50 years since the submarine Thresher was lost

The Boston Globe had a story this morning about the Thresher submarine sinking off Cape Cod fifty years ago and it called to mind the Phil Ochs song on the subject.

For anyone who doesn’t remember the incident or is maybe too young, the Globe describes it this way.

The morning of April 10, 1963, was expected to be another round of rigorous but routine sea trials for the pride of the nation’s sub fleet. But what happened would jolt the nation: the worst submarine disaster in US history; the loss of all 129 crew, officers, and civilians on board; and a stinging blow to the American military at the hair-trigger height of the Cold War.

As the 278-foot-long Thresher began its descent that morning, only six months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the unthinkable happened.

A pipe burst, electrical circuits shorted, nuclear propulsion shut down, and sailors on the USS Skylark, a trailing Navy ship, received these words from below: “Exceeding test depth.”

They heard little else from the crew, and the Thresher plunged more than a mile to the bottom of the North Atlantic. The Skylark, however, did hear the submarine’s death rattle: ominous hissing and groaning that preceded a devastating implosion that killed everyone on board within seconds.

The submaine Thresher the day before the dive.

The submarine Thresher the day before the dive.

There will be 50 year memorial service for the 129 men that were lost on April 10, 1063 at which at 129 foot flag pole, one foot for each man, will be dedicated at the Portsmouth Navel Ship yard in Kittery, Maine.  (A note of geography:  Kittery is across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, NH)

I doubt if anyone will sing the Phil Ochs song, which was an anti-war protest song.

In Portsmouth town on the eastern shore
Where many a fine ship was born.
The Thresher was built
And the Thresher was launched
And the crew of the Thresher was sworn.

She was shaped like a tear
She was built like a shark
She was made to run fast and free.
And the builders shook their hands
And the builders shared their wine,
And thought that they had mastered the sea.
Yes, she’ll always run silent
And she’ll always run deep
Though the ocean has no pity

Though the waves will never weep
They’ll never weep.
And they marvelled at her speed
marvelled at her depth
marvelled at her deadly design.
And they sailed to every land
And they sailed to every port
Just to see what faults they could find.
Then they put her on the land
For nine months to stand
And they worked on her from stem to stern.
But they could never see
It was their coffin to be
For the sea was waiting for their return.

Yes, she’ll always run silent
And she’ll always run deep
Though the ocean has no pity
And the waves will never weep
They’ll never weep.

On a cold Wednesday morn
They put her her out to sea
When the waves they were nine feet high.
And they dove beneath the waves
And they dove to their graves
And they never said a last goodbye.
And its deeper and deeper
And deeper they dove
Just to see what their ship could stand.
But the hull gave a moan
And the hull gave a groan
And they plunged to the deepest darkest sand.

Now she lies in the depths
Of the darkened ocean floor
Covered by the waters cold and still.
Oh can’t you see the wrong
She was a death ship all along
Died before she had a chance to kill.

And she´ll never run silent,
And she´ll never run deep,
For the ocean had no pity
And the waves, they never weep,
They never weep.

[Alternate final verse from an early Broadside tape]

And it’s 8000 fathoms of the water above
And over 100 men below
And sealed in their tomb
Is the cause of their doom
That only the sea will ever know

The Thresher’s remains were actually found in 1985 by oceanographer, Robert Ballard.

Sheep in the city

I live across the street from a city park and often say it is my front yard.  But sometimes the lawn mowing gets to me, and even worse are those horrid leaf blowers which just blow dirt around.  And small stones.  I need to get working on a campaign to ban them in Boston.  Maybe that will be my next retirement project.  But on to the sheep.

In case you missed the story, Paris is experimenting with sheep to mow lawns.  This short story from the Boston Globe caught my eye the other day.

PARIS — Will tourists soon see flocks of baahing sheep at the Eiffel Tower and bleating ewes by Notre Dame cathedral?

That could be the case, since Paris City Hall this week installed a small flock of sheep to mow the lawn at the city’s gardens, replacing gas-guzzling mowers. Four ewes — shipped in from an island off the Brittany coast — are munching the grass surrounding Paris Archives building.

‘‘I can imagine this very easily in London and New York . . . even Tokyo,’’ said ­Fabienne Giboudeaux, City Hall’s director of green spaces. ‘‘And why not have them at the Eiffel Tower?’’

Last year, two goats mowed the lawn at Tuileries, the city’s grand 17th-century gardens. A similar experiment outside Paris found that sheep droppings brought swallows back to the area. ‘‘It might sound funny, but animal lawnmowers are ecological as no gasoline is required, and cost half the price of a machine,’’ said Marcel Collet, Paris farm director. ‘‘And they’re so cute.’’

One of the Paris sheep.

One of the Paris sheep.

I read this and wondered how they keep the sheep from wandering off.  According to the Atlantic, they use an electric fence.  I guess they would have to move it around to different grazing areas as they can’t keep the entire space blocked off.  I think they should hire shepherds and a few dogs.  Give some people jobs.  They can use a portable pen at night.

As the Atlantic points out

It’s honestly a pretty sensible idea. For centuries, if not millennia, grazing animals like sheep and cows have been used both to trim and to fertilize fields. In fact, many of the oldest urban parks were originally populated by farm animals, sometimes just during the day when their owners went into to town to do business. A funny if only marginally related story about in-town grazing comes from Cambridge, Massachusetts, a former suburb of Boston that’s now very much a part of the city. Back in the early days of Harvard College, one of the perks of being a professor was that you were allowed to graze your cow in Harvard Yard. Back in 2009, retiring professor Harvey Cox actually exercised this privilege when he brought his cow Faith to school.

Actually, there shouldn’t be a lot of odor as sheep don’t do big patties like cows.  And if they hire a shepherd she can rake it up – not with a leaf blower.

I hope this catches on.  I like the thought of a couple of sheep with a shepherd on Fort Hill.  Plus it lowers noise pollution and helps with climate change and could create some jobs.

Photograph from Reuters