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

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
How can Everett Station become a vibrant part of city?

A neighborhood alliance focused on long-term revitalization will update the public Tuesday.

Agency didn’t expect such big demand for needle clean-up kits

The Snohomish Health District ran out of supplies quickly, but more are arriving daily.

EvCC teachers take their contract concerns to the board

Their union says negotiations have been disappointingly slow. The community college isn’t commenting.

Here’s what to do if you want to vote and aren’t registered

Oct. 30 is the deadline for new-voter registration in time for the November election.

Two teens struck by truck in Lynnwood

The teens, between the ages of 14 and 16, were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Luring attempt reported in Mountlake Terrace

The driver allegedly instructed a boy to get in the truck and help grab a scooter he was giving away.

Injured hiker rescued near Granite Falls

Woman fell and hit her head on a rock Saturday, and her condition worsened overnight.

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Crews recover body of man who fell over Wallace Falls

The area where the man fell is called Sky Valley Lookout, 2.4 miles from the parking lot.

Most Read