SALISBURY BEACH, Mass. — Bells tolled across this coastal town 129 times Wednesday in honor of each of the sailors, officers and civilians who died when the USS Thresher imploded and sank 50 years ago.
The nuclear-powered sub, a Naval marvel launched in the thick of the Cold War, was performing deep-dive tests on April 10, 1963 when it suffered a fatal flaw 220 miles off the Cape Cod coast. Its sinking led the Navy to toughen safety standards and remains the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history.
"Nobody ever forgets," said Jane Sorenson, who attended a ceremony here wearing a badge with a picture of her first husband, Donald Day. The engine man, third class, was 20 years old when he died with his shipmates, leaving his wife and year-old daughter, Anita.
"It’s like it happened only yesterday when these things come about." said Sorenson.
She joined other family members and friends of those who died, as well as veterans, at a granite monument to the Thresher's crew. The marker is named for Robert Steinel, a Salisbury Beach resident who a Petty Officer First Class aboard the sub. His widow and children attended the ceremony, as well.
The group fell silent at 9:18 a.m., believed the to be the time the Thresher was lost.
Similar events have been held in communities along the New England coast to commemorate the anniversary of the Thresher's sinking.
"I always considered my dad a hero and an adventurer," said Don Wise Jr., 59, during a weekend event in Portsmouth, N.H. "These memorials are how I connect my children and grandchildren with my dad."
Built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, the Thresher launched in July 1960 as the fastest, quietest and deepest diving sub in the Navy.
Three years later, the Thresher was based in Connecticut and was performing routine drills when sea water began leaking into its engine room. The leak caused an electrical short and power outage that shut down the sub's reactor.
The Thresher's ballast tanks failed to blow, which would have forced the sub to surface. Instead, the ship imploded as it sank to the ocean floor at a depth of 8,400 feet.
Tom Shannon, of the U.S. Submarine Veterans' Marblehead Base, said the Thresher's sinking prompted stringent quality standards in the Navy meant to ensure the tragedy would never be repeated.
“Believe me, the history of the Thresher was not lost on any of us,” he said. “The sacrifice those men made was impressed upon all of us by our officers and senior members of our crews.”
Details were reported by The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.