First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen

I asked for a sign and this is what I got (1638 EST 1/7/2019)

I monitor the traffic on the web site each day to see what is working and what is not. It was kind of an interesting surprise to open the blog up and see that number on the left.

Recently, the focus of the blog has been on Polaris submarines and the year 1959. I had already introduced the book written by Admiral Rickover that was based on his many letters to congress in regards to the names of the boats within the Polaris and Poseidon program. But I have struggled with how best to tell the story. The original work was published by Congress in October 1972 and is protected by copy write. I will do my very best to respect that for moral as well as legal reasons.

But the way the Admiral welcomed each boat with remarkable prose and a keen eye on history is so overwhelming. The compromise is this. Like many of my posts, there will be a mix of original content and some quotes as appropriate. Over the next twelve months, I will do honor to the boats (all of which are no longer with us in their original form) and to the Admiral who left the earth but I am sure is still watching over the shoulders of every reactor operator ever qualified.

Which brings me to today.

The very first boat in the series was aptly named after our first President. It grieves me to no end to see modern revisionists try and assault his character or his legacy. Here is a man who could have easily been a King. He is also someone who could have just stayed President for life and many of his generation would have allowed it. In fact, many wanted him to stay in place for a much longer time. But he had a different vision. He saw that two terms was the right amount. That would be a standard for many decades until one man actually did try and make himself a king. Death is the great equalizer and that has been prevented by law since Roosevelt died.

As discussed in an earlier post, Admiral Rickover had a keen sense of history. He felt that is was his duty to send letters to Congress as each of the new Polaris boats came on line. He wanted them to understand the significance of the individuals who added so much to the development of the fledgling country.

The USS George Washington was often called the First and the Finest. So much energy went into building the modified hull into a giant that would lead the pathway to the future of warfare.

Admiral Rickover began the chapter on the USS George Washington in this way:

“THIS SHIP has been given the most illustrious name in America. Rarely does history confirm contemporary judgment in pronouncing a man “indispensable” to his country. But there is general agreement that on three occasions, when the fate of our Nation hung in balance, one man was decisive in resolving the crisis. This man was George Washington (1732—99), affectionately known in life as the “Father of his Country,” eulogized after death (by Henry Lee) as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Conduct and Character

Yes, George Washington was a remarkable individual who was at the exact right time at the exact right place. His “conduct and character” were directly responsible for keeping the fledgling Continental forces intact through defeat and privation. With little funds and even less support from many in the original 13 colonies, he managed to cobble together just the right victories that resulted in the British finally giving up their efforts to quash the rebellion.

General Washington also presided over the Philadelphia Convention that eventually ended up creating the document that we still stand on today as a nation. His presence made sure that despite many setbacks, progress was continued and a final plan was created. The Constitution was by no means assured prior to its ratification but his signature on it helped many around the colonies to have faith in its principles.

Finally, he was the best choice to lead the nation as the first President. Many that would follow strayed from his original steadfastness on the meaning of Presidential power but his example set a benchmark that made it possible for a country to survive its birth pangs. The system of checks and balances built into the Constitution were fragile in the beginning. It was really his adherence to the original intent that helped the nation to grow.

Admiral Rickover gives a fine account of the service Washington rendered both in his role as the leading officer of the continental army but also in his role as the first president. His closing paragraph captures the spirit that was needed to bond the nation together in one of its greatest times of challenge.

“Washington served as a beacon to which “the wise and honest” repaired. “The simple thought,” one of his officers recalled at the close of the Revolution, “that we were then about to part from the man who had conducted us victoriously through a long and bloody war, and that we should see his face no more in this world, seemed utterly insupportable. But the time of separation had come and we watched in mournful silence the departure of the man who, under God, had been the great agent in establishing the glory and independence of these United States.”

A letter to General Greene stands as an epitaph to the men of the American Continental Army and, though not intended, to their commander as well. Wondering how the history of the war would be received by future generations, Washington wrote: “It will not be believed, that such a force as Great Britain has employed for eight years in this country could be baffled in their plan of subjugating it, by numbers infinitely less, composed of men often times half starved, always in rags, without pay, and experiencing every species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing.”

It is a fitting tribute to the “Father of Our Nation” that the very first Polaris submarine would be so named. The Soviets were boldly absorbing so many of the countries around the world with brazen contempt for the territorial or human rights of the citizens being subjugated. The Cuban Crisis was just about to explode in this hemisphere and the existence of boats like the George Washington surely made the other fellow think before he pushed any buttons.

Thank you to all the men who built the boat and the many generations of men who sailed on her.

You indeed made a difference in the world.

Mister Mac


5 thoughts on “First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen

  1. Great site and wonderful articles about the 41 for freedom. Not only did our country build those but, we went to the moon. The 60s were awesome years to be involved in submarines.

  2. As a crew member from 1961 through 1965 I was proud to wear the name George Washington on my shoulder. As the first of her kind, the 598 had her faults but always fulfilled her mission, a testament to both ship and crew. I’ll always remember “The First and the Finest” with Pride.

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