I first learned of the genius of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover as a young child attending elementary School in my hometown of Newport News, Virginia, home of one of the world's largest shipyards. Each week we kids would receive a copy of "My Weekly Reader," a small newspaper whose aim was to broaden the horizons of youths while simultaneously enhancing their reading skills. I was riveted at the story of the world's first nuclear submarine, the "Nautilus," and deeply impressed by the man largely behind this "miracle" of naval construction, then-Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Later my stepfather, who was a marine designer employed at the local shipyard, would often regale our family during supper about the legendary "father of the nuclear navy" with tales of Rickover's penchant for accountability and perfection. It was then that I discovered just how colorful ( and unusual) this American visionary really was.
Fast forward to the early 1980s. A close friend, knowi ng of my fascination with Rickover's impact on our naval service, gave me a copy of Polmar and Allen's biography of Rickover, "Rickover, Controversy and Genius." I quickly devoured this lengthy time and was even more impressed with this exemplary American's life and impact on the world. And having written poetry since my teen years, I tried to encapsulate within the confines of a short poem what his biographers had expressed in nearly 700 pages. The result was the following poem:
Possessed of a purpose
He forged a path
Across a frontier
Untried and new
Clinging to his course
He met the task
Threescore and more
He served for you
I sent a copy of my poem to Admiral Rickover and Congressman Charles E. Bennett, who was at the time chairman of the House Seapower Subcommittee and Rickover's staunchest supporter in Washington. Later I was invited to the commissioning ceremony in July 1984 of the Los Angeles-class sub named after Rickover. I brought along a metal plaque bearing Rickover's image and the eight-line poem I had composed for Rickover. This poem was mounted within the USS Rickover and served, I'm sure, as a synopsis of his contributions and a source of pride for all who sailed aboard the sub during its two decades of naval service.
During the reception following the commissioning ceremony, Rep. Bennett introduced me to the diminutive admiral and I passed a paperweight duplicate of the plaque to Rickover and said,"I hope you'll keep this, Admiral." He looked me in the eye squarely and replied, "I will, because I know you're sincere."
What happened next totally took me by surprise. Rep. Bennett said to Rickover, "Give this guy a hug, Admiral. He honored you in a unique way with his poem" Rickover looked totally shocked, as did I,and he quickly embraced me with a tight hug, which I--still stunned myself--returned. Rickover then looked beyond me at my mother and asked, "Who is this beautiful lady?" I answered, "She's my mother, Admiral." Rickover broke a slight (and rare) smile and said to Mom, "I'm going to give you a kiss," which he did. Needless to say, I saw a very human and kindly side of this American legend that rainy but unforgettable day. And I will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to meet such a special soul who was often not only feared, but misunderstood.