Deadliest sub disaster in U.S. is remembered

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Family and friends who lost loved ones when the USS Thresher sank 50 years ago joined in tossing wreaths into the water Saturday in an emotional service in remembrance of the 129 Navy crew members and civilian technicians who lost their lives in the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history.

Hundreds gathered for the memorial service at Portsmouth High School that concluded with a small group tossing three wreaths into the Piscataqua River. During the service, a bell tolled 129 times.

The event, along with the dedication of a flagpole Sunday in Kittery, Maine, aim to call attention to the tragedy 220 miles off Cape Cod, which became the impetus for submarine safety improvements.

Vice Adm. Michael Connor, commander of the Navy’s submarine forces, acknowledged Saturday that the safety upgrades came at a steep cost to Thresher families.

“I’ve talked a lot about the good that comes from the Thresher and the Thresher’s loss, but that’s probably not a consolation to the families who’ve lost a father or a son,” Connor told a packed high school auditorium.

The USS Thresher, built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and based in Connecticut, was out for a routine deep-diving test when it ran into trouble on April 10, 1963.

The Navy believes the failure of a brazed weld allowed sea water to spray onto electrical panel, causing an emergency shutdown of the sub’s nuclear reactor. The ballast system also failed, preventing the sub from surfacing.

Filling with water, Thresher descended deeper and disintegrated under the crushing force of the ocean. Its remains rest on the ocean floor at a depth of 8,500 feet.

Don Wise Jr., 59, of Plaistow, N.H., whose lost his father, said the Thresher crew members were doing something special, serving on what was a technological marvel, the Navy’s fastest and deepest-diving nuclear submarine.

“They were going deeper and faster than anyone. I always considered my dad a hero and an adventurer,” Wise said Saturday. “These memorials are how I connect my children and grandchildren with my dad.”

Former Thresher crew member Frank DeStefano, 79, of Orange Park, Fla., said he owed his life to a three-day assignment to Washington that took him away from the submarine during the fateful sea trials.

He said he’s happy to see that annual memorial events provide an outlet for families and friends to grieve.

“The only good part about these memorials is that we can help those who were really affected, like the families,” DeStefano said.

Lynne Lawrence of Alexandria, Va., whose father, Richard DesJardins, was one of the civilian technicians who died, attended the service with two siblings.

In a recent interview, she described her father as a fun-loving, busy engineer, and said she was sad he didn’t get to see his children become adults or meet his grandchildren.

“It’s a profound loss that affects you forever, but you grow from it and move on,” she said.

“Because you don’t really have any other choice.”

More in Local News

Finalists for EdCC presidency holding campus meetings

A search committee reviewed 19 applicants and recommended three finalists to the Board of Trustees.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Everett coaches reaching out to teens about dating violence

Free training focuses on a known strength of coaches: Being positive role models.

Suspected drunk driver crash in Bothell sends two to hospital

The man suspected of causing the Saturday afternoon collision was not injured.

Election results for Snohomish County school districts

Updated 2/16: Here are the returns for Tuesday’s special election ballot measures.

Scattered power outages around region after gusty Saturday

Up to 2 inches of snow could fall in some lowland areas of Snohomish County, forecasters said.

School levies still passing in 3 districts after latest tally

In the initial count, ballot measures in Lake Stevens, Marysville and Snohomish had been losing.

Power outages hit north Snohomish County as snow covers area

There was no timeline for when PUD crews expected to restore power for 5,800 customers.

Iraqi victories remain fragile as US reduces troops

U.S. and Iraqi commanders warn that victories over IS could be undercut by a large-scale withdrawal.

Most Read