05.02.18

Kilmer, Shea-Porter, Taylor Urge Approval of Thresher Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

BREMERTON, WA—Congressman Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Congressman Scott Taylor (VA-02) today sent a letter to the Army National Military Cemeteries Executive Director urging approval of a memorial to recognize the victims of the USS Thresher at Arlington National Cemetery.

“The USS Thresher disaster is the largest loss of life in the history of the submarine service,” said Congressman Kilmer. “The crew’s deaths were not in vain. The disaster resulted in the SUBSAFE program, which protects our sailors every time they leave Bangor. The Thresher’s crew deserve a permanent place of honor at Arlington National Cemetery for these sacrifices.”

“The memorial at Arlington National Cemetery will recognize the brave sailors and civilians who perished aboard the USS Thresher, which was launched at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1960,” said Congresswoman Shea-Porter. “Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. After the loss of the Thresher, the Navy started what would become one of the world’s most effective military safety programs, the SUBSAFE program, and no SUBSAFE-certified vessel has ever been lost at sea. It’s time to honor the Thresher crew and to celebrate their legacy. Though their lives were lost, so many have been saved.”

“This proposed memorial would be a fitting tribute to the brave crew of the USS Thresher who lost their lives at sea over fifty years ago,” said Congressman Taylor. “Their legacy gave birth to the SUBSAFE program, one of our military’s most vital safety programs, whose uncompromising standards have kept our Navy safe for decades. The sinking of the USS Thresher and the sacrifice of its crew has occupied a spot in our nation’s memory, but now we hope that it will be forever memorialized in our nation’s most sacred grounds at Arlington National Cemetery.”

The USS Thresher was launched at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on July 9, 1960. She departed for her final voyage on April 3, 1963 with 16 officers, 96 sailors and 17 civilians aboard. All aboard perished on April 10, 1963 approximately 300 miles off the coast of New England.

In response to the loss of the Thresher, the Navy established new safety regulations for the submarine program, leading eventually to the creation of the Submarine Safety and Quality Assurance Program (SUBSAFE), which is now one of the most comprehensive military safety programs in the world.  No SUBSAFE-certified submarine has been lost at sea.

The SUBSAFE program has been so successful at preventing disasters, NASA adapted it for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs.

In the letter to the Army, which oversees Arlington National Cemetery, Shea-Porter and Kilmer expressed their support for the USS Thresher National Cemetery Memorial Project’s application.

The letter was also signed by Reps. Rep. Jim Banks (IN-03), Paul Cook (CA-08), Joe Courtney (CT-02), Matt Gaetz (FL-01), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Colleen Hanabusa (HI- 01), Walter Jones (NC-03), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Tom MacArthur (NJ-03), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Mike Turner (OH-10), and Rob Wittman (VA-01).

The letter can be viewed here:

Full text of the letter is below:

Ms. Karen Durham-Aguilera

Executive Director

Army National Military Cemeteries

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington, VA 22211

Dear Ms. Durham-Aguilera,

 

This month marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of the loss of the Navy submarine USS Thresher, which sank during deep-diving tests off the coast of Massachusetts and took the lives of 129 crew and civilian shipyard personnel on April 10, 1963.  Those who perished on the Thresher were some of the best and brightest in the U.S. Navy and included World War II and Korean War veterans, graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy, and participants in groundbreaking undersea Arctic missions. These patriots, who voluntarily placed themselves on the front lines of the Cold War, paid the ultimate price in service to our country.

 

The Thresher catastrophe was the first loss of a nuclear-powered submarine at sea and remains the greatest loss of life aboard a submarine.  These sacrifices were not made in vain.  Within two months of the sinking of Thresher, the Navy instituted the submarine safety program known as SUBSAFE. Whereas between 1915 and 1963, the Navy lost sixteen submarines for reasons unrelated to combat, since the creation of this rigorous program, not one SUBSAFE-certified submarine has been lost.

 

That means that for over fifty years, the rigorous standards and certifications implemented by the Navy in the wake of the Thresher tragedy have kept American submarines and their crews safe.  The ripples of the SUBSAFE program even extend beyond the U.S. Navy.  Following the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, NASA described SUBSAFE as "successful safety programs and practices that could be models for NASA."  The story of Thresher is thus not one of loss, but one of security, perseverance, and safety for two generations of U.S. Navy submariners who followed in the footsteps of the crew of Thresher.   

 

We believe it's time to recognize the sacrifice of the Thresher and advancements made within the U.S. Navy submarine fleet as a direct result from the lives lost. We believe it’s time to honor the Thresher crew and shipyard personnel lost in 1963 with a memorial worthy of their legacy. We believe it’s time to honor the memory of those lost and the price they paid for future generations of sailors and for the safety and security of our country with a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

We understand that the USS Thresher Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Project has submitted an application package for a modest memorial stone along a walkway at the cemetery. We wholeheartedly support this application and request that you favorably consider granting approval for such a memorial. 

 

Based on our understanding of the memorial approval process at Arlington Cemetery, the casualty count of an event for which a memorial is being proposed is taken into account. In the historical narrative of American sacrifice for freedom and peace, the 129 lives lost on Thresher seems modest. In addition to those lives lost, we ask you to also consider the lives saved as a result of the catastrophe when deliberating on the memorial application. That is the true legacy of Thresher.

 

We appreciate your consideration of this request.

 

Sincerely,