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Carter extolls old Navy boss Rickover

CHICAGO -- Former President Jimmy Carter, who served under Hyman Rickover as a young naval officer, then became his commander in chief, extolled the late admiral as 'one of America's greatest citizens and patriots' and a man of peace.

Rickover, who died Tuesday at 86, hired Carter in 1949 for the Navy's fledgling nuclear submarine program. In 1976, Carter, as president, became Rickover's commander in chief.

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Carter was informed of Rickover's death while performing volunteer work at the construction site of a Chicago low-income housing project.

'He deplored nuclear power's use for destruction, and as a pioneer was responsible for its use for peaceful purposes,' Carter wrote on a legal pad while sitting on the roof of one of the unfinished buildings.

'A superb engineer, his record for careful design, installation and operation of nuclear power plants in ships and on shore has set an example for safety, which can never be surpassed.

'I worked for him as a young naval officer, and his intelligence and education was an inspiration for all his subordinates. As president, I realized anew his great contributions to our nation's preparedness and to world peace.

'Adm. Rickover was one of America's greatest citizens and patriots.'

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When Carter ran for president in 1976, he wrote a campaign biography called 'Why Not the Best?' The title came from his first conversation with Rickover.

Carter related in the book:

'I had applied for the nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss.

'Very carefully I chose those about which I knew most at the time - current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery -- and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.

'He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with a cold sweat.'

Finally Rickover asked his future commander in chief what his standing was in his Naval Academy graduating class, and Carter said he answered, only to encounter the implacable admiral's question ''Did you do your best?''

'I started to say, 'Yes sir,' but I rembered who this was and recalled several times I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, 'No sir, I didn't always do my best.'

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'He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget -- or to answer. He said, 'Why not?' I sat there for awhile, shaken, and then slowly left the room.'

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