Sunday, September 21, 2008

Honoring the USS Nautilus

The year was 1957. The world watched in astonishment and horror as the Russians launched Sputnik 1 into space. The United States was scrambling - far behind Russias superior technological advantages in the space race at a dangerous time when the cold war was just heating up. As a country, we had lost faith in American Exceptionalism. Then, just a few short months later, something truly amazing changed all of that. You see, while the Russians looked off into the stars, we were busy finding new ways to explore our planet.

In the summer of 1958, we took the world by surprise when the worlds first ( and finest) nuclear submarine surfaced from under the ice pack at the North Pole. Commander Anderson announced to the world, " For our country and the United States Navy, this is Nautilus, 90 degrees north." This event helped restore our faith in ourselves, but what is most amazing about that event, wasn't the aftermath, but the feat itself.

It was dubbed, ironically, "Operation Sunshine". After two failed attempts at the Pole, one in which Nautilus lost one of her periscopes, the Nautilus finally succeeded. It was my honor and privilege to meet one of the wives of the brave Nautilus crew last night. He was the chief sonor technician on board the boat. It was his challenge, and that of his men, to monitor the depth of the ice flows that the Nautilus had to navigat.

It's almost impossible to imagine the bravery and curiosity of those men. They truly knew and understood what it meant to "boldly go where no man had gone before". Not only did they prove that a nuclear submarine could traverse the treacherous waters of the icy north, but they were knocking on the back door of the Soviet Union itself. After all, if Nautilus could surface at the Pole, couldn't she also potentially launch her missiles? It caused the russians enough concern that they rushed to produce their own nuclear boats, to the great detriment of many of their sailors. ( K-19 anyone?)

Because of those brave men, all of our sailors are safer. Their journey gave us improved technology and navigation systems. Their journey gave us invaluable information about ice flows in the Artic. Their journey reestablished the superiority of the US Navy. But most of all, t heir journey made reaffirmed the capabilities of humanity - both for good and for evil.

Today, I honor their achievement.