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The Passing of Stan Wheatley, USMS

On Saturday, August 2, we lost one of America’s finest mariners: Chief Engineer Stanley D. Wheatley, who crossed the bar peacefully at home surrounded by family just one day shy of his 93rd birthday.

A proud graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Class of ’47) and son of a Merchant marine Chief Engineer, Stan Wheatley spent much of his distinguished career building, operating, or managing ships, but was most closely associated with the N.S. Savannah—the world’s first nuclear powered commercial ship—which was an outgrowth of President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative. Stan was in the very first group of engineers certified to operate the ship’s nuclear reactor in 1959, and was an Engineering Watch Officer during the ship’s trials, shakedown and initial operations.

Stan was appointed as Savannah’s Chief Engineer prior to her maiden transatlantic voyage in 1964. On her return trip to the U.S., rough seas from a nearby hurricane caused the Savannah’s safety systems to shut down the reactor, leaving the ship to the mercy of the storm. Restoring power would require shutting off those safety systems—which Capt. Wheatley later observed was “against the rules in the nuclear business”—but it was necessary for the safety of the ship, as he later had to explain to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. But the reactor was brought safely back online. The Savannah sailed safely home.

In 1966, Stan joined the Maritime Administration as a private consultant, and later as a government employee rose to become Program Manager of the Savannah Program and Chief of the Office of Advanced Ship Operations in the Office of Research and Development. He also played a key role in the establishment of the Ready Reserve Force as Director of Ship Operations until he retired from government service in January 1987.

I had the honor of standing on deck with Stan aboard Savannah this past May as part of this year’s Maritime Day commemoration in Baltimore. In my remarks, I made it clear to the assembled crowd that, while the Maritime Administration may be responsible for Savannah, “It’s Chief Stan Wheatley’s ship.”

Always has been – always will be.

We’ll miss you, Chief; rest easy.

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Updated: Friday, August 9, 2019