December 17: Ensign Jimmy Carter Finishes Submarine School in Groton


Decades before he became President of the United States, a young James “Jimmy” Earl Carter, Jr. had his sights set on a lifelong career in the U.S. Navy.  As a teenager, Carter dreamed of attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and after graduating from high school in rural Plains, Georgia at the age of 17 studied mathematics at two local colleges in order to qualify for admission to the Naval Academy.  Carter was accepted in 1943 and pursued an accelerated course of study offered to midshipmen during World War II, graduating in only three years.

Photo of Jimmy Carter as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. (Jimmy Carter Library)

After serving as a training and education officer for two years, Ensign Carter decided to change the course of his Navy career and attend Submarine School, which brought him to Naval Submarine Base New London, located in Groton, Connecticut.  There, Carter underwent a rigorous, six-month training program, graduating on December 17, 1948.  After a number of years of serving on diesel submarines in the Pacific, Carter returned to Groton in 1952 to be interviewed for the Navy’s brand-new nuclear submarine program.  He was promptly promoted to Lieutenant and spent the next year preparing to become the engineering officer for the USS Seawolf nuclear submarine, which was undergoing construction at Electric Boat in Groton.  However, after Carter’s father suddenly died in mid-1953, the promising young officer decided to shelve his plans for a military career and, after being granted leave, headed back to rural Georgia to take over the family business of peanut farming.

Many years later — after Carter’s rapid rise to political stardom that included being successfully elected President of the United States for a single term in 1976 — the U.S. Navy honored Carter by naming the third and final Seawolf-class submarine after him.  In June 2004, Carter returned yet again to Groton, where his wife Roslynn officially christened the USS Jimmy Carter.  The very next year, as the federal government sought to close a number of military bases across the country in order to save money, the former president and submarine officer personally intervened to petition against the slated closing of Submarine Base New London, a move many supporters saw as fundamental to the ultimately successful efforts to keep the base open.  Even though his life ultimately steered him away from the Silent Service, Jimmy Carter found a number of ways to give back to his country thanks to the time he spent at the sub base in Groton, Connecticut.

Further Reading

Bethanne Kelly Patrick, “Lt. Jimmy Carter,”

Alan Horowitz, “Jimmy Carter’s Naval Service,”