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"I was going to get out [of the Navy] but at that point I felt, If these folks could give their lives for their country, the least I could give was twenty years." (Video Interview, 3:48)

   Arthur L. Rehme
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Arthur Rehme [2005]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Navy
Unit: Defense Atomic Support Agency (DASA); USS Thresher (SSN 593); Submarine Squadron Seven (COMSUBRON Seven); Surgical Team Bravo, Amphibious Squadron One (COMPHIBRON ONE)
Service Location: New London, Connecticut; Norfolk, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; Richland, Washington; Camp Mercury, Nevada; Sandia Base and Los Alamos, New Mexico; Arco, Idaho; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Chelsea, Massachusetts; Greenville, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Da Nang, Vietnam
Rank: Captain
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In medical school in 1954, Arthur Rehme expected to be drafted, so he chose to enlist instead, in the Naval Reserves. He volunteered for submarine duty, not realizing that to qualify, he would have to learn everything about the boat's operations. Personally interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover, he joined the nuclear program. Rehme helped commission a state-of-the art submarine called the Thresher, but according to Rickover's policy, he could spend only six months aboard any boat. That saved his life when, in 1963, the Thresher went down with all hands, half of them sailors Rehme knew. Rehme had a varied career, including a stint aboard a ship off the coast of Vietnam and treating returning POWs from that war, including John McCain.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (53 min.)
 Creative Works
»A Toast to the Thresher - SSN 593 [poem]
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»Submarines: The Silent Service
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Joining Navy Reserves and volunteering for submarine medicine program; had to learn everything about submarine to qualify for service; applied to nuclear program; interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover; assigned to new submarine, Thresher; helped captain commission the boat; Rickover felt doctors should come off a sub after six months, so Rehme was transferred to Pearl Harbor; when Thresher went down in 1963, he knew fifty percent of the men aboard; that changed his mind about leaving the Navy; the XO on Rehme's next boat, the Sea Dragon, had been transferred to command of the Thresher. (03:36) Was in Hawaii until 1964; treated a lot of inexperienced civilian divers; spent three years in Chelsea Naval Hospital treating Vietnam casualties; to Vietnam for ten months on a ship off the coast; treated casualties right from the battlefield as a kind of MASH unit; to Jacksonville, where he became chief of orthopedics at naval hospital; treating returned POWs, including John McCain; retired from Navy Oct. 1, 1978. (03:41) In submarine school did not realize he had to learn everything about the boat; close quarters; learning deep-sea diving in Washington, DC, in the muddy Anacostia River; got into best physical condition of his life. (05:18)
How he came to go to submarine school; applied without telling his wife, who was not happy that he hadn't discussed it with her. (01:29) Training in Idaho at Nuclear Reactor Testing Station; didn't care about learning how a reactor works; wanted to go to Pearl Harbor to get on the new Scamp, but there were delays and he finally accepted position on Thresher in New London, CT; first day on boat, marveling at its specs; told his wife he was happy to be on such a boat; first sea trial with Admiral Rickover and other bigwigs; test dive deeper than anyone had been; gauges indicated hull was cracking but they proved to be giving false readings; went out again without the VIPs for a real deep dive; huge cheer when they reached record depth; final sea trial with Rickover, who asked Rehme for some medicine for his cold; later thanked Rehme, a rare occurrence with Rickover. (07:31) How the Thresher disaster happened; weld on hull broke loose, shorted out the electrical panel and the reactor; should be able to blow ballast tanks but that was not possible on Thresher; after tragedy, design changes, including more ballast; talks about personal loss for him from the tragedy. (02:02)
Only limitation on how long a nuclear submarine can stay underwater is the food supply; 2-3 months was the limit; Rehme helped screen men for psychological problems; submarine is like a family; people get along better on submarines, more closeness between officers and enlisted men; on Thresher, both sides came to him to be able to talk about their problems. (03:33) No regrets about going into the military; had he died on the Thresher, he would have died enjoying what he was doing. (00:40) 

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  October 26, 2011
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