ARLINGTON, Va. -- The crew of the USS Thresher on “eternal watch” finally got their resting place at Arlington National Cemetery more than 56 years after their submarine sank off the coast of Cape Cod.
Hundreds of surviving family members and Navy veterans from across the country watched as their loved ones were honored for their bravery inside a grand amphitheater at the heart of the nation’s most hallowed ground.
Thursday’s ceremony brings to a close years of fighting, fundraising and organizing to get the six layers of approval needed to install the memorial. It now sits among the perfectly lined rows of white headstones. It’s a short walk from the iconic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and visitors to President John F. Kennedy’s grave must walk by it.
Built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, the first-in-class Thresher was the world’s most advanced fast attack submarine when it was commissioned. But a malfunction during a deep-sea drive off Cape Cod on April 10, 1963, claimed the lives of all 129 aboard.
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,” read the inscription above the stage.
It was the theme of Thursday’s event, as speakers and family members pointed to a new set of safety standards put in place following the sinking of the Thresher. No Navy submarine built using those standards has been lost at sea.
“The legacy is what matters to the family members,” said Kevin Galeaz. “It gives the family the ability to perpetuate the story of the Thresher and submarine safety. People from all over the country are going to learn about their legacy and 1.5 million visitors to Arlington each year will learn about this.”
Galeaz created a memorial foundation on behalf of the lost submariners, raising more than $60,000 for the cost and maintenance of the monument and working with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to move it along in Washington. It was a challenge to get all the approvals needed to have it placed inside Arlington National Cemetery’s tree-lined rolling hills, where generations of soldiers going back to the Revolutionary War are buried.
“Arlington is a place that humbles you, you scan the overwhelming area of the men and women who served our country,” Galeaz said. “It is awesome, awe inspiring and it’s an honor.”
Galeaz received an extended standing ovation during the ceremony for his work.
The audience was filled with men wearing blue vests emblazoned with patches and bright yellow letters denoting the submarines they served on: USS K1, Swordfish, Skate, Sculpin, Whale and Scamp. Navy veterans from across the country flew in for the ceremony, many of them with no personal connection to the Thresher sailors besides volunteering to be a submariner, a member of “the silent service.”
“Your relatives did not die in vain,” Shaheen told the crowd. She said their sacrifice will help keep generations of Navy members safe. Shaheen worked behind the scenes to get the memorial approved, meeting with then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper to ask for his help. He is now Secretary of Defense.
“It’s a fitting tribute to finally have some closure for all of those families and for everyone who lost someone on the Thresher,” Shaheen said in an interview.
Family members who attended the ceremony said the memorial unveiling was sorely overdue. Edna DiNola, 90, lost her husband on the Thresher. She had five children, including three in diapers.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “It’s rather nice to see people who I’ve known and my whole family is here. It should’ve happened a long time ago.”
Don Wise of Plaistow lost his father, who was the chief machinist mate, when he was 9.
“Every time I go to one of these things I get wicked emotional,” he said. “Tears in my eyes. I thought the ceremony was really good.”