USS Nautilus crew members reflect


 GROTON, Conn. (Aug. 27, 2010) The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Annapolis (SSN 760) passes by the historic ship USS Nautilus as it makes its way up the Thames River. Annapolis returned to homeport at Naval Submarine Base New London following a scheduled six-month deployment.

Navy photo by Machinist Mate 3rd Class Sean Phillips/Released

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) — Former crew members of the Historic Ship USS Nautilus (SSN 571) offered their reflections Jan. 21 of serving aboard the U.S. Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine in advance of the 58th anniversary of its launching.

Former submariner Al Charette served aboard Nautilus in 1957 as a first class sonarman.

“Not only the first nuclear powered submarine in the Navy, it was the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel. It was also the world’s first ship to reach the North Pole,” said Charette. “A lot of earlier exploration ships attempted it, but didn’t achieve the North Pole. A lot of people visited the North Pole, some by plane, by dog sled, but our submarine will be remembered as the first ship in history to reach the North Pole.”

Charette said he still possesses the 1978 National Geographic Magazine detailing the submarine’s arrival at the North Pole. Nautilus is mentioned as one of the first to pioneer a route across the top of the world as it passed under the North Pole in 1958.

Charette also praised the Submarine Force Museum for their maintenance and upkeep of their former submarine since its arrival at the museum.

“When I go down to that ship, any day, it is in such good condition, you wonder why it couldn’t get underway this afternoon,” said Charette. “I think the condition of the submarine is amazing after all of these years.”

Nautilus was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 1980 and towed to Groton, Conn. in 1985 to become part of the Submarine Force Museum. The museum opened the submarine for tours to the public in April 1986.

“For most people who visit the Submarine Force Museum, this will be the only time they ever go onboard a Navy vessel,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Sawyer, officer-in-charge, Historic Ship Nautilus. “The Nautilus crew works very hard to preserve the submarine and ensure it is available for generations to come. The crew also provides a chance for the public to talk to Sailors about their experiences in the Navy.”

Nautilus is the only nuclear-powered submarine currently on public display.

William Engdall, a former Nautilus commissioning crew member served on board from 1953 to 1956.

“I served on board Nautilus with an exceptional crew of officers and enlisted men who were as concerned with their shipmates’ careers as they were their own, and the camaraderie they displayed, directly influenced my decision to make the Navy a career,” said Engdall. “The Nautilus was nothing like the two diesel boats that I had previously served aboard. The boat was unique, and a true fighting machine.”


Thousands watch at the Jan. 17, 1955 launch of USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. Unmoored, Cmdr. Eugene P. Wilkerson, the boat’s commanding officer, sent the historic message: “Underway on nuclear power.”

Courtesy photo

Engdall added that the Nautilus had all the creature comforts the crew needed.

“We had a washing machine, a crews’ mess that was transformed into a movie theater, a coin-operated Coke machine, a juke box, private fiberglass bunks with individual ventilation and bunk lights,” said Engdall.

Engdall also drew cartoons and documented life aboard Nautilus. So, when the Walt Disney Studios sent the submarine their concept of what the ship’s patch should look like, it was also the version of the craft depicted in the movie, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”

“The crew thought that a different version would be more appropriate and asked me to provide a drawing representing the actual USS Nautilus. The drawing was sent to Walt Disney Studios and they embellished my drawing, and it is now recognized as the official ship’s patch,” said Engdall.

Engdall is extremely proud to have served on board USS Nautilus and enjoys taking friends through the boat.

“The Nautilus will always have a place in my heart,” said Engdall.

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Launch of first nuclear submarine