In April of 1963, the U.S.S. Thresher, a nuclear submarine, was conducting sea trials about 200 miles East of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It went silent on April 10th and, after an extensive search, was discovered at the bottom of the sea in 8,400 feet of water. An inquiry concluded that the probable cause was a failure of a weld in the salt water piping system, causing the Thresher to implode in one or more of her compartments. 96 enlisted men, 17 civilian technicians and 16 officers, including Commander Wes Harvey, were lost.
John Wesley Harvey was born in the Bronx, New York on September 24, 1927. His parents, Manning and Anna, had lived in Frankford prior to that time and they returned sometime before 1930. The family, including older brother Manning Jr., first settled into a house in Oxford Circle but soon were living on the 1300 block of Fillmore Street in Frankford.
Wes attended Henry Edmunds Elementary School, Woodrow Wilson Junior High School and Frankford High School and was an honor student throughout. During his high school years, he was a member of the student board, Victory Corps and he also served as advertising manager of the school newspaper. Wes also participated in sports and was a member of the varsity football and baseball teams. Upon graduating high school, he was awarded the Board of Education Scholarship, with full tuition, to the University of Pennsylvania. He also received the Ellis A. Gimble Citizenship Award and was selected to the “One Hundred Club of Philadelphia” whose members are picked by the school principals and coaches from students having the highest combined standing in scholarship and athletics.
Irene Nagorski grew up in Bridesburg on Edgemont Street and attended Frankford High School where she met the handsome Wes and they became sweethearts. She went on the graduate from the Frankford Hospital School of Nursing.
Wes” was enrolled in the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at Penn from February 1945 until September 1946, when he won a long-desired appointment to the Naval Academy. While at Penn, Wes maintained honor grades and played varsity football on the same team with Chuck Bednarik. He said later that they both wanted to play Center but Bednarik beat him out for the position and he moved to Guard. During that time he was
President of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
His naval career began at the Naval Academy in September 1946, when he was sworn in as a midshipman, class of 1950. During his Academy years, he continued to excel in academics, in addition to starring in athletics and participating in a full schedule of extracurricular activities.
Graduated and commissioned an Ensign in June 1950, he married his high school sweetheart, Irene, and together they became a military family and went on to have two sons, Bruce and John Jr. The family followed along with Wes as he moved from one assignment to the next. Irene learned the ways of being a Navy wife.
Wes received his orders to report to his first ship, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea (CVA 43), as assistant navigator. He volunteered for submarines and was selected for training and graduated from submariner school in July 1951, standing 3rd in a class of 77.
His next assignment was aboard the submarine U.S.S. Sea Robin where he was designated qualified in submarines and selected for advanced training in nuclear propulsion. He received this training at the Westinghouse’s Bettis Laboratory in Pittsburgh and Idaho Falls, Idaho.
In July of 1955, he reported to the U.S.S. Nautilus and remained with that command until August 1958.
During that time, he participated in two Arctic cruises, the second of which was climaxed by the first submerged transit of the north polar region and earned the crew a Presidential Unit Citation. After more than a year as first engineer of a new prototype reactor in Windsor, Connecticut, he commissioned the nuclear-powered submarine U.S.S. Tullibee as engineering officer. In May 1961, he was selected as executive officer of the submarine, Sea Dragon, based at Pearl Harbor. In Sea Dragon, he participated in the historic rendezvous with Submarine Skate at the North Pole in 1962. In January of 1963 Wes was appointed commander of the USS Thresher following three months of duty at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Bureau of Ships.
The tragedy devastated the families of all those lost on the Thresher. Irene Harvey never remarried but continued to raise her sons and work as a nurse. She lived in Connecticut, until she passed away in February of 2014.
Irene was a devoted Navy wife and Mother. As a nurse and Navy widow, “Irene touched many lives. She believed that the meaning of life is not to be found in mere survival. Instead, life’s purpose is to be found somewhere in the process of caring, sharing, and loving.”
She also left behind a last request: to be buried at sea alongside her husband. In a solemn Navy tradition, USS Annapolis, over the site of the remains of the Thresher, fulfilled Irene’s wish.
May they both rest in peace.
More information about Irene Harvey at this link.
Research assistance by Dawn Hodson-Ritzler