn’t in a good mood. His first question was why I had come in civilian clothes. It was the only question I got right: I answered that I followed my orders. Adm. Rickover immediately halted the interview and called a female LCDR (apparently an office manager) to his office and chewed her out in front of me. It was a foreshadowing of the fireworks to come. About halfway through the interview, an assistant interrupted Adm. Rickover to tell him that the President of Allis Chalmers was returning his call. I remember Adm. Rickover telling him: “I’m not going to tell you how to run your GD company.” But it seemed to me that that was exactly what he did. I was lucky to have the interruption. He eventually kicked me out, instructing me to stop in his outer office and tell the secretaries what I had learned. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as they looked up above their IBM Selectric typewriters (this was before the advent of computers) at a poor midshipman. I have no idea what I told them, but I left with the impression that I wasn’t the first person to be so ordered (and probably not the last). Later I was surprised to be accepted into the nuclear power program.
S5G Prototype in Fall 1970: A lieutenant told my crew that he had called Adm. Rickover at 0430 that morning at his motel in Idaho Falls and said “Adm. Rickover this is God. Request permission to light off the sun?” Knowing the guy, we believed him.
Shipyard in 1973: I was duty officer aboard USS SKATE (SSN 578) for decontamination and refueling that were not going well. Adm. Rickover decided to intervene to get the outage back on track. When he entered our living barge, a first class potty officer yelled “Attention on deck,” to which Adm. Rickover said to cut out the BS and get him to his stateroom. He met with the shipyard management that night and told them that none of them would be there but for him and that he wasn’t satisfied with their progress. He left the next morning after consuming a whole case of seedless grapes. I was in charge of getting the grapes and getting him to the Norfolk airport, both of which, fortunately, went well.
Engineer Exam in 1974: Adm. Rickover was hospitalized at Bethesda. The day after the exam, all of us candidates (all were lieutenants) reported to the NAVSHIPS 08 Office at Crystal City. We didn’t know if we had passed or not, when a PCO asked about half of us to step forward and to follow him. Those of us who passed learned later that those who failed were taken by van to Adm. Rickover’s hospital room, and not for congratulatory remarks.