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Thresher Remembered at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard


By Debra Kelley, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Public Affairs

KITTERY, Maine -- Close to 500 family members and friends, Navy and shipyard personnel, and local dignitaries joined together at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) on April 5 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the loss of USS Thresher (SSN 593) on April 10, 1963. PNS Sailors welcomed the guests aboard and, in the foyer of the Shipyard's historic Auditorium, Sailors from USS Norfolk (SSN 714) greeted the large contingent of Thresher families who reviewed a display of sad letters, photographs and newspaper clippings detailing the tragic events of 40 years ago.

Navy Band Northeast set the mood as the Silver Dolphin Color Guard from the Naval Submarine School, New London, Conn. presented Colors. Master of Ceremonies Robert Bellisle, past commander of Thresher Base, United States Submarine Veterans, greeted the capacity crowd.

"There is no better way to honor those lost on Thresher than to come together and perpetuate the memories of the men who gave their lives in the line of duty," he said.

Vice Adm. Albert H. Konetzni Jr., Deputy Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet and U.S. Fleet Forces Command, delivered the keynote address. "It is truly an honor for me to be here today," said Konetzni. "We should never forget the lessons learned from Thresher - lessons that are etched in the minds of every submariner.

"These men didn't die in vain," he continued. "Because of these 129 great Americans, who are now on eternal patrol, we have the safest, most capable Submarine Force ever created."

Konetzni went on to compliment the class of young Sailors from Naval Submarine School who had traveled to the ceremony, and proudly announced that their graduating class was being named in honor of Thresher.

Before the tragedy, Thresher was the lead ship of a new class of nuclear powered fast-attack submarines. By all accounts, Thresher was the most technically advanced ship in the world.

Thresher was commissioned on August 3, 1961. Following test operations which provided a thorough evaluation of her many new technological features and weapons, it returned to PNS for overhaul. The sub went out for sea trials on April 9, 1963. The next day, Thresher, with her crew of 129 men, was reported "overdue and presumed missing."

Thresher had made a test dive and never resurfaced. From this tragic event the Navy's Submarine Safety (SUBSAFE) Program was established.

Capt. Kevin McCoy, PNS Commander, said the Thresher was the Submarine Force's best hope for the future. "The memory of Thresher and its crew will never fade from our hearts," he promised.

During the ceremony, New Hampshire's 1st District Congressman Jeb Bradley said "the occasion was an opportunity for a grateful nation to pay tribute to the 129 men who sacrificed their lives for their country."

In a traditional Tolling of the Bells ceremony, each of the civilian and military crew members' names were read by Thresher Base veterans Kevin Galeaz and Herman Stolzenburg while Thresher Base Commander and PNS Command Master Chief Gary Hildreth tolled the bell 129 times in their honor.

The ceremony concluded with a gathering along the Shipyard's waterfront for a wreath laying. Jill Arsenault, the widow of Chief Engineman (SS) Tilmon J. Arsenault, and Joan Lyman, the widow of Lt. Cmdr. John Lyman, somberly tossed the wreath into the Piscataqua River reflecting back on that fateful day 40 years ago and honoring all 129 men who perished on Thresher.

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