Former Thresher crew member Frank DeStefano, 79, of Orange Park, Fla., said he owed his life to a three-day assignment to Washington that took him away from the submarine during the fateful sea trials.
He said he's happy to see that annual memorial events provide an outlet for families and friends to grieve.
"The only good part about these memorials is that we can help those who were really affected, like the families," DeStefano said. "And it's great to see the children that have come along."
Lynne Lawrence, of Alexandria, Va., whose father, Richard DesJardins, was one of the civilian technicians who died, attended the service with two siblings.
In a recent interview, she described her father as a fun-loving, busy engineer, and said she was sad he didn't get to see his children become adults or meet his grandchildren.
"It's a profound loss that affects you forever, but you grow from it and move on," she said. "Because you don't really have any other choice."
After the ceremony, a rifle team fired shots as the wreaths — one each for Navy personnel and civilian technicians who died, and one for previous Thresher crew members — were tossed into the river.