On July 29, 1967 the USS Forrestal was operating on Yankee Station off the coast
of North Vietnam conducting combat operations.
This was the fifth such day of operations and at 10:52am the crew was starting the second launch cycle of the day, when suddenly a zuni rocket accidentally fired from an F-4 Phantom into a parked and armed A-4 Skyhawk. The accidental launch and subsequent impact caused the belly fuel tank and a 1,000 pound bomb on the Skyhawk to fall off, the tank broke open spilling JP5 (jet fuel) onto the flight deck and ignited a fire.
Within a minute and a half the bomb was the first to cook-off and explode, this caused a massive chain reaction of explosions that engulfed halfthe airwings aircraft, and blew huge holes in the steel flight deck. Fed by fuel and bombs from other aircraft that were armed and ready for the coming strike, the fire spread quickly, many pilots and support personnel were trapped and burned alive. Fuel and bombs spilled into the holes in the flight deck igniting fires on decks further into the bowels of the ship.
The crew heroically fought the fire and carried armed bombs to the side of the ship to throw them overboard for 13 hours. Once the fires were under control, the extent of the devistation was apparent. Most tragic was the loss to the crew, 134 had lost their lives, while an additional 64 were injured, this was and still remains the single worst loss of life on a navy vessel since the USS Franklin (CV-13) was bombed in WWII.
The ship proceeded to Cubi Point in the Phillipines for temporary repairs. In only eight days enough repairs were made that she could start the long trip back to her home port of Norfolk, Virginia for permanent repairs. On her way home she was capable of operating aircraft if needed.
Forrestal would spend seven months in the yards being repaired, she was re-built from the hanger up and forward to aircraft elevator number four, this accounts for about 1/5 the ships length and 5 decks. On April 8, 1968 Forrestal was once
again ready to take her place in the fleet, she was never to return to Vietnam.
With over a dozen major detonations from 1,000 and 500 lb bombs and numerous missle, fuel tank, and aircraft explosions no ship has ever survived the pounding Forrestal underwent that day, before or since. She and her crew proved
the toughness and dangers associated with the operation of super-carriers, this is one of her greatest legacies. The USS Forrestal would go on to serve the United States for another 26 years during the height of the Cold War and see it through to its demise. She and her crew were always ready to go into battle again, the call never came, she served in war for 4 1/2 days but served to ensure peace for over 13,860. Forrestal had truly served her purpose as ‘First in Defense'.
Eighteen of the crew were eventually buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
They are buried beneath the memorial that appears below:
Reviewed by: Michael Howard