HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For a half-century after the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history, Navy Capt. Paul “Bud” Rogers struggled with feelings that it should have been him — and not his last-minute replacement — on the doomed voyage of the USS Thresher in which 129 men died.
This week, at his family’s request, a Navy submarine is bringing his cremated remains to be buried at sea near the Thresher’s wreckage some 200 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. “I’m just so happy. I feel like my husband will be at peace,” said his widow, Barbara Rogers, 86, of Wernersville, Pennsylvania. “He felt he should have gone down with the Thresher.”
It was within a few days of the loss of the Thresher that its captain replaced Rogers with a more experienced sailor for deep-dive testing. On April 10, 1963, the submarine suffered a mechanical failure, descended below crush depth and imploded. The sub’s remnants came to a rest on the ocean floor at a depth of 8,500 feet.
At a memorial service for the lost men, Rogers served as an usher and tried, unsuccessfully, to console the wife of the man who took his place on the crew. “He said that she wouldn’t speak to him, and that really made him upset,” Barbara Rogers said. “He wanted to apologize to her.”
Rogers served 41 years in the Navy, including time spent as a manager for the Trident Missile Program in Washington, D.C., before retiring in 1990. When he died in October 2015 at age 86, he expressed in his will that he wanted to be buried at sea. His son-in-law, Fred Henney, made inquiries about depositing his ashes near the site of the Thresher disaster.
His ashes and a Navy chaplain were aboard an attack submarine, the USS Springfield, when it left the Navy base in Groton, Connecticut, on Tuesday. The chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Rumery, said he plans to recite passages from Scripture, and the submarine’s security force will fire a three-round volley before he lowers the ashes over the side of the submarine and into the North Atlantic.
Rogers’ family will be presented with the empty shells, an American flag and a chart showing the longitude and latitude of the submarine at the time of the ceremony. A submarine force spokesman, Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, said the ceremony coincided with regularly scheduled operations for the Springfield.
The Navy believes the Thresher went down after sea water sprayed onto an electrical panel, shorting it out and causing an emergency shutdown of the nuclear reactor. In response to the sinking, the Navy accelerated safety improvements and created a program called “SUBSAFE,” an extensive series of design modifications, training and other improvements.
People involved in the SUBSAFE program are required to watch a documentary about the Thresher that ends with an actual underwater recording featuring the sounds of the sub disintegrating under the crushing pressure of the sea.