Naval Sea Systems Command commemorated the 53rd anniversary of the loss of USS Thresher (SSN 593) with a presentation by Bruce W. Harvey at the Washington Navy Yard April 6. Harvey, son of Lt. Cmdr. John W. Harvey, commanding officer of the Thresher at the time of the tragedy, was the guest speaker.
In a full auditorium, Harvey reminisced about his father's life leading up to the U.S. Naval Academy and his time in the Navy until that fatal day on the Thresher. He began with a brief overview of the history of the nuclear submarine force, including historic photos of the USS Nautilus (SSN 571), and gave the audience a glimpse of life on board.
"This morning I welcome you aboard as I share some of my thoughts of what the submarine force has meant to me," said Harvey as he began his presentation. "In my opinion there is no greater deterrent than the submarine force."
After reflecting on his father and fellow sailors' accomplishments in the Navy, he spoke with strong emotion about the Thresher and the events that followed directly after the loss. Harvey held back tears as he showed powerful photos from his father's funeral and of his mother after the tragic event. He also shared pictures of hand written notes from President John F. Kennedy and Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, Father of the Nuclear Navy, expressing their condolences to the Harvey Family.
Thresher, commissioned August 1961, was the lead ship of a new class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines and was the most technically advanced ship in the world. On April 10, 1963, she sank approximately 200 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, making it the first nuclear-powered submarine lost at sea and the largest loss of life in the submarine force's history. The Navy immediately restricted all submarines in depth until an understanding of the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Thresher could be gained.
"It's been 53 years since we lost Thresher and out of the loss came the SUBSAFE program," said Rear Adm. Moises DelToro, deputy commander, Undersea Warfare. "Our challenge today, 53 years after the loss of Thresher, is to maintain our vigilance, intensity and integrity in all matters involving the SUBSAFE program and to avoid ignorance, arrogance and complacency."
From this tragic event, the Navy created a quality assurance program, SUBSAFE, designed to maintain the safety of the nuclear submarine fleet. The program imposes a strict quality control process and material control requirements throughout a submarine's service life to help ensure the safety of the crew members.
"All of us have an obligation to have that questioning attitude and to raise a question in certification of submarines so that we can preclude an accident like that from happening again," said DelToro.
Naval Sea Systems Command uses the anniversary of the Thresher loss as the basis for annual mandatory SUBSAFE training. During the training, employees are reminded of the importance of SUBSAFE and are refreshed on the latest industry safety standards. This training and other observances throughout the submarine community help maintain the safety focus and continually renews the Navy's safety culture.