Retired Submariners Commemorate 50th Anniversary of USS Thresher

Retired Submariners Commemorate 50th Anniversary of USS Thresher

Active duty and retired submariners gathered alongside Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment San Diego contractors for a ceremony held onboard Naval Base Pt. Loma, San Diego to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the loss of the USS Thresher (SSN 593) and the 129 Sailors and civilian shipyard personnel onboard during deep dive tests in 1963 off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass.

During the ceremony Capt. Thomas Ishee, Commander, Submarine Squadron Eleven, addressed the courage and commitment of the Thresher crew as pioneers in the pursuit of freedom against communism.

“There is always risk in forging a new path,” said Ishee. “I believe the men on Thresher and other early Cold [War] Warriors understood this risk, understood the need for this new class of swift and silent attack submarines, and bravely pushed ahead to get their submarine tested, outfitted, and into action to answer the Soviet threat. ”

Ishee recognized the crew’s sacrifice and the contributions they made to today’s submarine force and the entire world.

“Although the Thresher crew perished in the pursuit of their mission, the crews of their sister submarines continued to bravely push ahead.  The now Permit class was followed by the Sturgeon class, which was followed by the Los Angeles class, all descendants of the Thresher design.” said Ishee.

In attendance was Vicki Billings, daughter of Lt. Cmdr. John Hilary Billings, one of the brave men who lost his life aboard the Thresher. Billings, who was only 12 when her father lost his life, spoke about the complete man her father was, and what today’s memorial meant to her and her family.

“My family’s story is unique, and yet I think it will resonate with you and echo the emotions these memorials stir in us all,” said Billings. “And while the story is difficult to tell, I take great comfort in the fact that my father loved what he did and died doing what he loved. His passion was submarines. Thank you dad. Thank you and the heroic men of the Thresher. To this day, we miss you all so very much.”

Following Billings speech, a Tolling of the Bells and taps was played in honor of the crew of Thresher.

Thresher, which was built in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine, was the lead boat of a class of 3,700-ton nuclear-powered attack submarines. Built to seek out and destroy Soviet submarines, Thresher was the most advanced attack submarine of its time, faster and quieter than its predecessors, it also had the ability to dive deeper.

The loss of Thresher led to a renowned safety program, the Navy’s Submarine Safety Program, also known as SUBSAFE, which established design requirements, initial SUBSAFE certification requirements and certification continuity requirements.

Thresher was officially declared lost April 12, 1963 and the Navy has since listed her as being on “Eternal Patrol.”

Naval Today Staff, April 11, 2013; Image: US Navy