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Honoring Veterans Day and those lost at sea

The USS Thresher nuclear submarine at sea.
The USS Thresher nuclear submarine at sea.

The profound words of Navy Chaplain Bill Houston — “submarine crews on perpetual patrol” — often haunt me as I look out over the sea and wonder about the veterans who never returned home.

Since the American Revolutionary War, with the loss of submersible Turtle, numerous submarines have been lost to the oceans’ black and icy waters. The U.S. Navy’s submarine service experienced its greatest number of fatalities during World War II, when one in five submarines were sunk. All told, nearly 3,500 sailors lost their lives. The fate of some of these lost boats remains a mystery to this day.

The last time our country suffered a loss of a submarine was in 1968, when the USS Scorpion with 99 souls on board sunk about 400 nautical miles southwest of the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean in about 10,000 feet of water.

The U.S. Navy’s worst single submarine disaster in terms of lives lost occurred five years earlier, on April 10, 1963, when the USS Thresher sank during deep-diving trials with 129 souls on board.

During these deep-diving tests, which occurred about 200 miles east of Boston, it’s hypothesized that a possible cause of the accident was the failure of a joint in the seawater piping as Thresher neared its test depth at around 1,000 feet. This allowed high pressure seawater spray to short out the electrical equipment and cause an emergency shutdown of the submarine’s nuclear reactor. However, this hypothesis remains controversial.

What is known is that, without propulsion, the submarine continued to head toward the ocean floor. Sound analysis from underwater hydrophone arrays that were deployed throughout the Atlantic during the Cold War and communications with the Skylark — a submarine rescue ship that accompanied the Thresher during these deep diving trials — is the submarine tried to blow its ballast to reach the surface, but was unable to because of ice formations in the ballast system.

Consequently, Thresher continued on its downward course. When the submarine reached 2,400 feet of depth, it imploded in less than a 10th of a second, too short of a time frame for human perception. The predicted “collapse” depth of the submarine was 1,950 feet. It’s been estimated that water and steel hit the crew with a velocity of 2,600 mph. The ocean pressure at that depth is 1,069 pounds per each square inch of the submarine’s hull. Immense indeed! The remains of Thresher and its crew came to rest on the ocean floor at 8,400 feet.

On Veterans Day, please remember all those who gave everything, including their lives, to preserve our freedom.

Unfortunately, many veterans returning home have suffered serious injuries while stationed overseas. The Mighty Oaks Warrior Program in San Miguel offers programs for veterans and active duty personnel who have experienced tragedy and combat trauma through their military service.

The Mighty Oaks Warrior journey begins with an intensive peer-based program for men, women, and couples. Through instructional sessions, camaraderie, and team-building activities, the programs teach “warriors” to overcome their past experiences and move forward into a life of purpose. To learn more, please visit

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PG&E and its employees are honored to support our treasured veterans with volunteer hours and financial resources to assist groups like Mighty Oaks Warrior Program. PG&E has a goal to hire 1,000 veterans over next eight years. To learn more, please visit

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is the PG&E Diablo Canyon meteorologist and media relations specialist. Email him at