By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice William Blees, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest ::
Active and retired Sailors came together to pay tribute to 129 Sailors and civilian technicians during the 50th Anniversary commemoration at Naval Base Kitsap (NBK) Bangor, April 10, who perished aboard the attack submarine USS Thresher (SSN 593)
“We gather today to remember the men of the Thresher,” said Command Master Chief Lance Mefford, Submarine Squadron 17.
Thresher was commissioned in August 1961, built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine as the first in her class of 3,700-ton nuclear-powered attack submarines. The technology of that day allowed her to be a fast, quiet, deep-diving vessel.
On April 10, 1963, Thresher completed overhaul and began testing her systems participating in post-overhaul sea trials. Accompanied by the submarine rescue ship Skylark (ASR 20), Thresher operated in the Atlantic Ocean more than 200 miles east of Cape Cod, Mass., where she started deep-diving tests.
“Fifty years ago  of our Sailors left port and didn’t return,” said Rear Adm. Dietrich Kuhlmann, commander, Submarine Group 9. “We gather to honor them today. As we reflect and commemorate these  Sailors we take with us the lessons learned on that fateful day.”
As Thresher proceeded upon the deep-diving test, Skylark started receiving garbled communications from the Thresher indicating trouble. Thresher sank off the coast of Massachusetts during that deep-diving test, making it the first nuclear-powered submarine lost at sea and the largest loss of life in the submarine force’s history.
“May we never forget our friends on the Thresher,” said Chaplain Cmdr. Steven Orren, NBK Bangor Chaplain. “May we serve our nation with renewed strength thanks to the Thresher and her crew.”
After the tragic loss of the Thresher the Navy established the Submarine Safety (SUBSAFE) program, which has become a worldwide model for safety and quality assurance. By imposing a strict quality control process and material control requirements throughout a submarine’s service life, SUBSAFE helps to ensure the safety of the crew members, and events like the Thresher are not repeated.
“The ceremony meant a lot,” said Steve Corcoran, vice commander, U.S. Submarine Veterans Bremerton Base. “It’s important for us to honor our sub group members. It wasn’t an option for us to come out and support. We had to be here.”
Kittery, Maine, the final homeport of USS Thresher, will dedicated a 129-foot flagpole in Memorial Circle on April 7, 2013. The flagpole height will serve as a permanent reminder of the 129 men who died that morning, ensuring they will forever be honored in and around the town where Thresher was built and homeported.