USS Thresher

USS Thresher

By: Garland Davis

Thresher1.jpg

I was stationed at NAS Lemoore out of Recruit Training. I was there for a one-year special tour of shore duty. Lemoore was a brand new station. They shipped a number of “boots’ there to do the mess cooking and coop cleaning duties. I spent nine of the twelve months in the galley as a mess cook and as a Commissaryman striker. During that time I was assigned to the same berthing cubicle (four bunks and locker per cubicle) with a CS3, later CS2 Ronald A. Muise.

“Moose” helped me learn the rudiments of the CS rate and his advice was very helpful in my battle to become a cook striker. We became good friends. He was attached to one of the training squadrons and was transferring the same month that I was. We both filled out our “dream sheets” on the same day. I requested ships homeported on the west coast and in Hawaii. Moose applied for Submarine School. We received our orders the same day. His to Groton Connecticut for Sub School and mine to the USS Vesuvius, an ammunition ship homeported in Port Chicago, CA.

I checked out of the base the same day he checked out of his squadron. A friend of his gave us a ride to the bus station in Hanford. We shook hands and vowed to keep in touch. He was going on leave to his home in New York and I was going to San Francisco.

We traded a couple of letters over the next few months. I still have the last postcard he sent. It read: “Dave, I graduated Sub School. Getting a few days leave before I report to my first boat. I will be coming back here to report to the USS Thresher.” The postcard was dated March 27, 1963.

On 9 April 1963 Thresher, got underway from Portsmouth at 8 am and rendezvoused with the submarine rescue ship Skylark at 11 am to begin its initial post-overhaul dive trials. That afternoon Thresher conducted an initial trim dive test, surfaced and then performed a second dive to half test depth. It remained submerged overnight and re-established underwater communications with Skylark at 6:30 am on the 10th to commence deep-dive trials. Following standard practice, Thresher slowly dived deeper as it traveled in circles under Skylark – to remain within communications distance – pausing every additional 100 feet of depth to check the integrity of all systems. As Thresher neared her test depth, Skylark received garbled communications over underwater telephone indicating “… minor difficulties, have positive up-angle, attempting to blow”, and then a final even more garbled message that included the number “900”.[ When Skylark received no further communication, surface observers gradually realized Thresher had sunk. By mid-afternoon, a total of 15 Navy ships were en route to the search area. At 6:30 pm, the Commander Submarine Force Atlantic sent word to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to begin notifying next-of-kin that Thresher was “missing.” By morning the next day all hope of finding Thresher was abandoned and at 10:30 am the Chief of Naval Operations went before the press corps at the Pentagon to announce that the submarine was lost with all hands.

Today marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of Thresher’s loss. Today my flag flies at half-staff in honor of the USS Thresher and my friend and shipmate Ronald A (Moose) Muise.

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4 thoughts on “USS Thresher

  1. Linda Pitzl says:

    We lost a dear friend that day also….Richard “Ricky” Lee Johnson. My husband, Russ and Ricky joined the Navy together. After boot camp, Rick went to Sub School and Russ joined the USS Miller out of Boston, serving there with his brother. We were married on November 10, 1962. Ricky was our best man. We were happy to hear that he was going to be close by at Portsmouth. On March 30, 1963 we were delighted to learn that we were expecting our first child and Ricky, visiting us for the weekend, was happy to consent to be our baby’s godparent. Unfortunately on April 1st, I miscarried, so my husband and I were sad when Ricky came again on April 5th to spend the weekend with us. He gave us both a hug and said “I’ll wait for the next one”. On April 7th, we drove him back to his base. He wasn’t feeling well and we encouraged him to check in at sick bay. His response…”no way, I don’t want to miss my first dive”. He and Russ both left with respective units, Rick for the sea trials, the USS Miller on the way to Cuba. The Miller was turned around to help in the search for the Thresher. Our lives were forever changed that day. Now 54 years later, still miss our friend.

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  2. Kenny Wayne says:

    This date also marks the birthday of the United States Submarine Service. 117 years. I have been a Brother of the Phin for almost half that time, belonging to the Holland Club whose criteria is being a Qualified Submariner for 50 years. I have proudly worn my Dolphins since qualifying on USS Corsair (SS-435) in 1961. The boat I was then riding a some time later was heading home to New London after spending a few months on a Geodesic Survey, aka, a Northern Run. We were anxious to get back as we had experienced some “other than normal occurrences,” including our freeze box not freezing so we had not had fresh frozen foods for some many days and the chill box was hardly maintaining cool. The snorkel head valve was problematic, the packing on Number Two Scope was not doing its job, the fresh water evaporator was under-performing and we had a crazy chained to his bunk in the after battery. Yup, anxious, might be an understatement. We had been “Rigged for Dive” and “Silent Running” submerged for a what we, the crew, thought was a new endurance record. We had been eating all the eggs that had been hard-boiled and put in pepperoncini jars to preserve them and eating Vienna Sausage and popcorn and smoking up our Sea Stores Cigarettes so that not only was the air foul but it was dripping green from the ventilation piping. The word was passed to each compartment to Rig for Surface via sound powered phones. Suddenly the 1-MC barked loud and clear with “This is the Captain…” The Skipper announced that we were changing course to the west to assist in the search for a Lost Submarine. Although those words were new to most of the crew, it had not been that long since our submarine fleet had experienced the loss of boats and crews in WW-II. We surfaced and soon joined in the search for the missing boat. We made turns enough for steerage but maintained quiet about the boat so those on passive sonar and warchstanders in every campartment might hear any sound from Thresher. The Topside Lookouts were doubled. When suffering losses in times of war we can chalk it up to sacrifice for a cause. When we lose the best of the best to some error or fault we have to readjust. We have lost just one other boat since, the Scorpion, with all hands. I suppose that’s a fairly good record considering the amount of men and equipment involved in Undersea Warfare. I pray we never have to hear those words again, “Submarine overdue, presumed lost.”

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  3. Claude Faught says:

    I was on the Uss Mills der 383 we was one of the ships that went out to see if we could find the Uss Thrasher

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