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.

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