The USS Thresher (SSN-593), a fast attack nuclear submarine, sank for good on April 10, 1963.
That accident, which occurred when I was a child, changed my life.
The Thresher was going through overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. She went out on her sea trials, in which ships accompany her, lots of extra Shipyard experts rode her and the initial trials were monitored by people on the surface–listening and in constant communication with the crew.
They took her down slowly, ensuring there were no problems, but when she got to “test depth,” (Whatever that is, my in-house submariner only says, “submarines can go lower than 400 feet.”), problems arose. They spoke of emergency “blowing” the boat (which means emptying all the ballast tanks and flying up out of the water: see the movie The Hunt for Red October.), followed by one more garbled message and that was it.
The people on the surface, according to the stories I’ve heard (though Wikipedia doesn’t report it), heard the boat breaking up.
No one survived.
It was the first submarine the US Navy lost and sent shock ways through the fleet. Many refinements and corrections in safety were made on the nuclear boats as a result of the accident. My husband joined the fleet 15 years later, and spoke often about “sub-safe” requirements. (Only one other US submarine has been lost: The USS Scorpion. A story for another time)
The 1963 Thresher accident also touched me during my husband’s tour at basic submarine school in Groton, Connecticut, many years later.
The Thresher CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer)–the officer who visited all the newly-widowed Navy wives–never got over the experience and he spoke to my husband’s class and their wives. He got us twenty-something, mostly newlywed, women into a room and lectured us about submarine life. His first words?
“The best way to become a good Navy wife is to learn how to be a widow.”
We all gasped. He explained how horrified he was to meet all those Thresher widows in 1963 who didn’t know anything about taking care of themselves. They didn’t know anything about insurance, managing money, auto repair, etc.
Being the scrupulous researcher that I am, I followed directions and did a study on how to be a good widow. I read books about widowhood and what to prepare for ahead of time. My Lieutenant (junior grade) and I made a plan of what I would do if he died.
Fortunately, I never had to execute the plan, but this is what has stayed with me all these years:
*Do nothing the first year. Your objective is to survive.
*Make no major decisions. Do not sell your house or car unless you absolutely have to.
*Get trusted advisors and listen to them.
*After a year, take a trip away from where you live and think about what you want to do with your life.
*Make a new plan for your life and move forward.”
I’ve shared this information with women for years. I’m glad I have it but am even more thankful I’ve never had to use it–thanks to the USS Thresher.
Navy wife plan for widowhood. Click to Tweet
What a submarine accident taught me about death Click to Tweet