USS Thresher memorial approved for Arlington National Cemetery
By HADLEY BARNDOLLAR | The Portsmouth Herald | Published: January 30, 2019
KITTERY, Maine (Tribune News Service) — The deaths of 129 men that essentially catalyzed modern submarine safety will finally be commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery, following memorial approval by the secretary of the Army.
Kevin Galeaz, president of the USS Thresher ANC Memorial Foundation, announced the long-awaited recognition Monday.
The foundation received nearly $60,000 in donations from USS Thresher families, former crew, submarine veterans and current and former Naval Sea Systems and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees. The donations will cover the cost of the memorial and ensure that funding will be in place to replace the monument in perpetuity.
The Arlington National Cemetery commemorative monuments process requires six levels of approvals. Galeaz said they began in 2012.
The memorial is dedicated to the 129 men lost aboard USS Thresher (SSN-593) on April 10, 1963, during deep dive exercises 220 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The Thresher tragedy was the largest submarine disaster ever experienced by the United States, and led to the inception of the SUBSAFE program, which continues to protect men and women who serve on U.S. submarines.
In the 55 years since the inception of SUBSAFE, only one submarine has been lost; the USS Scorpion, in what is believed to be due to a battery explosion. In the 46 years prior, the country saw a non-combat average loss rate of one submarine every three years.
Thresher was built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and commissioned in 1961.
The tragedy had a deep impact on the New England community. Approximately two dozen families of the men lost aboard the submarine still live in New Hampshire, and a number of other families live in Maine. In Kittery, the flagpole at the traffic circle stands as a Thresher memorial.
"The hallowed grounds of Arlington is the most suitable location from the family perspective for this memorial," Galeaz said. "Three million people visit there a year. How better can we perpetuate the legacy of the men lost? That's what the family members want. They want the legacy of their loved ones preserved."
At the 50th anniversary, Galeaz said family members were "very concerned this would never happen," and that the tragedy would simply remain a local event recognized in small memorials around the country.
"They now are literally so thankful that their loved ones are going to be remembered," he said. "I served on submarines. Every time I dove, I surfaced because of Thresher. I had the opportunity of coming home to my family because of the men lost on Thresher."
Senators and members of Congress joined the push for a Thresher memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a letter of support was sent to the secretary of the Army co-signed by Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I), and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D).
Former New Hampshire Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter led a letter of support signed by 15 members of the House Armed Services Committee.
The New Hampshire delegation issued statements Tuesday in response to the Army's approval of the memorial.
"At long last, the 129 brave men who perished aboard the USS Thresher more than five decades ago will receive a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to honor their legacy," Shaheen said. "This monument is so important for the families who lost loved ones on that fateful day, and is incredibly meaningful to the Seacoast community. I applaud the advocacy of the USS Thresher Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Foundation, who helped spearhead this effort, and I look forward to an official announcement on the Army's plan to make this project a reality."
View photos all those who died in the disaster in our photo galleries: Thresher: 129 lives lost, Part 1 and Thresher: 129 lives, lost Part 2.