The 1st Deep Dive after the Thresher

Richard Wren: Started as a Hydraulic Engineer in 1960

I used to work for the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady. They laid me off a few days before Thanksgiving in 1960. I had a wife and three kids and a mortgage. I was almost 40.

I got a typewriter and hand-pecked some letters, and when I was done I had eight job offers. The family weighed the situation and we all decided we would like to come to Mystic, to Groton.

My first job was a study on the Type 11 periscope. You look up at the sky in broad daylight and you don’t think there’s any stars up there, but they’re there. This periscope was strong enough so that you could take sightings on stars in broad daylight and see where you were. It was probably 60 feet long. It was immense. We came up with six or seven recommendations. They incorporated almost everyone one.

I had several friends that died on the Thresher. That was in April 1963. There were big seawater valves for cooling down parts of the submarine. We’re talking about 15-inch diameter. If one of those broke, that would let the water come in and finally flood enough of the submarine to sink it.

Their last message was, “Up angle, attempting to blow.” They were going to blow the water out of the ballast tanks to attempt to get buoyancy, and they couldn’t do it. So, among other things, Electric Boat got a contract to design a safety system for opening and closing those valves.

I went on the first deep dive after the Thresher. People would say to me, “Aren’t you scared to go?” And I said, “No, it’s just the same as going across the street.” I think it was the 640 boat. We did an emergency blow from design depth to the surface and our valves all worked fine.

It’s like everything else. You don’t expect too many things in your home to fail that are going to cause your death. And I was younger. I didn’t worry about things like that.