Retired Navy Capt. Ted Hack presents Lt. Chris Miller with a submarine warfare pin worn by the last commanding officer of the Thresher. (MC1 Peter D. Lawlor / Navy)
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Although all 129 men aboard the Thresher died when the attack submarine sank 50 years ago, a piece of the boat’s history will give the silent service’s youngest members a direct link to, and perhaps a greater understanding of, the fleet’s worst submarine disaster.
The Thresher’s final commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. John “Wes” Harvey, had two sets of submarine warfare insignia, better known as “dolphins” — one he was wearing when the sub went down in April 1963, the other left with his widow, Irene.
Irene Harvey presented the spare set to her niece’s husband, Ted Hack, upon his graduation from submarine school in 1969. Hack wore them “regularly and with special pride” throughout his career, he said. “In those days, the story of the Thresher was well-known, and I would often relate the background of these dolphins to my shipmates and fellow submariners.”
Hack retired as a captain in 1997. On April 12 at the Submarine Birthday Ball in Washington, D.C., he passed the dolphins on to Lt. Chris Miller, an assistant professor of naval science at Penn State University and the most recently qualified officer in attendance.
The 50th anniversary of the disaster was “a good time to pass them on to someone else,” Hack said.
“I knew there was a possibility I’d be the most junior dolphin-wearer, just because I received my dolphins in April 2011,” Miller said. “After I showed up to the ball and found out that I was pretty young compared to most people there … I was ecstatic.”
Hack presented Miller with the dolphins on one condition: Miller is to wear the dolphins for a year, then return them to the submarine force leadership at the Pentagon. Then they’ll be presented to the most recently qualified officer at a ball somewhere other than D.C.
Hack decided to pass the pin to the most junior qualified officer to keep alive the memory of those who died on the Thresher.
It’s working. “People kind of look at them and say, ‘Those look different; they’re not quite as shiny as your other one.’ I just say, ‘You know what? They mean a whole lot more,’” Miller said.
Miller needed no reminder of the tragedy. He handled the SUBSAFE program during a previous assignment aboard the Los Angeles-class submarine Asheville, a program that resulted from the Thresher accident.