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April 10, 2013

'On eternal patrol'

Today marks somber anniversary of submarine tragedy

SALISBURY — In 1955, Doris Randall Steinel Fisette was a pretty teenager with sparkling blue eyes when she met Robert Steinel at the roller skating rink at Salisbury Beach, where the 25-year-old Navy man had gone with his Marine buddy to spend some shore leave.

By age 18, she had married the handsome sailor at Salisbury’s East Parish United Methodist Church, and within the next seven years they would be blessed with three children.

But the events of April 10, 1963, would change her life forever. The 25-year-old mother was expecting her fourth child when she lost her husband, one of 129 men who went down aboard the USS Thresher, this nation’s most advanced submarine of its day.

This morning at Salisbury Beach Center, in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Thresher tragedy, many will gather around the memorial established to honor the ultimate sacrifice Steinel and his shipmates made when they died aboard their ship while it was on sea trials about 220 miles east of Boston.

The home of two Naval submarine hubs at the time, New England lost many on the Thresher, whose motto was “silent strength.”

On board along with Steinel were Robert E. Charron and Donald Day, both of Newburyport, and Fred Abrams of Kittery, Maine, whose sister lived in Salisbury at the time. Day listed an address on Inn Street, and Abrams was also a civilian from the shipyard. Charron, a civilian electronics technician at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on board for the sea trials, lived on Federal Street with his wife of 16 years, Ruth, and their children: Robert Jr., 14, Paul, 13, Anne-Marie, 10, Theresa, 6, and Peter, 16 months old.

“My husband worked at the shipyard on the sonar of the submarine,” said Ruth Charron, who now lives in Dover, N.H. “He received a couple of awards for the work he did on it. He was very proud of what they had done on the Thresher, and he really wanted to go out on the boat on the sea trials that day.”

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