Pervis Robison

A salute to one who served -
Nutley remembers seaman's death -
'63 sub sinking killed 129


704 words
11 April 2003
The Star-Ledger Newark, NJ

At a time when the loss of life weighs heavily on the minds of Americans, the people of Nutley, N.J., took time to remember a local Navy seaman who lost his life during a submarine disaster 40 years ago.

Township officials yesterday joined friends and relatives of Pervis Robison at a memorial in front of town hall that marks the 21-year-old seaman's death aboard the USS Thresher in the April 10, 1963, disaster.

Robison was one of 129 men who died after the 3,700-ton nuclear-powered attack submarine sank below crush depth 220 miles east of Cape Cod, Mass., during deep-diving tests. The submarine remains submerged in the Atlantic Ocean.

Robison was one of eight men with New Jersey ties who were aboard the vessel. The other sailors were Frank Malinski of Glen Ridge, Thomas Clements of Westfield, Robert Kearney of Glen Ridge, Norman Lanouette of Newark, Karl McDonough of Camden, Burnett Shotwell of Morristown and Roger VanPelt of Cranford.

Robison, who was born eight days after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, was the only child of Pervis and Margaret Robison, who lived at 108 Passaic Ave. In addition to his participation in a local Boy Scout troop and the First Baptist Church in Nutley, Robison excelled in track and basketball at Nutley High School and enlisted in the Navy after high school.

Robison trained in Great Lakes, Ill., and at the Navy Radio School in Bainbridge, Md. He served on the USS Cavalla before he joined the USS Thresher crew.

Cmdr. Robert Archer, an executive officer stationed at Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, marked the 40 anniversary of Robison's death, by recalling the courage it took seamen to work inside submarines.

"It takes a brave man to ride the steel tube and go against Mother Nature," Archer said. "(On April 10, 1963,) the ocean won out and the brave souls of those men are forever part of it."

Robison's cousins Gertrude Malloy, 86, and Beverly Wilson, 64, both of Nutley, and his childhood friend and Malloy's brother-in-law, Adrian, 67, recounted how Robison had a playful and jovial disposition.

"He was always laughing," Adrian Malloy said. "Everything was amusing to him."

Wilson said his death affected many residents, who attended his memorial service in 1963.

"It was hard," said Wilson, who attended First Baptist Church in Nutley with the Robison family. "The whole town turned out."

Nutley Mayor Peter Scarpelli, along with township  Commissioners Mauro Tucci and Joanne Cocchiola, placed a wreathe at the memorial while a bell rang from the nearby township public safety building.

"The tolls of the bell reminds us of the respect we owe to our servicemen," said Scarpelli, who knew Robison when he was an employee at the Scarpelli family landscaping business. "For those serving on the sea, land or air on foreign soil, let's not forget our obligation to them."

Anthony Buccino, a Nutley native who administers a memorial Web site to war veterans from Nutley who died in service, said the ceremony localized the present war effort in Iraq.

"I think it brings the war close to home because there are soldiers from Nutley in the service, and that's the price we pay for our freedom, that people like Pervis and people over there are defending our country," said Buccino, a 48-year-old business news editor at the Dow Jones News Service in Jersey City.

An investigation later determined the submarine disaster resulted from piping failure, subsequent loss of power and the inability to blow ballast tanks rapidly enough to avoid sinking, according to Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.

The sinking of USS Thresher led to the Navy overhauling the design and construction of its nuclear-powered submarines.

Courtesy of the Star Ledger

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