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Admiration for an Admiral

Navy’s newest nuclear submarine named in honor of Chicago’s Hyman Rickover

Rickover submarine image
Virginia-class submarine under construction, the first U.S. Navy warship designed from the keel up for the full range of mission requirements in the post-Cold War era. (Photo: General Dynamics Electric Boat).

While submarines are generally named for states and cities, the US Navy has named a few for people. One of these remarkable individuals was Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, a Jewish Chicagoan who has had two submarines named in his honor. The first was in use from 1984 to 2006. Now, a second one has just been completed in Connecticut. It will be christened there on July 31, and commissioned-transferred from its contractors to the Navy- in early 2022.  

Because of Rickover's Chicago roots, the Union League Club of Chicago has partnered with the Navy to run the commissioning ceremony, under the auspices of its USS Hyman G. Rickover Commissioning Committee.  

"Admiral Rickover's establishing the Navy's nuclear power program, and his leadership of the program, continue to have a positive impact on our national defense," said the Committee's chair, William Nissen, a retired partner at Sidley Austin LLP and a Navy veteran who served on destroyers during the Vietnam War. "The members of our Committee are working to enhance public awareness of Admiral Rickover's significance, to give the USS Rickover  a proper send-off as it takes its place in the active fleet, and to provide support to its crew."   

It was Rickover who first envisioned a submarine run on atomic energy; he has been hailed as "The Father of the Nuclear Navy." Overcoming the anti-Semitism prevalent during his time within the Navy, Rickover's extraordinary competence and political acumen allowed him to design and build the U.S. Navy's nuclear propulsion program- and create the first nuclear power plant for civilian use. 

Rickover was born in Poland in 1900, immigrating with his family at age 6, and settling in Chicago's North Lawndale area. He attended John Marshall High School, where in 1917 he was one of the first to enroll in the new Junior ROTC program. (Today, Chicago is the home of the Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy High School.) 

Rickover then secured a Congressional appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis from U.S. Representative Adolph Sabath, and graduated in 1922.  

Rickover went on to have an unprecedented 63 years on active duty. In just three years, starting in 1951, Rickover's handpicked team designed and built the  Nautilus , the world's first nuclear-powered submarine- also the world's first use of any controlled nuclear reactor. The  Nautilus  not only transformed submarine warfare, but laid the groundwork for a fleet of nuclear aircraft carriers and cruisers, and shaped both military and civilian use of nuclear energy. 

"Jews like me who were eight in 1954 will remember the launching of the  Nautilis . But little did we know that a Jew… was the father of this accomplishment," said Michael Traison, Partner at Cullen and Dykman LLP, and chair of the Committee's external relations subcommittee. "Today, I am excited at the opportunity to commemorate Admiral Rickover, part of the story of the Jewish people's acceptance in American history."  

The Committee is comprised of individuals from the Union League Club of Chicago, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, local Navy League Councils, and the Chicago Navy Memorial Foundation, along with prominent civic and business leaders. Its members include: former submarine Capt. Leonard Wass (USN, Ret.), who chaired the commissioning committee for an earlier submarine; Vice Admiral John Donnelly (USN, Ret.), president of the Naval Submarine League; Amihai Ayalon, former Commander in Chief of the Israeli Navy and former Head of the Shin Bet, and Tadeusz Ciak, Mayor of Maków Mazowiecki, Poland- Rickover's birthplace. 

Founded in 1879, the Union League Club of Chicago is a descendant of the Civil War-era "Union Leagues of America" movement that arose to help President Lincoln defend the Union. It is the nation's only private club dedicated to honoring those who serve. To learn more about Admiral Rickover, the new submarine, and the Commissioning Committee, please visit ussrickover.org.

Jeffrey S. Gray is Senior Project Director, Chicago Navy Memorial at Navy Pier, and chair of the public relations subcommittee of the U SS Hyman G. Rickover Commissioning Committee.



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