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Groton — Looking into the audience of submarine veterans of different eras, Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge told them that "submariners are submariners" and "the symbols we wear on our chest transcend time and war and circumstance."
"What binds us together, what carries us through the challenges and pressures of five decades, what makes us stronger today more than ever, is the common heritage of demanding service and sacrifice beneath the waves," said Breckenridge, the director of the Warfare Integration Division.
Breckenridge, who is also a former commander of Submarine Group Two in Groton, was the guest speaker for the U.S. Submarine Veterans Inc. Groton Base's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of their organization, held Saturday at the National Submarine Memorial East.
The national veterans' organization, which now has bases, or chapters, throughout the United States, was founded by a group of local submarine veterans, including Joe Negri, in May 1964.
The USS Thresher had sunk the previous year, on April 10, 1963, east of Cape Cod after leaving the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for deep-diving tests. All 129 men on board died. At the time, the organization for submarine veterans to honor their shipmates was only open to those who served during World War II.
Breckenridge said Negri "gave us more than a clubhouse," and more than the "three pillars of remembrance, fellowship and compassion."
"As proud warriors of the deep, we celebrate the victories of the past, we respect the achievements of the present, and we view the challenges of the future with the absolute and certain determination that those who inherit the standards and confidence of our way of life are superbly equipped to deal with whatever it brings," he said. "There is a place at the table for everyone."
Before Subvets was an organization, Earl Johnson, 78, who attended the ceremony, qualified to serve aboard submarines on a diesel submarine, the USS Jallao SS-368. Johnson, of Thaxton, Miss., said he joined Subvets because he enjoys the camaraderie.
Seaman Apprentice Mike Gonzalez, 19, held the flag for the Thresher during the ceremony. Gonzalez, a student at the Naval Submarine School, said he was "lucky enough" to get that flag and felt honored to take part in the ceremony. He wants to join Subvets once he is eligible.
"It's an honor seeing everybody here and being able to hear their stories," he said. "We share our adventures with each other."