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At Thresher service, call for a national memorial

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published April 15. 2013 4:00AM
Tim Martin/The Day
Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge is reflected in the Wall of Honor as he speaks at a memorial service in remembrance of the 129 lives lost in the sinking of the USS Thresher (SSN 593) 50 years ago.The service was held at the National Submarine Memorial East in Groton Sunday. See related story in Daybreak.

Groton - At a memorial service for the USS Thresher on Sunday, the relatives of the men who died on board 50 years ago, a senior Navy officer and veterans all said that memories of the tragedy must not be allowed to fade.

To that end, an effort is underway to erect a privately funded National Commemorative USS Thresher Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Kevin Galeaz, who is spearheading the effort along with a board of directors, said in a separate interview he will submit plans to the advisory committee that controls access to the cemetery in May. Little space is available in the cemetery but Galeaz said he's optimistic.

The 50th anniversary captured the public's attention, Galeaz said, so "if we're going to do it, it has got to be now."

Barbara Wolfe-Archambeault and Bruce Harvey, whose fathers were among the 129 men who died on the Thresher, both said after the ceremony at the National Submarine Memorial East that they would like to see a memorial in Arlington.

"It would be nice to bring my children there," Wolfe-Archambeault, of Uncasville, said. "We don't have a cemetery to go to."

Harvey, whose father, Lt. Cmdr. John W. Harvey, was the commanding officer on the Thresher, said a national memorial is "absolutely necessary."

The Thresher (SSN 593) sank on April 10, 1963, east of Cape Cod after leaving the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for deep-diving tests. All 129 men on board died.

Within two months, the Navy developed new submarine safety standards as part of a program that became known as SUBSAFE. The Navy has never lost a SUBSAFE-certified submarine.

Galeaz will propose that the Thresher memorial be placed on a non-active burial area next to the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial, perhaps on the sidewalk leading up to it.

Many visitors pass through this area and NASA worked with SUBSAFE to improve safety standards in the space program after Columbia was lost. The memorial would feature the names of the men and the story of SUBSAFE, said Galeaz, who is also the commander of the U.S. Submarine Veterans Thresher Base.

Retired Vice Adm. Al Konetzni, who is on the board, said Arlington is the place where fallen heroes are honored. Establishing the Thresher memorial there, he said, is "the right thing to do."

"I'm going to do everything in my heart and soul to make it happen," he said this week.

During Sunday's ceremony, Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, the commander of Submarine Group Two and the keynote speaker, said the 129 men "gave the ultimate sacrifice protecting our nation."

He thanked the organizers of the ceremony from the U.S. Submarine Veterans Groton Base for honoring these men because, he said, it is by staying connected with the past that "we don't have to relearn or possibly relive these tragedies."

"It is events like today that help us not to lose our grip on this important moment in history," he said.

Wolfe-Archambeault said she attended the ceremony to keep her father's memory alive. At 49 years old, she is one of the youngest, if not the youngest, of the Thresher children.

At the time, her mother, Patricia, was six weeks pregnant. Ronald Wolfe, a quartermaster on the Thresher, had just learned he was going to be a father for the first time.

Joe Frederick, who served on the Thresher before he left the Navy in 1962, traveled from his home in Rhode Island to toll the bell as the names of the men were read.

Wolfe-Archambeault made the sign of the cross when "Ronald E. Wolfe" was called. Nancy DeMarinis, whose two cousins, Benjamin Shafer and John Shafer, were crew members, placed a wreath by the memorial's Wall of Honor as "Amazing Grace" played.

Frederick, who is now 76, said that with anniversary events in Portsmouth, N.H., and Groton, "It has been a tough week."

"I still feel the pain," he said.

Breckenridge told the families and the former crew members the expression "time heals all wounds" is a lie. But, he said, the ceremony did serve its purpose. It lifted up those who gave their lives to a worthy cause - "the sacred service of protecting our nation," he said.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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