Printed on: May 16, 2013

Nautilus ahoy

I.F. resident served on the first nuclear submarine


A jigsaw puzzle of white ice drifted slowly across the water around the USS Nautilus' hull.

As the submarine surfaced, assistant engineer officer Frank Fogarty gripped his rifle tightly, ready to take down a polar bear if necessary.

It wasn't.

When the world's first nuclear-powered submarine took its first dive beneath the polar ice pack in 1957, the 100 crew members didn't know what to expect.

They saw rough chunks of ice in a variety of sizes and thicknesses hovering over the submarine like low, dark storm clouds, William Anderson -- Nautilus commander during this trip -- wrote in "Ice Diaries."

They entered the "unexplored cave" to map the ice's undersurface, hoping to accurately survey the area.

"Every foot we charted was an added foot's worth of knowledge about this last frontier," Anderson wrote.

Fogarty always wanted to be a submariner. But he never imagined traveling beneath the ice. Nor did he imagine taking command of a nuclear submarine.

Some would say Fogarty's brush with history is noteworthy.

He says he's old.

"It's a museum (now), the ship is," Fogarty said with a laugh.

Fogarty, 89, is stoically proud of his accomplishments, acknowledging them with a laugh or a shake of his head.

Numerous pictures, plaques and honors from his Navy days are tucked away in the basement of the home he shares with his wife, Dorothy. But with prompting, he'll share his story -- one that stretches back to his high school days.

Before he traveled under the ice, before he commanded the Nautilus, before he worked at Idaho National Laboratory, he was a teenager with a dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy. It was a dream displayed proudly in his high school yearbook: "Wants to go to Annapolis" written under his senior picture.

He did enter the academy and, eventually, submarine school.

Fogarty's fate to join those traveling beneath the ice wasn't sealed until a call went out: Officers interested in serving on a nuclear submarine, please apply.

He did.

"They needed young officers in submarines," Fogarty said. "All of us wanted to get into it."

After several rounds of rigorous interviews, he headed to Union University in Schenectady, N.Y., to learn nuclear physics.

There, he studied with former President Jimmy Carter.

Keeping a nuclear submarine going was a 24/7 job.

Fogarty remembers sitting in a movie theater with his wife when the screen went black.

"Fogarty, return to your ship immediately," flashed across the screen.

The Nautilus was an important breakthrough for the Navy. It was the first time any submerged combatant submarine maintained a speed of 16 knots -- 18.4 mph -- for more than one hour, Anderson wrote in his book.

It also could stay submerged for longer -- two weeks or more -- than earlier submarines. World War II submarines stayed submerged for only 12 to 48 hours, according to the Submarine Force Museum's website.

The nuclear-powered submarine's speed and underwater endurance rendered airplanes and radar -- used with great success against submarines in World War II -- ineffective, according to Undersea Warfare, the official magazine for the U.S. Submarine Force.

"(That speed) allowed us to get ahead of a carrier and attack from the front," Ray Henken said. "That changed the whole concept of all of the fleet from that day forward."

Henken, 86, a now-Idaho Falls resident, was the Nautilus' chief electrician during Fogarty's first go-round on the submarine. He was not aboard during the trip under the ice.

After that trip, Fogarty left the Nautilus to serve on other submarines.

In 1963, the Navy brought him back. This time he was in command, serving until 1967.

He later spent three years at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and then found himself at INL.

Coincidentally, the prototype plant for the Nautilus was built at the Naval Reactors Facility on the Department of Energy's desert site.

He retired in 1993.

Today, he focuses on his hobbies: building model trains, raising cows and, of course, visiting his 10 children and the grandkids.

He fondly remembers serving on the Nautilus.

"It was a lot of fun. It was a happy time," he said. "There were good people ... we still correspond."