With a simple radio message of “Underway on Nuclear Power,” on the morning of 17 January 1955, the submarine Nautilus (SSN-571) cast off her mooring lines and steamed into a new era. Although brief and to the point, the message in a larger sense bespoke a revolutionary achievement in naval capability. Today, the advent of seagoing nuclear propulsion is approaching its 60th anniversary.
The first skipper was Commander Eugene P. “Dennis” Wilkinson. He was as remarkable as his submarine, which I discovered during a five-day visit to his home in Del Mar, California, in January 1998 for the Naval Institute’s oral history project. By that time he was a retired vice admiral. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 94, his place in history secure.