Accompanied by her sister, Nancy Merrick, Linda and I set forth for the Pacific NorthWest in late June. Out destination was deep under the tall conifers lining the fiords that lead to one of the world’s greatest shipyards. The same deep waters meander by Senator “Scoop” Jackson’s naval base and also provide access to the Keyport Weapons Center. The naval base is particularly interesting. It was established in the 1970’s as the country’s initial contractor-managed government complex and is one of our newer military facilities. It also is home to half of our strategic submarines.
Our host for the visit was Bob Aronson, who had arranged three venues in which I could speak about Admiral Rickover and leadership. Bob gave up a significant amount of his personal time to make our experience easy. The same can be said of Jim and Rosemary Adkins, as well as Gerry and Joan Egan. It is interesting how life’s events come full circle, as Linda and Rosemary were in the same 4-H club together in Firth, Idaho some years ago, and in my submarine life I worked at different times for both Jim and Gerry (and Linda and I were as well fortunate enough to get some time to speak to Bill Hahn, a fellow submariner and my roommate for a year at the Naval Academy).
I gave three talks, adjusting to the very different audiences. One was interested in general in the Navy. Another was drawn from the general community (because of their local, they all were much more interested in the Navy than similar citizens from Kansas might be), and the final one consisted of Naval Academy graduates (always fascinated in both leadership and Rickover) who have settled in the environs of Seattle. The last group is the one that is always invigorating. Rickover and his many enemies dug so many emotional boreholes that, unless one is careful, inadvertent diversions can destroy any constructive conversation.
I have found that one of the best ways of recognizing Rickover’s real contribution is to begin the story at the end of the Cold War.
It was December 1989. President Bush and President Gorbachev were at the Malta Conference aboard Gorki, and Marshal Akhromeyev was handing President Bush the Soviet military leader’s own morning intelligence report showing the Soviet Union surrounded by NATO forces. VADM J. D. Williams, the Commander of the Sixth Fleet, overheard his comments to the President, which were all about submarines. I explain what J.D. related to me decades ago.
I then go back to 1957 and the Soviet launch of Sputnik.
How did President Eisenhower choose to respond? What path did he place the United States upon? Does that continue to have relevance today?