At sub ceremony, tradition and emotion for builders and sailors

By PAUL EDWARD PARKER | The Providence Journal, R.I. | Published: May 12, 2018

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — Tearing up as she addressed several hundred workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat on Friday, Darleen Elizabeth Greenert told them how important their jobs are to the spouses and children of sailors who serve on submarines.

Greenert, the sponsor for the future USS Hyman G. Rickover, told of her experience as the wife of a submarine officer who brought her kids down to the pier where her husband's boat was based to watch him head out to sea.

For the next several months came the waiting, while the sub was exposed to an environment far more lethal than that faced by spacecraft orbiting the earth, she said during a keel-laying ceremony for the Rickover, the ceremonial "birthday" for the boat.

"I trusted my husband, and my husband trusted the submarine," Greenert said during an interview after the ceremony.

After those months passed, and thanks to the skill and diligence of shipbuilders, she said, "You see that beautiful ship coming your way, and you know he's going to be there, and he's coming home."

After a slew of speakers, including Eleonore B. Rickover, the widow of Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, Greenert became the star of the show, along with Electric Boat welder David Burns.

In the days of wooden sailing ships, the keel laying marked the start of construction when the backbone of the ship was put into place. In the construction of a modern submarine, which, as a large cylinder, has no traditional keel, the keel-laying ceremony is held fairly early in the construction, when the submarine is still in large pieces. The ship's sponsor, traditionally a woman, chalks her initials onto a steel plate that will become a permanent part of the submarine. The welder then traces her initials, making them a permanent part of the boat.

Burns, 60, of Fall River, a welder at Electric Boat for 38 years, confessed to a few butterflies as he traced the chalk outline Greenert had made of her initials.

"I'm at home welding a sub together," Burns said in an interview after the ceremony. "But the initials, you're in front of everybody, and you want to make sure it comes out right. Performing in front of a crowd and not being that guy that makes a mistake."

Hyman Rickover is considered the father of the nuclear Navy because he pushed the development of ships powered by steam generated from the heat of a nuclear reactor. The first nuclear submarine was built by Electric Boat at its Groton, Connecticut, shipyard.

The USS Hyman Rickover at the center of Friday's ceremony, a Virginia class, fast-attack submarine, is the second to bear his name. The first was of the Los Angeles class of fast-attack submarines and was christened in 1983 and decommissioned in 2006. Eleonore Rickover was the sponsor of that ship.

In brief remarks at Friday's ceremony, Eleonore Rickover told how she met her husband, who was 30 years older than she. She was a nurse at Bethesda Naval Hospital when the admiral was recovering there from a heart attack. While there, he would read the papers and dropped them on the floor, and she would pick them up and put them on his desk.

One day, her supervisor told her that the admiral was upset with her for picking up the papers.

She confronted the admiral, looking him in the eye, and said, "You know, admiral, this is my ship!"

USS Hyman G. Rickover facts

  • Class: Virginia, 22nd in class
  • Displacement: 7,835 tons
  • Length: 377 feet
  • Beam: 34 feet
  • Weaponry: Tomahawk land-attack missiles, Mark 48 torpedoes
  • Crew: 132 officers and enlisted
  • Electric Boat facts
  • Established: 1899, in New Jersey
  • Main facilities: Quonset Point; Groton and New London, Connecticut
  • Workforce: Quonset Point, 4,528; Groton/New London, 11,544; Total, 16,708


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