Community dedicates USS Thresher Memorial Park and Circle of Honor
KITTERY, Maine — “We breathe the air of freedom,” Town Council Chairman Jeff Thomson said in his remarks dedicating the USS Thresher Memorial Park and Circle of Honor on Monday morning.
The ceremony recognized those who died aboard the USS Thresher in 1963 and Kittery military veterans, first responders and Peace Corps volunteers.
Sprinkles of rain stopped and the sun occasionally broke through the clouds as the crowd gathered for the ceremony at the memorial next to Town Hall on Rogers Road.
The park and the Memorial Circle have been the work of the Thresher Memorial Project Group, which is composed of local individuals and officials who formed to honor the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Thresher in April 1963. The Thresher was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and had 129 crew members and shipyard workers aboard when it sank during sea trials.
Before the ceremony, on a plaque of names of those who perished on the Thresher, Don LaPointe of Eliot traced out the names of four fellow shipyard workers. LaPointe spent 38 years working at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; he is also a veteran of the Navy, Army and Army Air Corps including the China/Burma campaign.
The family of sonar operator Robert E. Steinel was gathered together on one side of the park. The extended family included his great-grandchildren: Levi Stanley, 13; Mark Stanley, 12; Jenny Stanley, 10; Sam Stanley, 9; Joe Stanley, 8; and James Stanley, 1, of Salem, N.H.
Ken Lemont served as master of ceremonies. The Rev. Dr. Beth Hoffman of the First Congregational Church of Eliot and chaplain of the Kittery Fire Department, gave the invocation and benediction.
Cathy Goodwin spoke for Sen. Susan Collins, who said, “Freedom is a gift.”
Masons from the Grand Masonic Lodge of Maine, A.F. & A.M., conducted a symbolic cornerstone laying ceremony. Grand Master David A. Walker of Monmouth presided as Masons used the square, level and plumb to declare the stone fit to be placed on the memorial walkway.
Vietnam War veteran Paul LeBlanc of Kittery, captain of the Rolling Thunder Honor Guard, spoke about the American flag after introducing Leon J. Tanguay of Sanford, a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.
Capt. William Greene, commander of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, said it was fitting that workers on their commute to the yard would pass the memorial.
“It serves as a constant reminder of the sacrifices that others have laid down for us,” he said.
Thomson, the dedication speaker, said, “Most small towns have a story; our story is about the Thresher.”
He described waiting for a school bus on that April day in 1963 with the two sons of Lt. Cmdr. John Lyman, who perished on the Thresher. Thomson, quoting President Harry Truman, said, “Our debt to the heroic men and women can never be repaid.”
He closed by saying, “We breathe the air of freedom. Let us love our parents, love our children and love our country.”
To watch a movie clip of the event, click the links below.