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Adm. Rickover, Father of Nuclear Navy, Dies

July 08, 1986|From Times Wire Services

ARLINGTON, Va. — Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the outspoken father of America's nuclear Navy, died at his suburban Washington home today at 86.

Rickover, who was involuntarily retired by President Reagan four years ago, apparently died of natural causes, the Pentagon said.

The admiral's death was mourned by a Congress that had long revered him for his willingness to reveal waste, fraud and abuse in the defense establishment and had twice awarded him its gold medal for exceptional public service.

Former President Jimmy Carter, once a naval subordinate of Rickover, said the admiral "was one of America's greatest citizens and patriots. He deplored nuclear power's use for destruction, and as a pioneer was responsible for its use for peaceful purposes."

Rickover had been in poor health since suffering a series of strokes last summer. Before he was stricken, he was still fighting, at 85, to keep to an active schedule, frequently going to the Washington Navy Yard, where the Navy kept a small office for him at Congress' insistence.

Perhaps no man who rose to top rank in the U.S. Navy ever provoked so much opposition and controversy as this Russian Jew who landed on his adopted nation's shores in his early childhood.

Although he sparked intense and prolonged hostility from many of his naval colleagues throughout his career, he was the golden boy of the House and Senate. One Congress after another warmly supported his programs.

Near the end, some of the controversy caught up with him. In the words of Navy Secretary John Lehman, Rickover "fell from grace" for accepting $67,628 worth of gratuities between 1961 and 1977 from the General Dynamics Corp., whose Electric Boat Division is one of the nation's major submarine builders.

For 30 of his 60 years on active duty, Rickover was skipper of a navy-within-a-navy, the nuclear-powered fleet which has grown to nearly half of the Navy's combatant forces since the 1954 commissioning of the submarine Nautilus, his baby and a real-life version of the revolutionary vessel that spilled from Jules Verne's imagination.

The future admiral was born in Czarist Russia on Jan. 27, 1900, the son of Jewish parents, and came with them to America when he was 6. He grew up in Chicago, where his father was a tailor.

He was graduated from Annapolis in 1922 and became a submarine officer in 1930. For six months in World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, and became convinced that a nuclear reactor could be developed to keep submarines underwater for months without having to surface to recharge their batteries.

The idea was resisted by the Navy establishment as impractical. But Rickover won the battle when one of his supporters, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, became chief of naval operations, and approved the plan as "militarily desirable."

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