Commander C.M. Hart read the Shipyard Commander’s notice to his Assistant Planning and Estimating Superintendents. USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571), the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, was scheduled for an overnight stay in Boston Naval Shipyard. In 1955 recently completed NAUTILUS was engaged in special operations and the brief visit was solely to accommodate a group of famous civilian scientists. There was no uncertainty about the notice, “The officers and men in NAUTILUS are being taxed with extensive tests and trials. No shipyard officer will be permitted on board!”
Knowing that it was at least next to impossible, Commander Hart, one of the finest persons I ever met in or out of the Navy, wistfully added, “I wish I could get on board.”
I then had certain planning responsibilities for catchall work, e.g., manufacture of rope and chain and restoration of certain machinery including propellers. Mine was regarded as the least prestigious planning job. Other officers were concerned with the construction, conversion and overhaul of ships. But just weeks before, I was the only one who had received a telephone call from the Material Officer, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (SubLant), “I want to thank you. If there is ever anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to call.”
Months before NAUTILUS had sustained damage to a propeller. The one available spare was substituted and all attention was focused on resuming underway operations. Within a few weeks a casualty report advised that the recently installed propeller was damaged. As NAUTILUS was returning to New London there was a shocking discovery. No one in the forces afloat had arranged for repair of the previously damaged propeller! There was no ready-for-service replacement!
An overwhelming sense of urgency accompanied a repair request. Subsequent events all but flew. I was the immediate contact for the Shipyard and was greatly relieved when the truck carrying the restored propeller arrived in New London just as NAUTILUS was being raised in a floating dry dock. The timing could not have been more dramatic.
Perhaps because I was delighted with my new-found prestige I didn’t let up. I arranged for the same truck to wait for removal of the damaged propeller. I maintained the same high priority to insure the propeller’s repair as soon as possible. No one in SubLant authorized the second repair effort and no one inquired about what I was doing. At least a week went by when, incredibly, NAUTILUS again reported the very same damage. When the panic button was hit I was able to advise that the recently removed propeller was already repaired and ready for service. It was then that the SubLant Material Officer contacted me in order to express his gratitude.
I telephoned in behalf of Commander Hart and myself. Per instructions we went to Pier 1 at 1700 on the appointed day. As we were admiring NAUTILUS from the pier, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, U.S. Navy, the first skipper of the world’s first nuclear submarine, appeared from below with the scientists. Each of the latter was carrying a souvenir packet of NAUTILUS photos and descriptions. When the last of the scientists disembarked, Commander Wilkenson called to us by our names, invited us on board, provided us with the same packets, and introduced us to the officer assigned to guide us through NAUTILUS.
It was a great day to be in the Navy.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo