USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) - 1960s
Chronology and Significant Events 1960s:
14 Feb 1960: Forrestal relieved Saratoga at Pollensa Bay. Among the ports she subsequently visited usual to a Mediterranean deployment the ship put into Split, Yugoslavia, a port-of-call that generated heated controversy in the media due to the tensions still existing between the communists and the West.
7 Mar 1960: The Bureau of Ships issued a report concerning the endurance of Forrestal and her sister ships, which stated in part that “Conventionally powered Aircraft Carriers should have sufficient range and endurance to allow approach to the target, high-speed run-in, attack, retirement, and a sufficient amount of reserve fuel to replenish Escorts.”
9 Sep–22 Oct 1960: The carrier completed repairs and maintenance in drydock at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
26 Oct 1960: RADM Forsyth Massey relieved RADM Robert E. Dixon as Commander, Carrier Division 4, during a ceremony on board at Norfolk.
21 Mar 1961: Archbishop Makarios III, President of Cyprus and ethnarch [national leader] of Greek Cypriots, visited the ship as the guest of VADM George W. Anderson, Jr., Commander, Sixth Fleet, and RADM Massey.
9 Aug 1961: Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally visited the ship and spoke to the crew over her closed circuit television system, congratulating the men for achieving their second coveted Battle Efficiency “E” award.
25 Aug 1961: By the time Forrestal returned from her fourth deployment to the Mediterranean, CVG-8 amassed 26,000 flight hours, the equivalent of almost three years flying during less accelerated operations. In addition, the ship herself celebrated her 60,000th arrested landing. USMC LTV F-8 Crusaders from Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF)-333 also qualified for carrier operations on board Forrestal.
Sep 1961–13 Jan 1962: Forrestal completed work at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
18 Jan–late Feb 1962: The ship accomplished a six-week refresher training cruise off the east coast that extended down into Caribbean waters, focusing upon the Guantánamo Bay area. She also visited Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In addition, Mercury-Atlas 6 [MA-6] launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 0947 on 20 February 1962. LCOL John H. Glenn, Jr., USMC, the 40-year-old astronaut, completed three orbits about the earth in four hours 55 minutes to become the first American to orbit the planet. Glenn flew spacecraft Friendship 7 in her 75,679 mile voyage at a maximum speed of 17,544.1 miles per hour. Describing his re-entry as a “real fireball” Glenn splashed down in the Atlantic some 166 miles east of Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas, about 800 miles southeast of Bermuda. Destroyer Noa (DD-841) recovered the astronaut after he spent 21 minutes in the water, and a helo flew him on to antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier Randolph (CVS-15) at 1745. Although Glenn did not land nearby, Forrestal stood ready as one of the potential tracking and measuring stations for the epochal flight.
9–14 Apr 1962: Forrestal combined operations with aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVAN-65) for a presidential cruise. President John F. Kennedy and his entourage arrived on board Enterprise on 14 April. The busy day included sea and air power demonstrations for the President and many distinguished guests, including most of his cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many congressmen and about 30 foreign ambassadors, all hosted by VADM John M. Taylor, Commander, Second Fleet. About 20 ships participated in the exercise off the Virginia and North Carolina coasts. A “spectacular display” culminating in a mass flyby and recovery by naval aircraft entertained guests. CDR Joseph P. Moorer, commanding officer of VF-62, LCDR Joseph S. Elmer, LT Richard C. Oliver and LT William F. Heiss of that squadron shook hands with President Kennedy on board Enterprise at the conclusion of the demonstration. Forrestal also hosted Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and several senators and congressmen during the cruise.
Mid to late Apr 1962: Following the Presidential Cruise, Forrestal returned to the Caribbean for the Atlantic Fleet exercise LantPhibEx 1-62, and took advantage of the opportunity to visit Port of Spain, Trinidad, where the Carrier Division 4 band entertained crowds.
Jul 1962: The ship visited New York City for Independence Day festivities. During one of the days of her week-long stay, almost 22,000 “curious” visitors swarmed on board.
6–12 Jul 1962: Leaving New York waters, Forrestal participated with Enterprise in LantFlex 2-62, a nuclear strike exercise under the command of RADM Reynold D. Hogle, Commander, Carrier Division 4 and Commander, TF 24. Enterprise launched eight “pre-planned” strikes and six call strikes while operating in the Virginia capes area against targets ranging from the Tidewater area to central Florida.
3 Aug 1962: Forrestal weighed anchor and set sail for another Med deployment. This sail included 12,900 officers and men from commands along the east coast assigned initially to the Second Fleet, manning Enterprise and Forrestal, guided missile heavy cruiser Boston (CAG-1), from which RADM Robert H. Weeks, Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla 10, broke his flag, heavy cruiser Newport News (CA-148), from which VADM John M. Taylor, Commander, Second Fleet, broke his flag, 13 destroyers from Destroyer Squadrons 8 and 14, ammunition ships Shasta (AE-6) and Suribachi (AE-21) and oiler Chukawan (AO-100). This became the last time that A-1 Skyraiders of VA-85 deployed on board Forrestal, and her first deployment with Mach 2.2 capable McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs of VF-74. Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 [Tu-20] Bears would fly the huge journey–hundreds of miles–from their fields near Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula to find the ship as she crossed the Atlantic. Russian electronic specialists operated their sophisticated sensors probing for the carrier’s radar, and when they discovered her they would drop down for a closer look, but Phantom IIs from the ship would intercept the intruders and escort them out of the area. Even during the tensions of the Cold War most of these encounters were professional and the rivals often waved to each other.
13–17 Aug 1962: Forrestal participated in RipTide III, an exercise with allied aircraft carriers in the eastern Atlantic that demonstrated interchangeability, compatibility and reliance with NATO allies including the British, French and Portuguese.
7 Sep 1962: Forrestal participated in Lafayette II, an exercise that involved 14 scheduled conventional strikes coordinated with aircraft from Enterprise against multiple targets to the French Low Level Route in southern France. French air force and naval aircraft opposed them.
6 Oct 1962: NATO chiefs of staff embarked Forrestal for a one-day cruise.
16–17 Feb 1963: Enterprise relieved Forrestal at Pollensa Bay.
2 Mar 1963: Forrestal returned to Norfolk. Russian reconnaissance bombers overflew the carrier en route her return home. Her aircraft flew over 10,300 missions and logged over 23,000 hours in the air during this deployment.
Early-May–Mid-Jun 1963: The ship completed repairs and upkeep at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
9–19 Sep 1963: Forrestal and ships of Task Force 23 visited Boston, Massachusetts, for the annual convention of the East Coast Navy League. The ship moored at the South Boston Naval Annex on the 12th. The next day RADM John J. Hyland, Commander, Carrier Division 4, welcomed more than 400 delegates to the League and their families as they boarded his flagship for a day’s cruise. The carrier stood out of the port on the 16th to return home.
12 Oct 1963: RADM Samuel R. Brown, Jr., one of the ship’s former skippers, relieved RADM Hyland in hanger deck ceremonies.
30 Oct, 21–22 Nov 1963: LT James H. Flatley, III, and LCDR Walter W. “Smokey” Stovall from the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, and ADJ1 Ed Brennan, a flight engineer from Fleet Tactical Support Squadron (VR)-1, completed 29 touch-and-go landings and 21 full-stop landings and takeoffs in a Lockheed C-130F Hercules (BuNo 149798) on board Forrestal. Flatley and his crew, who also included at times Ted H. Limmer, Jr., a civilian safety test pilot from Lockheed-Marietta, made some minor modifications to the Hercules–which marines loaned to them–by replacing its standard C-130 antiskid braking system with the Hytrol Antiskid Braking System Mk II used in Boeing B-727s and by removing refueling pods from the wings. Crewmembers painted a white center line along the ship’s axial deck from bow to ramp to aid Flatley in guiding the huge aircraft. As they made their first landing on the 30th, surface winds of 25 to 30 knots and the resulting choppy sea caused moderate deck motion with a “noticeable” yaw, which forced Forrestal to increase speed an additional 10 knots to reduce the yaw motion and to stabilize wind direction. “I was up on the captain’s bridge” recalled Lockheed-Georgia Engineering Vice President Arthur E. Flock. “I watched a man on the ship’s bow and that bow must have gone up and down 30 feet.” Although the Hercules crew encountered 40 to 50 knot winds over the deck, their problems “considerably lessoned” as they landed. The plane’s right wing tip cleared the ship’s island control tower by just under 15 feet as it roared down the flight deck. As Flatley brought the aircraft to a halt crewmembers gathered topside cheered their arrival, and many commented upon the message specially painted on the starboard nose of the fuselage for the occasion: “Look ma, no hook.” Lieutenant Flatley received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts. From these tests the Navy concluded that Hercules’ could carry 25,000 pounds of cargo and people approximately 2,500 miles and land on board a Forrestal-class or larger carrier, accomplishing their missions with gross weights of up to 121,000 pounds. Analysts also decided, however, that using the huge aircraft for Carrier On-board Delivery (COD) flights would be too risky.
6–16 Nov 1963: In between the Hercules trials the ship engaged in various task force operations off the east coast.
4–6 Dec 1963: Forrestal operated with Enterprise in StrikEx I, a combined strike, antisubmarine and air defense exercise conducted in the southeastern United States under Commander, Carrier Division 2.
29 Jul 1964: The ship relieved Enterprise at Pollensa Bay, enabling the latter to rendezvous with guided missile cruiser Long Beach (CGN-9) and guided missile frigate Bainbridge (DLGN-25) for Operation Sea Orbit, the first global circumnavigation by nuclear-powered ships.
29 Nov 1964: LT John F. Barr of VA-83 made the 100,00th landing on board, in his A-4E Skyhawk as the ship steamed in the Mediterranean.
1 Mar 1965: Attack aircraft carrier Shangri-La (CVA-38) relieved Forrestal at Pollensa Bay.
11 May 1965: Miss America 1965 Vonda Kay Van Dyke, Miss Virginia 1965 Mary Montgomery, Miss Portsmouth 1965 and 13 contestants for the Miss Portsmouth crown visited the ship.
21 Nov 1965: RADM Allan K. Fleming, Commander, Carrier Division 4, shifted his flag to Franklin D. Roosevelt at Golfo di Palmas, Sardinia.
14–15 Jan 1966: An Air Force Douglas C-47 Dakota crashed up at 7,680 feet atop Mount Helmos in the Peloponnesian Peninsula in Greece. Later that evening the Sixth Fleet alerted two Kaman UH-2 Seasprite crews (BuNos 149741–an A model–and 150142–a B) from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC)-2 Detachment 59 embarked in Forrestal, to stand by to assist in the search and rescue. Helo crewmembers assigned included CDR Russell–a doctor–LCDRs Raymond K. McCullough and William S. Munro, LTs Mullen–also a doctor–and L.R. Grant, II, LT(JG) Michael E. Howe, ADJ1 Ests P. Morrow, ADJ3 John E. Keto, AE3 Richard T. Ream and AMS3 George T. “D and S” Vaughn, III. Lieutenant Commander McCullough flew the ‘A’ Seasprite and LCDR Munro piloted the ‘B.’ The men flew to the Royal Hellenic Air Force Base at Araxos overnight, lifting off from Forrestal at around 2000. After an Air Force captain briefed them on the weather and terrain conditions peculiar to the area, the rescuers set off at 0840 the next morning. Although they enjoyed clear weather, bitter cold, high winds up to 35 knots and dangerous turbulence at the mountain crest hampered the helo crews, who also needed to exercise caution while landing due to their concerns regarding the strength of the ice-crusted snow and whether it would bear their weight. LCDR McCullough persevered through six approaches and had to dump his fuel and auxiliary tanks to lighten the aircraft. He finally found a barely adequate landing spot on a saddle-back ridge a few hundred feet above the crash site where the snow leveled off just enough to allow him to touch down. They rescued two Air Force crewmembers from the wreckage, LCOL Dick N. Crowell, USAF, and CAPT Thomas D. Smith, USAF, and LCDR Munro and LT Grant flew in right behind them and pulled SSGT J.L. Ferguson out in a litter. All of the survivors suffered from frostbite and fatigue. The two crews refueled and returned to the scene and retrieved their crewmembers on the ground–who disembarked to assist the victims to board the helos–and the bodies of the victims, returning with them to the base camp at 4,000 feet. The weather remained clear until later in the afternoon, when clouds and visibility closed in and caused problems. Because the atmospheric conditions caused their UHF radios to fail, the helo crews relied on a Grumman E-1B Tracer, known as a ‘Willy Fudd’ and ‘Stoof With A Roof’ to its crew, from Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW)-12, and AF 783, an Air Force plane, to relay communications between the rescuers and Forrestal. The Tracer also guided the helos to Araxos during the darkness as the operation began. In addition, an Air Force Kaman H-43 Huskie and Greek mountain climbers assisted the rescuers, and the Huskie evacuated LCOL Frank Bailey, USAF, the last survivor, as well as transporting the bodies down the mountain from the base camp. An Air Force Hercules waited for them at Araxos and when they returned the C-130 flew the casualties out for intensive medical care. Six other crewmembers perished during the crash, and the searchers could not locate two of the bodies due to the extreme circumstances of the crash site.
24 Jan 1966: Forrestal sailed from Taranto, Italy, and in company with guided missile destroyer Conyngham (DDG 17) and destroyers Forrest Royal (DD 872), McCaffery (DD 860), Charles R. Ware (DD 865) and Yarnall (DD 541) comprised Task Group 60.2.
2 Feb 1966: Early in the evening Backwash 100, an F-4B Phantom II, (BuNo 152285), LT William H. Brinks and LT Edward E. Weller of VF-74, launched for a routine night intercept training mission while Forrestal steamed in the Tyrrhenian Sea, at 1802. As 100 climbed through 1,500 feet with both engines at full thrust, a “loud explosion” shook the aircraft. The Phantom II immediately began to decelerate, though it finished its climb to 2,200 feet before descending inexorably back to earth. Both men checked their instruments, however, they could not regain control of the F-4B and they ejected, approximately three miles from the ship. A UH-2A crew from HC-2 Detachment 59, LT(JG) Howe, LT Louis R. Grant, AME3 Gary Steele and ATN3 Bill Toth, spotted the survivors within four minutes, thanks largely to the flares and strobe lights which the aircrew deployed fortuitously, and rescued the pilot and radar intercept officer and returned the shaken men to the ship.
5–12 Feb 1966: While Forrestal visited Naples a group of men from the ship attended an audience with Pope Paul VI at Vatican City in Rome.
26–27 Feb 1966: Spanish LGEN Avales, that country’s air defense force commander, visited Forrestal for an underway orientation.
28 Feb–3 Mar 1966: The ship participated in Fairgame IV, a joint exercise with the French, including their aircraft carrier Arromanches (R-95), in the Mediterranean. RADM Leslie J. O’Brien, Jr., Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla 10, transferred over to guided missile frigate MacDonough (DLG-8) on the last day of Fairgame IV, from which he broke his flag until returning to the carrier.
22 Mar 1966: Forrestal put into Taranto for a fleet commander’s conference with the Sixth Fleet. Officers and men from numerous commands arrived on board attack aircraft carrier America (CVA-66).
30–31 Mar 1966: Saratoga relieved Forrestal at Pollensa Bay. The next day the latter passed through the Strait of Gibraltar beginning at 2100 on 31 March into the Atlantic en route her home port. The ship completed a deployment that the Navy extended by an additional two weeks. During this deployment, pilots logged 19,000 flight hours and flew over 11,000 sorties.
11–14 Apr 1966: Forrestal offloaded her ammunition prior to entering Norfolk Naval Shipyard for an overhaul.
15 Apr 1966–27 Jan 1967: Forrestal sailed up the Elizabeth River as tugboats then eased her into her berth to prepare for what the ship’s Command History Report referred to as a “massive facelifting” at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Vice Admiral Charles T. Booth, II, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic Fleet, inspected the ship on 10 June 1966. The admiral took the opportunity to award CDR Joe D. Adkins, the ship’s air operations officer, the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery while flying missions over North Vietnam as the commanding officer of VA-72, embarked in attack aircraft carrier Independence (CVA-62). Forrestal completed about one-third of the overhaul when she floated from drydock on 10 July. Beginning on 1 August sailors and civilian technicians commenced installing the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) into the ship’s systems. The NTDS, an automatic combat direction system designed to eliminate human error by doing away with “grease-pencil plotting,” became the principal system of her Combat Information Center. The speed of modern warfare demanded an increase in plotting and disseminating information and the Navy intended NTDS to provide a comprehensive picture of ships, aircraft and subs. Meanwhile, RADM Harvey P. Lanham, Commander, Carrier Division 2, shifted his flag to Forrestal, which relieved Carrier Division 4 (19 October). The admiral awarded LCDR Richard T. Theriault, Forrestal’s First Lieutenant, with the Bronze Star for his distinguished service in Vietnam, on 28 October. The crew celebrated their gradual return to operational status when they lit-off one of their eight boilers on Halloween, which provided the men their own steam and electrical power after receiving pierside services after seven months. Tragedy struck the men at the shipyard at 1333 on 1 November, however, when a UH-2B (BuNo 152193) from amphibious assault ship Guadalcanal (LPH-7), moored across from Forrestal at Berth 35 at Pier 5, crashed onto the pier between the two ships. The Seasprite entered what investigators determined to be an “uncontrolled flight immediately upon lifting” off from the flight deck of Guadalcanal for a brief test ‘hop’ to NAS Oceana; after barely reaching four to five feet into the air the helo’s rotor blades struck the flight deck and then the aircraft careened over the starboard side of Guadalcanal onto the pier. The Seasprite’s impact threw debris and shards–including lethal metal fragments from the helo’s disintegrating rotor blades–at people working in the vicinity, killing four men: three Navy; LCDR John C. Thoma, AN Joseph A. Anzalone, AN Garry A. Whipp; and one civilian, Mannie McCutcheon of the yard’s riggers and laborers shop, and injured 19 more men. Debris also flew into a railroad car on the pier and at both ships, damaging a pair of boats on the flight deck of Forrestal, and hurtled into nearby buildings with such force that they tore holes into cement block walls. Forrestal’s crew joined other men from across the yard to help their shipmates to provide damage control and to aid victims, and over 100 crewmembers volunteered to donate blood to injured men. Following the catastrophe, the crew held a ‘fast cruise’–which simulates at sea operations while still moored to a pier (10–11 December). Just after the New Year’s the ship stood down the channel for the first time since her overhaul began for post repair trials off the Virginia capes (0800 on 9–15 January 1967). The ship actually completed her trials, which included limited air operations, at 1300 on Saturday 14 January, however, dense fog rolled in and the shipyard refused the carrier permission to moor due to navigational hazards, so the carrier anchored off Pier 12 at the naval station until the next day, when the shipyard allowed her to return. Forrestal sailed from the yard on the 23rd and returned to Norfolk.
6–10 Feb 1967: The carrier reached the ammunition anchorage to load a full complement of ammunition for the first time since her repairs.
14 Feb–16 Mar 1967: The ship completed refresher training in Cuban waters. Forrestal anchored out at NS Guantánamo Bay (17–18 February). She attained her 120,000th arrested landing on the third day of actual refresher training (22 February).
11 Apr–6 May 1967: Forrestal completed a series of exercises in the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Range designed to simulate the grueling conditions her men could expect during the Vietnam War, including alpha strikes against major targets. In addition, she took part in Operation Clovehitch III, providing support for ground forces in the all-service exercise.
13 May 1967: While testing her automatic carrier landing system off the Virginia Capes the ship recorded her 124,000th landing using that system, when LT Howard L. Reedy of VA-65 trapped on board.
6 Jun 1967: Embarking CVW-17 the ship sailed at 1630 from Pier 12 at Norfolk for her only western Pacific deployment. Forrestal held drills on most days while sailing into harm’s way and pilots and aircrew studied charts and held briefings during the voyage. Grumman A-6As of VA-65 and Grumman E-2As from VAW-123 embarked as the first Intruders and Hawkeyes, respectively, to deploy on board Forrestal.
13–16 Jun 1967: RADM Lanham and observers from Independence led the ship’s Operational Readiness Inspection.
19–20 Jun 1967: Forrestal’s Command History Report observed that 4,330 pollywogs “fearing for their lives” revolted and held 500 Loyal Shellbacks captive.” Just after midnight the pollywogs stole many of the shellback’s cards and held a mock initiation during an “illegal ceremony.” The next day as the ship crossed the equator, however, the shellbacks gained their justice against the “disloyal and scurvy Pollywogs,” many of the latter sans hair and sporting red tails.
23–25 Jun 1967: While rounding South America en route to Pacific waters Forrestal anchored at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The air wing presented an air show for distinguished visitors including United States Ambassador John W. Tuthill and Brazilian ADM Rademaker, Minister of that Navy, during the morning watch on 23 June, following which the ship anchored in Guanabara Bay, at 1300.
16 Jul 1967: Detachment Charles, a briefing team which flew out from the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, boarded to brief the men on the war they entered.
18–21 Jul 1967: At 0530 the ship moored to Leyte Pier at NAS Cubi Point, at Subic Bay, Philippines. The wing examined survival gear and conducted survival training, installed additional electronic countermeasures equipment and made final aircraft modifications before entering battle.
22 Jul 1967: Forrestal sailed from Subic Bay into war. RADM Lanham broke his flag from the carrier in command of Task Group 77.6, which also included destroyers Henry W. Tucker (DD-875) and Rupertus (DD-851). Aircraft practiced night operations, coordinated attacks and honed bombing accuracy while en route to Vietnamese waters.
25 Jul 1967: Forrestal arrived at Yankee Station and at 0600 she launched her first strikes in the Vietnam War against an enemy often just a few miles over the horizon from the ship. The Americans created two carrier operating areas to prosecute the war in Southeast Asia. Initially designating the northernmost one in the Gulf of Tonkin as Point Yankee, they redesignated it Yankee Station as the primary operations area from which carriers operated against North Vietnam. Evolving as the war continued, Yankee Station actually consisted of several stations. In April 1966, the Navy moved it northward to 125 miles east of Dong Hoi at 17º30’N, 108º30’E, which reduced the distance aircraft had to fly to reach their targets in North Vietnam, but subsequently reassigned it to its original position in 1968. When the Americans resumed intensive bombing against the north in 1972 they again moved the station northward, and designated it as North, Mid and South, at 19º, 17º and 16º N, respectively. The carrier rearmed from ammunition ship Diamond Head (AE-19) later that evening.
25–29 Jul 1967: The North Vietnamese supplied communist forces fighting in South Vietnam through a variety of well-defended and highly secretive routes collectively known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. To cut these routes pilots flew alpha strikes, reconnaissance, armed reconnaissance and barrier combat air patrol missions against key transportation nodes and supply points supporting the trail, as well as flying radar patrols, from Forrestal as she steamed in the Gulf of Tonkin. Although many of their targets lay within heavily defended areas bristling with North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunners and surface-to-air missiles, CVW-17 flew more than 150 missions over North Vietnam without losing a single aircraft. Their most significant strike became a massive raid against the Thanh Hoa Bridge Railroad Bypass and Ferry Terminals.
29–30 Jul 1967: Forrestal spent barely five days ‘on the line’ when tragedy struck on Saturday. SN K. Dyke of 1st Division fell overboard over the starboard side at 0316. The ship immediately stopped and backed-up 1/3, then maneuvered slowly in the area searching for SN Dyke. At the same time she launched a helo to scour the area, which spotted the man and directed Rupertus to him, which lowered a motor whaleboat to recover the shaken man, the carrier securing from her man overboard orders by 0513. The ship then launched her first strike of the day. Shortly thereafter during the morning watch Forrestal swung her bow into the wind and the crew prepared to launch their second strike as the ship steamed 050° at 27 knots about 150 miles off the North Vietnamese coast, at approximately 19°9’5”N, 107°23’5”E, at 1050; she began an “early launch” of two Douglas KA-3B Skywarrior tankers from Heavy Attack Squadron (VAH)-10 Detachment 59, a Grumman E-2A Hawkeye from VAW-123 and a Grumman EA-1 Tracer. Two of the four aircraft launched when suddenly, a Zuni 5” rocket accidentally fired, probably from Aircraft No. 110, a McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II (BuNo 153061), LCDR James E. Bangert and LT(JG) Lawrence E. McKay from VF-11, and slammed into either Aircraft No. 405 or 416, an A-4E Skyhawk, further aft on the port side waiting to launch, less than two minutes later.[iii] Within five seconds, the fire, fed by a ruptured 400-gallon fuel tank, rapidly enveloped the Skyhawks on either side of the wounded aircraft. Barely two minutes into the unfolding holocaust the first of many high and low level detonations erupted as the heat started to cook-off bombs, rockets and 20 mm rounds. An explosion shattered the windows of Primary Flight Control, almost bowling CDR David B. Lember over. Rockets and shells shot across the deck, and ejection seats fired into the air. Seven major explosions shook the ship during the first four minutes of the horrific crisis, and some 40,000-gallons of JP-5 jet fuel from aircraft on deck spread the inferno. Huge clouds of black smoke billowed upward, blinding crewmembers racing to battle the flames, which engulfed the fantail and spread to below deck on the 01, 02 and 03 levels, touching off ordnance, trapping some men and wreaking havoc with the crew and ship. Survivors attested to bombs that appeared to be growing red from the heat dropping to the flight deck and blasting holes into the ship. More ruptured fuel tanks spewed volatile jet fuel from beneath aircraft onto the deck, feeding the flames. Some of the liquid sloshed down into the hanger deck where it posed a deadly hazard for men stationed there. Huge gusts of fire shot into the air along the flight deck, trapping pilots in their aircraft with no recourse but to escape through the flames or be incinerated in their cockpits. LCDR Fred D. White, waiting to launch in Aircraft No. 405, leapt out of his Skyhawk. Other men came to his aid but as the first bomb exploded it killed the pilot. LCDR Herbert A. Hope of VA-46 (and operations officer of CVW-17) jumped out of the cockpit of his Skyhawk between explosions, rolled off the flight deck and into a safety net. Making his way down below to the hanger deck, he gallantly took command of a firefighting team. “The port quarter of the flight deck where I was” he recalled, “is no longer there.” LCDR John S. McCain, III, sitting in Aircraft No. 416 preparing to launch, afterward described the horror: “I thought my aircraft exploded” he recounted as the first blast ripped through the aircraft assembled on the flight deck. “Flames were everywhere”. The young pilot climbed out of his Skyhawk, poised perilously on the A-4C and then leapt through the flames and ran for his life. As he did so the naval aviator saw another pilot jump and roll clear of his aircraft but the flames caught his uniform ablaze. LCDR McCain turned back to help the man when a bomb exploded and knocked him off his feet and backward about 10 feet. He never saw his shipmate again. The son of the famed pioneering admiral in naval aviation, LCDR McCain would survive being shot down and held as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese (1967 through 1973); he eventually received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart, and went on to a prominent political career. Nearby LT(JG) Lee V. Twyford also ran in to help a couple of men play a hose onto the conflagration as the detonation bowled him over. Climbing to his feet he saw the hose torn and spilling water over the deck, both men struck down saving their ship. Another man stumbled by LT(JG) Twyford. “He had no clothes, he had no skin” explained the lieutenant. Wounded in his ankle and unable to walk, he crawled below to lend a hand among sailors and marines gathering there. A burst of flames which AE3 Bruce Mulligan of VA-106 described as a “fireball” hurtled toward the crewman, who hit the deck and barely survived as it roared over him. Looking around he spotted two men rolling over on fire, and several near him began to tear at their uniforms in fear and pain as their fabric ignited. As he prepared to help his friends a second explosion knocked him down, and the sailor found himself literally by himself. Undaunted, the young (22-year-old) petty officer headed for a fire hose when fragments flew into him. Nonetheless, AE3 Mulligan helped a friend wounded in the leg down to Sick Bay, and returned to help battle the blaze. Twice more he made his way below to rest, at one point noting that he felt “kinda groggy,” but returned to help his fellows. AE3 Mulligan passed out the second time but a friend brought him topside, where he finally collapsed from exhaustion later that evening, trying to sleep on a life preserver he used as a pillow up on the flight deck, though only resting fitfully. When a chief ran from burning Hanger Bay No. 3 to call for five volunteers, 30 men joined him to attack the raging fires. LT James J. Campbell recoiled for a few moments in stunned dismay as burning torches tumbled toward him, until their screams awoke him to the peril of his shipmates enveloped in flames and he leapt into action to help them. Repeated explosions blew some men overboard, and others made the deadly leap from the flight deck high above the cooling waters below to escape the inferno. Within the first minute the crew had two hoses on deck, and with the crash and salvage officer and chief directing their efforts, already began to ply one of the lines to battle down the flames; mute testimony to their determination to save their ship. Nonetheless, the first bomb explosions hurtled fire and molten fragments into the hose teams, shredding skin and cutting down the men, which temporarily drove back the firefighters moving toward the scene on the flight deck and cost the crew precious minutes as their shipmates bravely advanced into the fray to take their places. Sailors resolutely manned firefighting equipment and played water upon live ordnance to chill it while others braved the flames to disarm bombs and missiles or roll them overboard, and others moved aircraft forward and out of danger. Men frantically jettisoned ordnance from the ‘bomb farm’ located on the ramp outboard of the island, as well as from the hanger bay and on loaded aircraft, as the fire began to move up the starboard side aft through the row of parked North American RA-5C Vigilantes from Reconnaissance Attack Squadron (RVAH)-11. Fear and the urgency of their emergency produced superhuman strength in some men, and survivors recalled seeing 130-pound LT Otis G. Kight single-handedly carry a 250-pound bomb to the edge of the hanger deck and heave it overboard! LT John E. Carpenter of VA-106 escaped from his aircraft only to discover a man lying on the flight deck with severe arterial bleeding. The pilot remained alongside his shipmate applying a tourniquet to staunch the flow of the precious fluid while bombs and rockets exploded around him, until a corpsman arrived and took over his life-saving efforts. Throughout the day the ship’s medical staff appeared in the midst of fire and smoke to sacrificially assist their comrades. HM2 Paul Streetman, one of 38 corpsmen assigned to the carrier, spent over 11 grueling hours on the mangled flight deck tending to his shipmates. Investigators noted that survivors recalled that ADJ3 James G. Smith “seemed to be everywhere”–throwing bombs over the side, manning hoses in the hanger bay, carrying the wounded out of the 03 level, and at one point hauling a man so badly burned that no one wanted to touch him to first aid, an action that probably saved the wounded man’s life. ABH3 Larry W. Cope of V-1 Division jumped up onto a forklift and completely disregarding his own safety persisted in pushing a Vigilante over the side while flames surrounded him. His shipmates watered him down with a constant stream from a hose while ABH3 Cope persevered through his ordeal. “I am most proud” CAPT John K. Beling observed “of the way the crew reacted.” At 1117 the ship passed over her 1MC that all men trapped aft by the flames should try to make their way forward via the hanger deck and second deck levels. Beginning at noon the radar systems failed for four crucial minutes, though operators assiduously restored them. SN Milton Parker of S-6 Division fought the fires topside for nine hours, and discovered that the heat of the charred deck literally burned the soles off of his shoes, but commented that “my feet are okay because I put on some flight deck shoes and went back in.” Down in Hanger Bay No. 2, SFC Daniel H. Ringer of R Division joined a team that could not open the hanger bay doors and had to first cool them down, finally going through the side. At one point they applied salt water to a bulkhead only to watch in dismay as the water turned to steam from the intense heat. The chief made his way up to the flight deck and gathered some men to cut their way through with torches. He finally grabbed some sleep by 1100 on Sunday, but he awoke five hours later to note that fire still re-flashed. “The majority of the men were all right” remembered SFC Ringer. “There was no trouble in getting them to fight the fire. Most of them were eager to help in any way they could.” The heat, however, became unbearable for many men, and without proper protection some suffered frightful burns as fire ignited their uniforms or literally melted material onto their skin. RADM Lanham reached the bridge and gazed down in horror at the carnage below, noting that the firestorm engulfed the aft end of the flight deck and that men fought to halt the inferno from moving forward. A bosun grabbed his arm and pulled him down, mentioning that the Plexiglas would not be safe. “As I dropped down” reflected the admiral, “another explosion shook the ship. A large piece of shrapnel crashed through the plexiglass where my face was.” CDR John R. Dewenter, Commander, CVW-17, proudly noted that most of his men “chipped right in” and fought alongside Forrestal’s crew. LTJG Francis R. Guinan observed: “No one had better say to me that American youth are lazy. I saw men working today who were not only injured, but thoroughly exhausted and they had to be carried away. They were trying so hard to help, but were actually becoming a burden.” Different men reacted to the stress in different ways and the fires trapped 13 sailors in compartment 1-217-4-Q port side aft. As they tried to escape via an alternative door blasts and flying objects forced them back within, and some men bravely attempted to rally their shipmates and seek a way out, while others prayed and still others wept or struggled with their fears. The men finally stumbled over aircraft and yellow equipment and escaped from the hatch near the shop on the hanger deck. The smoke became so thick that even with a few flashlights they could not see more then a couple of feet in front of them and some sailors became separated in the confusion. The large number of casualties quickly overwhelmed the ship’s Sick Bay staff, who worked diligently to treat the ghastly wounds which the disaster inflicted. Meanwhile, the stricken ship signaled her attendant destroyers, Henry W. Tucker and Rupertus–the latter acting as her plane guard–to “Close to assist at best speed.” Rupertus raced in and her men valiantly played hoses onto the fire, staunchly keeping close aboard to Forrestal’s starboard side, although flames lapped out at them and smoke rapidly enveloped the destroyer. Other ships and aircraft came to the rescue. Destroyer George K. MacKenzie (DD-836) steamed eight miles away as one of attack aircraft carrier Oriskany’s (CVA-34) plane guards when a lookout spotted the smoke, which her historian described as rising up “hundreds of feet into the air,” from the wounded ship, at about 1100. Oriskany and George K. MacKenzie gathered destroyer Samuel N. Moore (DD-747) and all three ships sped to the scene. George K. MacKenzie recovered three men from the water and took another trio on board from Rupertus’ motor whaleboat, before the destroyer took station on Forrestal’s starboard quarter. The destroyer’s busy crew also directed Samuel N. Moore to pick up a further 11 survivors they spotted in the water. For almost an hour and a half George K. MacKenzie’s firefighting parties sprayed the carrier with as many hoses as they could bring to bear. Henry W. Tucker retraced Forrestal’s route searching for survivors floundering in the water. A Kaman UH-2A Seasprite, ENS Leonard M. Eiland, Jr., ADJ3 James O. James, Jr., and AN Albert E. Barrows of HC-1 Detachment Golf embarked in Oriskany–but flying as an additional plane guard for Forrestal–picked up five men from the water in the first hour alone, and later flew other men to sick bays of nearby ships. Helos from attack aircraft carriers Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) and Oriskany and from the Da Nang area of South Vietnam also raced in to help. Firefighters discovered to their horror that they used their available oxygen breathing apparatuses quickly, but helos from the carriers dropped-off additional apparatuses and canisters to enable men to continue the fight. Antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier Intrepid (CVS-11), embarking CVW-10, learned of the fire while en route to Yankee Station from Japanese waters, and she arrived alongside of Forrestal later in the day. Men from Intrepid transferred fog-foam to the smoldering carrier by helos, and sent a medical team over to Oriskany to assist her crew with treating casualties. Explosive ordnance disposal sailors carefully defused unexploded bombs. When LT(JG) Robert P. Cates, the ship’s explosive ordnance demolition officer, noted two bombs–a 500 and a 750 pounder–still smoking in the midst of the flight deck, he disregarded the danger, resolutely walked over to them, defused the bombs and worked with other men to jettison them overboard. The sailors and marines who survived brought the flames under control on the flight deck by 1215, although they continued to clear smoke and to cool hot steel on the 02 and 03 levels until they reported all fires under control by 1342, and finally declared the fire defeated at 0400 the next morning, due to additional flare-ups. Crewmembers searched through smoky or flooded compartments below deck for their fallen friends. Some 132 officers and men died in the catastrophe, two disappeared (missing, presumed dead), and another 62 suffered injuries. Sixteen ANM-65 1,000, four M-117 750 and eight Mk-82 500 pound bombs ripped seven frightful holes through the armored flight deck, and scorches from the intense heat marked the flight deck, while melted and twisted debris and wreckage choked the area. Twenty-one aircraft also sustained enough damage from fire, explosions and salt water to be stricken from naval inventory, including: seven Phantom IIs (BuNos 153046, 153054, 153060, 153061, 153066, 153069 and 153912); eleven A-4E Skyhawks (149996, 150064, 150068, 150084, 150115, 150118, 150129, 152018, 152024, 152036 and 152040); and three Vigilantes (148932, 149282 and 149305). The crew fought back heroically, however, the men compounded errors due to their lack of intensive firefighting training, and on at least one instance a team beat the fire by laying down a protective covering of foam, only to have a second (well intentioned) team follow them up and wash it away with water, with the flames leaping up almost immediately again and cutting the sailors off. The Navy circulated the lessons which the men of Forrestal re-learned at such cost throughout the Fleet, and the flight deck film of the flight operations, subsequently entitled Learn Or Burn, became mandatory viewing for fire fighting trainees for years. Although investigators could not identify the exact chain of events behind the carnage, they revealed potential maintenance issues including concerns in circuitry (stray voltage) associated with LAU-10 rocket launchers and Zunis, as well as the age of the 1,000 pound ‘fat bombs” loaded for the strike, shards from one of which dated it originally to the Korean War in 1953. The fire also revealed that Forrestal required a heavy duty, armored forklift to jettison aircraft more efficiently, particularly heavier types such as Vigilantes. Investigators did, however, absolve LCDR Bangert and LT(JG) McKay of any errors and noted their exemplary service prior to the catastrophe. Henry W. Tucker escorted Forrestal to rendezvous with hospital ship Repose (AH-16) at 2054, allowing the crew to begin transferring their dead and wounded shipmates at 2253. Shortly thereafter destroyer Bausell (DD-845) also reached the carrier to help.
30 Jul 1967: “I don’t apologize for my inability to talk to you quite clearly” explained LCDR Geoffrey E. Gaugham, a Benedictine chaplain who held mass on board Forrestal in a cluttered hanger at noon. “I was self-contained about this tragedy until I heard confessions this morning. Your emotions became my emotions. We must pray for the dead amongst us, and pray also that we deserve to have lived.” Crewmembers finished transferring their stricken comrades over to Repose at 0220, which allowed the hospital ship to detach at 1410, however, the carrier continued to suffer several brief flash fires, though without casualties. Meanwhile, Intrepid served as host ship for media representatives and VIPs flown out to the scene during the day.
31 Jul–11 Aug 1967: During murky skies laden with monsoon rains Forrestal somberly moored at Subic Bay on the evening of the 31st to make emergency repairs, however, a minor blaze erupted briefly during her navigation and sea and anchor details. As the crew manned the rails and edged the carrier closer in toward Leyte Pier, a fire broke out among a pile of still smoldering mattresses. Some men stepped away from their stations to respond and quickly extinguished the fire without casualties, though with little of the urgency they displayed during the previous disaster. “They’re probably immune to it by now” mused an officer standing on the pier concerning the reactions of the weary crew, as the fire alarm announcement over the 1MC became clearly audible to people waiting ashore. The damage from the main fire proved to be beyond the means of the facilities there to repair, and the ship continued on to the United States to heal from her wounds. Meanwhile, Henry W. Tucker faithfully shepherded Forrestal to the area and then detached to escort attack aircraft carrier Constellation (CVA-64) toward Vietnamese waters, and Intrepid relieved Forrestal’s place on the line at Yankee Station. Skywarriors from VAH-10 Detachment 59 flew back to NAS Whidbey Island in Washington for immediate redeployment, and Grumman A-6A Intruders from VA-65 transferred to VA-196 embarking Constellation. About 450 relatives and friends of men on board Forrestal attended an inter-faith memorial service at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at NAS Oceana, on 3 August. As the people left the chapel 16 jets from CVW-17 flew overhead to honor their fallen shipmates. The Navy later dedicated its Farrier Fire Fighting School Learning Site at Norfolk for ABC Gerald W. Farrier, who made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow crewmembers that terrible day. As the fire erupted the chief grabbed a CO2 bottle and courageously rushed past stunned crewmembers toward the burning aircraft, but the initial explosions killed him instantly.
12–13 Sep 1967: Forrestal returned to the United States when she sailed up the St. John’s River and arrived at NS Mayport at 1830. The ship unloaded aircraft and the crews of squadrons based in Florida, before continuing on at 1300 the next day for Virginian waters. CAPT Beling ordered speed increased to an average of 27 knots to enable the carrier to reach home and loved ones as planned.
14 Sep 1967: As the ship hove into sight during the afternoon watch over 3,000 family members and friends gathered on Pier 12 and on board Randolph, Forrestal’s host ship, burst into frenzied cheering to welcome home their loved ones to Norfolk following the tragic deployment.
19 Sep 1967–8 Apr 1968: Forrestal completed extensive repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. She entered Drydock No. 8 (21 September 1967–10 February 1968). While in the yard the crew manned their battle stations for general quarters drills every other Friday morning, and over 1,000 men attended the five-day dual firefighting and damage control course at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Pennsylvania. The ship floated from drydock and shifted to Berths 42 and 43 in front of the drydock to complete repairs.
8–15 Apr 1968: CAPT Robert B. Baldwin sailed the carrier down the Elizabeth River and out into the waters off the Virginia capes for her post repair trials, the ship’s first time at sea in 207 days. RADM John D. Bulkeley,[iv] President of the Board of Inspection and Survey, and his staff inspected the ship for any discrepancies or concerns requiring additional repairs. While accomplishing trials the ship also recorded her first arrested landing since the fire when CDR Robert E. Ferguson, Commander, CVW-17, trapped on board.
23 Apr–22 May 1968: Forrestal completed refresher training in Caribbean waters. The ship loaded and unloaded her wing at Mayport en route on both voyages, and the crew also went ashore for liberty at Montego Bay in Jamaica.
11–27 Jun 1968: The carrier completed a variety of training exercises and pre-deployment work-ups off Jacksonville, Florida. Although the Navy originally scheduled her training through 5 July, the ship suffered problems with a steam turbine, which forced her to terminate her training before scheduled.
1–20 Jul 1968: Forrestal repaired the turbine at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
27 Jul 1968: Forrestal relieved Shangri-La and commenced operations in the Med, her first return to that sea in three years since the summer of 1965.
17 Aug 1968: LT Robert P. Eicher of VA-34 completed the ship’s 130,000th trap in an A-4C Skyhawk one day out from Marseilles, France, where the ship made a brief stop (9–15 August).
1–3 Oct 1968: Forrestal anchored in Argostoli Bay in Greece for a fleet commander’s conference held on board Independence.
20 Nov 1968: VADM David C. Richardson, Commander, Sixth Fleet, and Senator John C. Stennis of Mississippi, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, visited the ship.
3 Jan–13 Jan 1969: Following a visit to Cannes, France (23 December 1968–3 January 1969) Forrestal operated in the Ionian Sea, before anchoring at the Grand Harbor of Valletta on Malta. Poor weather and high winds caused a cancellation of boating and only allowed a single day of general visiting for curious Maltese.
17–22 Feb 1969: The ship operated in the Aegean Sea after visiting Istanbul in Turkey (10–17 February).
1–17 Mar 1969: Operations in the Adriatic Sea through the 11th afforded the crew the unique opportunity of visiting Trieste in northeastern Italy (11–17 March).
15–19 Apr 1969: Although the ship experienced several uneventful visits to harbors during this deployment, she encountered her second burst of poor weather while making port at Marseilles, when the boating conditions so much that Forrestal cancelled general public visitation.
22 Apr 1969: Attack aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) relieved Forrestal during the morning at NS Rota, Spain. At 1900 Forrestal weighed anchor and set sail for home.
29 Apr 1969: Forrestal moored to Pier 12 at Norfolk after an uneventful seven day voyage from the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar and across the Atlantic, completing a nine-month deployment–her longest to the Mediterranean to date.
5–9 May 1969: Following her return the ship spent several days offloading ammunition.
9 May–1 Aug 1969: Forrestal completed a restricted availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
11 Aug–27 Sep 1969: The ship accomplished a combination of exercises and training evolutions designed to ready her for battle, including refresher training, which took her to Caribbean and western Atlantic waters. Forrestal anchored at Guantánamo Bay on 20 August, and again on 13 September. She also stopped by both times on her way southward and again returning to Pier 12, Norfolk, to load and offload aircraft and their crews from the wing and ammunition at Mayport.
13–17 Oct 1969: The carrier conducted a firepower demonstration for 400 guests of various service colleges. She spent the first two days rehearsing and performed the demonstration on the 16th and 17th.
11–12 Dec 1969: The ship passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean overnight, relieving John F. Kennedy at Pollensa Bay the next morning. Forrestal then proceeded to operate in the western Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas.
- USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) Chronology and Significant Events 1955-1959
- USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) Chronology and Significant Events 1960s
- USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) Chronology and Significant Events 1970-1975
- USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) Chronology and Significant Events 1976-1979
- USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) Chronology and Significant Events 1980s
- USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) Chronology and Significant Events 1990s