HOOKSETT — After more than a half-century, the 129 crew members who met a watery grave in the nuclear-powered submarine USS Thresher appear to have finally earned their place on America’s most hallowed ground.
Veteran Navy submariner and president of the non-profit USS Thresher Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Foundation Kevin Galeaz formally announced Monday night that a proposed memorial had received approval of Secretary of the Army Mark Esper. The submarine sank 220 miles off the coast of Cape Cod in 1963 during deep-dive exercises; all aboard were lost.
“This is a long time coming for the families, 55 years, and I have tears of joy that it is finally being realized,” said Galeaz.
Over the course of the last five years, Galeaz and his non-profit USS Thresher Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Foundation have worked to raise raise nearly $60,000 in private donations toward the erection of a small stone monument. Galeaz hopes it will be placed along a walkway near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the memorials for the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
The money will be used to cover the cost of the memorial and to ensure that funding will be in place to replace the monument in perpetuity.
The proposed memorial will be sent over to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, which is in charge of reviewing the aesthetic quality of all monuments and memorials within Washington D.C.
Galeaz said he expects the Thresher memorial design to be approved by the CFA because of the proposed design’s close resemblance to a Vietnam Helicopter Pilot and Crewmember Monument in Arlington.
Once the project has been authorized by the CFA, the U.S. Congress will have 60 days with which to deny the project. If Congress takes no action, the construction of the monument will proceed.
With an eye toward dedicating the monument sometime in the fall of 2019 or the spring of 2020, Galeaz says he plans to tap into a network of corporate donors to raise funds for a dedication ceremony and a reception in Washington D.C.
The money will also help defer the travel costs for the descendants of Thresher crew members who would like to attend the dedication.
Esper’s approval follows a gathering organized last Thursday at the Hooksett Public Library, where Galeaz updated more than 90 attendees about the progress of the memorial effort.
In his presentation, Galeaz described the push to erect an Arlington monument as the best way to remember both the crew of the Thresher and the importance of the safety measures that resulted from their deaths.
“We’re trying to get in there to perpetuate the memories of these guys and their legacy,” said Galeaz of the foundation’s work.
“And the reason is that we want to minimize the risk of this ever happening again. Why does it matter that we be there in Arlington? There are over three million people who visit that place annually. Think of how many people we can touch with this story.”
The U.S. Navy’s inquiry into the cause of the Thresher disaster resulted in the creation of the Submarine Safety and Quality Assurance Program, which set forth new quality control, testing and safety guidelines aimed at preventing the loss of another submarine.
Attendees were also addressed Thursday by Michael Di Nola Jr. of Manchester, whose father, Michael John Di Nola, was a lieutenant commander aboard the Thresher during its final voyage.
Di Nola, who was 9 at the time of the accident, described the night that a Navy chaplain and two admirals in full dress whites showed up on the family’s doorstep to break the news that his father had been lost at sea.
Di Nola, now 65, expressed frustration at the decades it’s taken to see a Thresher monument erected.
“Every year we would hear ‘It’s in the works, it’s in the works,’” said Di Nola. “Arlington isn’t just getting a stone at a cemetery. You’ve got to remember that there were no bodies, so the families had nowhere to go to mourn.”
“Now the people that were the young adults in 1963 I see here now with gray hair in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and still there’s no memorial stone. Well it’s changing now.”