The committee unanimously approved the project at its Nov. 7 meeting. The superintendent of Arlington and the head of Army National Military Cemeteries will next consider the project with a final decision coming from the Secretary of the Army.
Kevin Galeaz, a submarine veteran and president of the USS Thresher ANC Memorial Foundation, said he’s hoping for a decision before the 56th anniversary of the disaster next April.
The foundation has raised $60,000, exclusively from private donations, to build the monument, which is only expected to cost $5,000. The extra money is to cover any replacement or other costs that arise after the memorial is erected. Many of the donations have come from submarine veterans and Electric Boat employees in southeastern Connecticut, Galeaz said. The U.S. Submarine Veterans Groton Base donated $200 to the project.
The USS Thresher (SSN-593) departed the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for deep-diving tests on April 10, 1963. It sank shortly thereafter, more than 200 miles off the New England coast — the first nuclear-powered submarine to be lost at sea.
Among the 129 men killed were residents of New London, Groton, Norwich, Gales Ferry, Mystic, Uncasville and Jewett City.
The Navy has said the disaster likely was caused by a leak in the boat’s engine room, which led to seawater flooding an electric panel that triggered the nuclear reactor to shut down. With no propulsion, and with the added weight of the water, the ship sank below its crush depth and imploded.
“It is our understanding that the men of the USS Thresher stayed at their assigned stations while descending, making reports on the situation and the submarine’s condition even though knowing that they were doomed. They displayed an outstanding example of courage and commitment to ensure the challenges they encountered would not happen again,” the family of Lt. j.g. John Joseph Wiley, of Altoona, Pa., one of the deceased crew members, said in a letter to the advisory committee in support of project.
The Navy responded to the disaster by accelerating safety improvements and creating a program called “SUBSAFE,” an extensive series of design modifications, training and other improvements. No submarine certified under the program has been lost since.
Galeaz said the foundation is suggesting the small, granite monument be situated along a walkway in a non-burial area at Arlington near the memorials to the crews lost aboard the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia to highlight how the disasters relate. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board said the Navy’s Subsafe program could be a model for NASA.
“NASA approached the Subsafe community to learn how to change its industrial paradigm,” Galeaz said.