The Thresher

by Dave Larson

USS Thresher put to sea
In April, Nineteen Sixty-Three
From Navy yards, home base of Portsmouth
She plyed a course both east and south

Submarine of new design
Driven by a steam turbine 
System powered by nuclear fission
Hunter-killer sub the mission

To stalk the Soviet fleet whose boats
Patrolled unseen along the coast
From huge subs of that era distant
Missiles could launch at any instant.

On shakedown cruise the ship to test 
And make the deepest test dive yet
Beyond the Continental Shelf to where
Lurked Russian subs, in hidden lair

The Thresher’s dives were all routine
Until some crisis unforeseen
The Captain’s message at the last was
The only evidence of some cause

‘Minor difficulties…positive up-angle, 
Attempting to blow’, all else was strangled
Until a muffled sound, the boom
That was the sound of Thresher’s doom

It’s thought that piping burst and filled
The stern compartments, water killed
The nuclear power system’s force
So that the ship had no resource
To turn the screws and force the boat
To surface and regain her float

And ballast tanks could not be blown
Since at great depth, ice forms, its known
In air compressed and forced through tubes
By submarines in which its used
So the Thresher could not regain
The buoyancy to rise again

Sinking slowly, stern aimed down
The sub stood vertical til she found
The depths beyond which no steel plate
Could withstand pressures so great

What scene of hellish chaos then
The doomed crew knew until the end
Steel plates groaned, then shrieked, until
Implosion blew apart the hull

When the thresher’s hull collapsed 
A fraction of an instant passed 
Much faster than the mind can think
Far quicker than the eye can blink

No sense felt or known of death
Life extinguished in mid-breath
Gone was thought, gone consciousness 
And life passed into nothingness

The greatest warship of her kind
Shattered like glass into a cloud
To sea floor depths small debris rained
No intact hull was ever found

The price we pay for life is death
The debt builds up with every breath
Though we can grieve, lament the loss
Still we can only stand the cost

This poet’s skill can scarce tell true
The tale of what those men went through
Or give the reader a true measure
Of the sinking of the Thresher.