27 November 2016
GROTON — A Navy veteran will soon be laid to rest at the bottom of the ocean, more than 200 miles off the New England coast.
A submarine from the Naval Submarine Base will fulfill the wish of deceased Navy Capt. Paul "Bud" Rogers to be buried at sea. During routine operations, the submarine will transport Rogers' cremated remains to where the USS Thresher (SSN-593) sank.
The Navy is not releasing the name of the submarine or the date the burial will take place, since it does not discuss submarine operations.
Rogers, who spent much of his 41-year career serving on submarines, was supposed to be an observer on the Thresher during the boat's sea trials, but his supervisor, at the last minute, decided that he didn't have enough experience and replaced him with someone else.
It was just a day or two later, according to Rogers' wife, that on April 10, 1963, the Thresher sank — killing all 129 men aboard.
Rogers was devastated, and felt survivor's remorse for much of his life.
"Bud felt that he should've been the one to go down with the Thresher, not this other man," his wife, Barbara "Bobbye" Rogers, 86, said from her home in Wernersville, Penn. "All those years, it bothered him."
He served as an usher at the men's memorial service, which was attended by their families, including the wife of the man who replaced Rogers. She wouldn't speak to him, Rogers' wife said.
"Oh, that just really did it. He felt terrible ... He always felt he should've been the one to go down on the Thresher," Barbara Rogers said.
The Navy has said the disaster likely was caused by a leak in the boat's engine room, which led to seawater flooding an electric panel that triggered the nuclear reactor to shut down. With no propulsion, and with the added weight of the water, the ship sank below its crush depth and imploded.
The Thresher was the first nuclear submarine to be lost at sea, and shortly afterward the Navy created a program that developed new submarine safety standards.
Rogers died on Oct. 28, 2015, at the age of 86, and requested in his will to be buried at sea. Though he did not specify where, his family thought it would be fitting to bury him with the 129 men who went down with the Thresher, said his son-in-law Fred Henney, who has worked with the Navy to coordinate the burial.
An ancient maritime tradition, burials at sea have taken place for as long as people have gone to sea.
Lt. Cmdr. Paul Rumery, who will carry out Rogers' burial, has performed more than a couple dozen of these ceremonies, which usually last 15 minutes, since becoming a Navy chaplain in December 2000.
While the ashes are often left on a submarine's sail as it submerges, given the family's request to bury Rogers at a specific location, the submarine carrying his remains will transit on the surface to a point where Rumery, who will be topside, will be able to lower the cremation urn into the ocean, he said. Rogers' family will be provided with the date and coordinates of his burial.
Rogers, who was born in Robesonia, a borough in western Pennsylvania with a population of about 2,000, joined the Navy right after World War II.
He served as a fire controlman, operating the weapons systems aboard diesel and ballistic missile submarines, and was stationed at the sub base several times throughout his career. He was commissioned as an officer in 1963, and was one of the first limited duty officers to be promoted to the rank of captain.
Rogers was the program manager for the Trident Missile Program, and commanded the Nuclear Weapons Evaluation Facility at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., before retiring from the Navy in 1990.
"It was just the love of his life. That was his first love, the submarines and the Navy. Somewhere in there, I came in," his wife joked.