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Remembering the Kursk

Groton - When Jon Warn learned of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster a decade ago, he immediately envisioned the plight of its crew.

"You can't help but imagine yourself sitting at the bottom of the Barents Sea with no hope," said Warn, of Noank. "It's chilling."

After serving 21 years in the Navy, Warn could easily form that mental picture. So could his shipmates from the USS George Washington Carver (SSBN 656), who gathered in Groton Thursday for a reunion.

Thursday was also the 10th anniversary of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster, and the reunion attendees felt it was important to honor the Russian sailors who served on the doomed vessel.

Michael Brown, the reunion chairman, said there is a "brotherhood associated with submarines that is somewhat unique."

"We all recognize that we share risks and dangers inherent in the environment we operate in," said retired Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, who served on the Carver from 1979 to 1982. "It's hard to understand that sense of excitement and danger unless you've been to sea on a submarine."

One of the most advanced vessels in the Russian fleet, the Kursk sank during naval exercises in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000, killing all 118 crew members. A subsequent inquiry found that a defective torpedo had set off an explosion.

Many criticized then-Russian President Vladimir Putin for his slow reaction to the Kursk catastrophe. It took days to begin international search operations because initial offers of help were rejected.

In Russia, flags flew at half mast on Thursday and memorial ceremonies were held across the nation.

"It doesn't really matter what country's uniform you were in when you served," said Ken Johnson, who served on Groton-based submarines from 1962 to 1966. "You served your country and we shared a common enemy in the sea."

Dmitry Zubkov was invited to the reunion to share his experiences as a Russian navy captain during the Cold War. The Carver served as a deterrent force during that era, as did Zubkov's submarine. He commanded the K-475, Delta-I type, from 1972 to 1980.

Zubkov and Fargo each placed a wreath in front of a Kursk memorial that was set up inside the Submarine Force Library and Museum. Those in attendance saluted.

"Russian and American submariners have the same experiences, the same dangers, the same patriotic feelings to our country," Zubkov noted.

"We train hard and we do everything in our power to ensure that we operate as safely as possible," said Fargo, who commanded both the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the U.S. Pacific Command. "These are very complex machines, and with complexity and the environment comes a degree of risk."

Fargo said "nothing could be more appropriate" than to honor the Kursk crew with Zubkov.

They also dedicated a large sculpture to honor those who served on submarines and shared in the common risks. The Carver crew commissioned the sculpture so it could be displayed at submarine museums and other locations around the world. It will be in Groton for about a month.

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