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

Agencies launch coordinated response to an opioid ‘emergency’

Health workers, law enforcement agencies and emergency managers are responding as they might to a disaster.

Jordan Evers distributes coffee Sunday afternoon during the annual community meal at Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett on November 19, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Firefighters serve Thanksgiving meals at Carl Gipson center

The next two feasts at the senior center in Everett will be Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 3.

Pair charged with first-degree robbery in marijuana theft

A man was shot in the head during a holdup that was supposed to net about an ounce of pot.

Planning — and patience — can ease Thanksgiving travel

The Washington State Department of Transportation offers information to help guide planning.

Puffy-coated robbery suspect arrested on Whidbey

The suspect apparently wore the same outfit in 2 robberies at the same place in less than 2 weeks.

Injection sites still banned — County Council doesn’t budge

At a public hearing, more than 15 people said they are opposed to sanctioned areas for using heroin.

Dog shot at Mountlake Terrace house during burglary

A suspect was arrested Friday in Everett for investigation of burglary and first-degree animal cruelty.

Alleged philanderer attacked with hammer near Everett

His girlfriend had accused him of cheating and allegedly called on another man to confront him.

1 arrested after SWAT team moves in on Marysville house

The incident was connected to an earlier robbery.

Most Read