USS Forrestal CVA-59 (later CV-59 and AVT-59) - 1976-79

Chronology and Significant Events 1976-1979:

27 Oct 1975–1 Feb 1976: The carrier completed a selective restricted availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. She spent several days anchored offloading ammunition (27–30 October) and the remainder of the time in the yard.

1–20 Feb 1976: The ship accomplished sea trials.

17–26 Mar 1976: CVW-17 embarked for refresher training off the east coast.

1–8 Jul 1976: Forrestal sailed from Norfolk with Task Force 200 to New York harbor as the host ship for the International Naval Review, to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States from the British crown. The carrier arrived on the 3rd and Governor Brendan T. Byrne of New Jersey and Mayor Abraham D. Beame of New York City, visited the ship. From the flight deck the next day President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., rang in the Bicentennial 13 times, symbolizing the original Thirteen Colonies and triggering the simultaneous ringing of bells across America, and then beginning at 1406 he delivered an address as the keynote speaker during ceremonies on board Forrestal honoring the birth of the Republic. The President then reviewed 40 “tall ships” from countries across the globe from the carrier. A huge entourage of distinguished guests also attended including Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf, III, Chief of Naval Operations ADM James L. Holloway, III, ADM Isaac C. Kidd, Jr., Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Chairman Emil Mosbacher, Jr., of Operation Sail, Governor Byrne, Mayor Beame, John W. Warner, Administrator of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, Prince and Princesses Rainier III [Rainier L.H.M.B. Grimaldi], Grace and Caroline [Louise Marguerite] of Monaco, and Crown Prince and Princess Harold and Sonya of Norway.

23–26 Aug 1976: The ship took part in a special shock test, which involved detonating high explosives near her hull to determine if a capital ship can withstand the strain of close quarter battle and remain operational.

1 Oct 1976–24 Jun 1977: The carrier completed a nine-month overhaul at Norfolk, during which many men lived ashore at Dale Hall barracks in Portsmouth, Virginia. Crewmembers worked two daily shifts and civilian workers manned three shifts around-the-clock. The New Year found the ship in Drydock No. 8, which shipyard workers flooded up to the 17-foot level on Forrestal’s hull to test sea valves and hull work they performed, and lit-off the emergency diesels, over 14 and 15 January. Workers pumped-up the drydock the next day due to excessive leaks in some of the ship’s pipes. Forrestal left the drydock and moored starboard side to Pier 5 at the shipyard, on 22 January. The ship sailed to complete sea trials over 15 to 20 June, returning to Pier 5. The next day the carrier left the shipyard en route to the Virginia capes for work slated to include a full power run, testing the anchors and a test of the flight deck wash down system. Forrestal returned to Pier 12 , Norfolk, on 24 June.

6 Sep 1977: The ship onloaded over 900 tons of ammunition, the first time that the crew loaded live ordnance on board in over a year, during an underway replenishment with ammunition ship Suribachi (AE-21).

8–19 Sep 1977: Forrestal anchored off Norfolk, and three days later she moored to Pier 12 in preparation to shift her home port to Mayport. The crew spent days laboriously loading automobiles, motorcycles and household goods on board. The ship sailed on 17 September and moored to Pier C-1 at Mayport. Many male dependents up to age eight accompanied the carrier during her shift. Two days later, Jacksonville Beach and the USO rolled out the red carpet and held a “Welcome to Florida” reception and dance for crewmembers.

27 Sep–24 Oct 1977: The ship embarked CVW-17 and sailed from Mayport for refresher training in Caribbean waters. Forrestal anchored off Guantánamo Bay over 1 and 2 October, and then she stood out of the bay to continue operations. After an intense ten days of evaluations with Fleet Training Group sailors, the carrier visited Port-Au-Prince in Haiti (7–10 October). Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Bébé Doc [Baby Doc], and Ambassador William B. Jones led a delegation including members of the Haitian armed forces chief of staff on board during the visit. Fine weather enabled the crew to complete most of their assignments and for aircraft to fly almost daily missions while underway before and after their visit to the island republic.

12 Nov 1977: Dr. Lynn E. Davis, Deputy Assistant of the Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) and an entourage of key defense officials completed an orientation tour of the ship.

22 Dec 1977: Forrestal served as the host ship for Saratoga as the latter returned from a deployment to the Mediterranean.

13 Jan–3 Feb 1978: Forrestal stood out of Mayport for a three-week at sea period in the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Range of Roosevelt Roods Operating Area to complete the third phase of type commander’s training. The crew accomplished general quarters drills, and an air-to-air missile, ‘downed pilot’ and ship-sinking exercises. Tragedy struck the ship on the evening of 15 January, however, as she steamed about 49 miles off St. Augustine, Florida. A Corsair II of VA-81 crashed on the flight deck, killing two flight deck crewmen, ABH2 Jesse R. Puente and ABH3 Johnny C. Gill, and injuring 10 others. The Corsair II struck a parked Corsair II and a Prowler on the aft portion of the deck packed with aircraft, and careened across the ship in a ball of flames. Crewmembers rapidly extinguished a small fire aft caused by fuel spilled onto the deck during the mishap. The pilot ejected and a helo crew from HS-3, LT Brian K. Young, LTJG Leland S. Kollmorgen, AW3 Lawrence L. Johnson and AW3 Michael E. Meier, recovered the man, who suffered only minor injuries. Sea Kings also flew all night to evacuate their injured shipmates to hospitals ashore, and scoured the sea for possible victims blown overboard. The crew held a memorial service for their fallen friends on 19 January. A man fell overboard on the 25th, but another HS-3 Sea King crew, LT Stephen G. Hawkins, LTJG Frank S. Cina, AW3 Johnson and AW3 Michael D. Kurtz, retrieved the sailor.

4–11 Apr 1978: The carrier deployed from Mayport to the Mediterranean. Forrestal rendezvoused with six other ships southeast of Bermuda to form Task Group 20.6, on 6 April. RADM William F. Clifford, Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group-12, took command of the task group and broke his flag from the carrier. Twice en route to the Mediterranean she suffered mishaps, however; the first a fire that erupted in No. 3 Main Machinery Room, as hot steam lines set freshly painted lagging in No. 3 Main Engine Room smoldering, at 2200 two days later. Fortuitously, the fire occurred just minutes after the crew secured from a general quarters drill, so that many men already were at or near their stations and firefighting equipment, and watchstanders within the space activated an extinguishing system and put out the fire within seconds without casualties. Three days later a fire broke out in a catapult steam trunk in the forward part of the ship at about the 01 level, around midnight just after crewmembers relieved their shipmates for the midwatch. Within the first few minutes as the at-sea brigade responded, men also discovered a second fire erupting in an adjoining storeroom, however, working with area repair lockers, responders defeated both fires within the hour.

14–19 Apr 1978: The ship visited Rota to begin operating with the Sixth Fleet during this deployment, and relieved America. RADM Robert F. Schoultz, Commander, Task Force 60, broke his flag from Forrestal. The admiral’s deployment became an affable one with crewmembers as he previously commanded the ship (1971–1972) and knew her well. Meanwhile, RADM Clifford departed for aircraft carrier Nimitz (CVN-68) to assume his duties as Commander, Task Group-60.2. In addition, a detachment from VA-83 embarking the ship, detached to operate with British Royal Air Force crews flying from their station at Lossiemouth, Scotland, to exchange tactical techniques.

19–29 Apr 1978: Forrestal conducted training exercises in the Western Mediterranean basin and the Tyrrhenian Sea, focusing upon anti-submarine warfare during a specially prepared program entitled “ASW Week.” Vikings and Sea Kings flying from the ship hunted subs and fired practice torpedoes, passing on data they collected to the ship’s Tactical Support Center. In addition, the carrier opened ‘Seamart,’ a walk-in and larger supply store for her men then any previous designs, that operated like shore-based servmarts, on the 21st. LTJGs Eric A Hitchcock and John A. Barnet, III, of VF-74 completed the ship’s 227,000th arrested landing, in a Phantom II, as Forrestal steamed in the Mediterranean the next day. Meanwhile, one of Forrestal’s escorts gained sonar contact on a possible submarine. A Sea King from HS-3 quickly attained an active sonar contact and criteria for a hover torpedo attack. A second helo joined their shipmates, and verified via their magnetic anomaly detection gear the submarine’s maneuvers as the latter attempted to escape her hunters. This boat became the first of several more submarines from a number of different countries that the determined helicopter crews tracked during the course of their deployment. As the ship steamed in the Tyrrhenian Sea while conducting night flight operations on the 29th, a Grumman KA-6D tanker from VA-85, crashed, though an HS-3 Sea King, LT William E. Christman, LT Michael N. Lewis, AW3 Brad A. France and AWAN Gary R. Gearhart, recovered the pilot, while a second squadron crew, LTJGs John F. McKean and Julian A. Ferguson, AW1 Grant H. Morrison and AWAN Eugene C. Crowley, III, retrieved the bombardier/navigator.

9–18 May 1978: Following a visit to Naples (30 April–8 May), the ship completed an anti-air warfare exercise in the eastern Mediterranean, principally steaming to the north of Crete and into the Ionian Sea. On the 10th, however, flooding began in an aft pump room and the inrushing water rose to a height of 20 feet before crewmembers could control the influx. In the interim, flooding also spread to adjacent food storage rooms, which destroyed most of Forrestal’s stocks of fresh milk and produce. Divers from the ship’s explosive ordnance disposal team valiantly risked their lives by dropping into the pump room to plug the leak. The flood inflicted total damages estimated at $30,000, though the ship did not report casualties. As the exercise culminated, the carrier integrated into another set of (separate) exercises.

19–29 May 1978: Over 80 ships and submarines from six NATO countries: the Americans, British, French, Greeks, Italians and Turks, tangled in Dawn Patrol, one of the largest NATO exercises that Forrestal participated in to date, stretching across the central and eastern Mediterranean. Forrestal’s aircraft tested their mettle against their counterparts flying aircraft from aircraft carriers Nimitz and French FS Foch (R-99), as well as against Air Force and NATO aircraft, as they protected a Turkish amphibious task group.

30 May–22 Jun 1978: Following a visit to Catania, Sicily (30 May–5 June), Forrestal steamed across the Ionian Sea and made port at Marseilles, France (7–22 June), to conduct an intermediate maintenance availability for some minor repairs. The visit generated media attention, especially among European journalists, however, due to her mooring at the pier rather then anchoring out, as the first U.S. carrier to do so for sometime, and her stay became a cause of concern to environmental and anti-American activists. Nonetheless, 125 French shipyard workers replaced armored covers for jet fuel pipes on the skin of the ship, made structural repairs to the flight deck, repaired about 15 watertight doors and worked on maintaining the ship’s boats.

22–26 Jun 1978: Forrestal took part in an anti-submarine and mine warfare exercise in the western Mediterranean and Ionian Seas, a training evolution that proved costly to the men on board. At 1508 on the 24th, LCDR Thomas P. Anderson, the operations officer of CVW-17, died when his A-7E Corsair II (BuNo 157561), crashed into the sea during a practice bombing mission against Pachino Target, a buoy anchored approximately two miles to the south of Sicily. The pilot flew as a wingman on a two plane daytime dive bombing mission with a section leader. The weather was clear with good visibility, but with no definite horizon due to haze. During his second run LCDR Anderson began a steep dive of almost 60° and continued until below the altitude normally considered optimal for recovering from such descents. The pilot apparently attempted to pull up during the final moments of his plunge, however, his Corsair II slammed into the water tail first about one-quarter of a mile beyond the buoy. A Sea King crew from HS-3, LTJG Thomas J. Henderson, ENS David P. Smouse, AW2 James H. Cox and AWAN Harold R. Rhodes, performed the sad duty of retrieving LCDR Anderson’s body, which rescuers located beneath his life raft in the midst of a slick created by the crash. The next day another pilot from VA-83, also flying a Corsair II, crashed shortly after takeoff during the day. A rescue crew from an SH-3D Sea King from HS-3, LCDR Donald A. Wright, LTJG Russell E. Hall, AW2 Cox and AWAN Gearhart, recovered the man, who suffered only minor injuries in the crash, and returned him to the ship in barely eight minutes. Both crashes occurred while the ship sailed in the Ionian Sea.

5–11 Jul 1978: The ship led a task group of six vessels into Tridente, a joint exercise in the eastern Mediterranean and the northern Ionian Sea with the British, French, Germans, Greeks and Italians, that focused on establishing sea control in the face of simulated opposition forces. The carrier anchored at Augusta Bay to enable RADM Schoultz to depart for John F. Kennedy, while RADM Clifford embarked Forrestal, on the 8th.

12–17 Jul 1978: The ship anchored in the bay at Naples, where folksinger Harry Chapin entertained the crew in the Hanger Bay on the 16th. In addition, RADM William R. Smedberg, IV, relieved RADM Clifford during a ceremony on board.

19–20 Jul 1978: During Operation BuzzardEx, aircraft and ships attempted to intercept and shoot down RIM-8 Talos surface-to-air missiles fired by guided missile cruiser Albany (CG-10). The Talos’ represented enemy aircraft attacking at speeds of Mach 2.

23–31 Jul 1978: Forrestal completed National Week XXV training with southern NATO members, including sea control, power projection and anti-submarine warfare. John F. Kennedy, Albany, two nuclear-powered attack submarines, Lockheed P-3 Orions and French and Italian forces were among the commands which joined Forrestal as they wrestled for control of the western Ionian Sea.

1–14 Aug 1978: Forrestal moored for the first time at a newly-completed deep-draft pier at Valencia, Spain. Over 30,000 visitors toured the ship, but the highlight for the men on board undoubtedly occurred when the Miss America Variety Show, highlighting Miss America 1978, Susan Perkins, and reigning beauty queens Linda Hallstrom from Nebraska, Mary D’Arcy from New Jersey, Kathy Fleming from North Carolina, Catherine Hinson from South Carolina, Lori Smith from Texas and Kristy Deakin from Utah, sang and danced before a crowd packed into the hangar bay, on the 4th.

15–23 Aug 1978: The ship completed training exercises in the western Mediterranean. A Phantom II from VF-74 crashed over 60 nautical miles from Forrestal to the south of France on the 17th. A helo crew from HS-3, LCDR Ormond C. Fowler, Jr., LT Christman, AW2 Robert G. Purinton and AW3 Dante F. Quinquinio, rescued both men, who survived without serious injuries. At about noon on the 21st the general quarters alarm sounded as widespread smoke appeared on the third deck amidships. Shortly thereafter, fire brigade members discovered burning boxes in a fourth deck storeroom. The responders extinguished the blaze within 10 minutes of the initial alarm. During Dasix the next day, aircraft participated in an air defense exercise against French Air Force pilots, flying mock attacks on the French coast, which allowed the men of CVW-17 to practice fighting their way through enemy defenses and the French the experience of attempting to stop them and defend their homeland.

24 Aug–27 Sep 1978: After a brief stop in Palma (24–28 August), the ship left the Mediterranean en route to the Atlantic and the North and Norwegian Seas to take part in the huge NATO exercise Northern Wedding (4–18 September). En route she put into Rota to allow RADM Norman K. Green, Commander, Carrier Group-6, to embark, and for RADM Smedberg to disembark and transfer his flag to guided missile cruiser Harry E. Yarnell (CG-17). Northern Wedding involved over 40,000 men and women, 22 subs and 800 aircraft from nine NATO countries. Planners geared the exercise to simulate allied abilities to reinforce Western Europe in the event of an East Bloc attack. Forrestal and HMS Ark Royal led separate task groups that steamed in a two-carrier formation to gain sea control and deploy their aircraft to support amphibious landings in the Shetland Islands and the Danish Jutland Peninsula. Heavy seas and high winds, however, curtailed flight operations during the first phase of the exercises, but conditions improved just barely enough in the harsh northern climbs to permit the ship and her embarked air wing to support the planned objectives. The professionalism and dedication to completing their tasks which the British and Canadians displayed especially impressed crewmembers, who noted these specific allies’ pride in more than one report. Forrestal conducted sea control, power projection, air support and reconnaissance missions. VADM Wesley L. McDonald, Commander, Second Fleet, gave a news conference to a group of both U.S. and international journalists in the carrier’s ‘War Room’ on the 9th, describing in some detail the significance of the exercise–which NATO normally held every four years–in preparing the allies to resist a Soviet-led attack against the West. After completing the exercise the ship returned to the Mediterranean, pausing in the Spanish port of Malaga (22–27 September).

28 Sep–8 Oct 1978: The carrier participated in Display Determination, a NATO southern region exercise involving eight countries practicing rapid reinforcement and resupply of the alliance’s southern flank during wartime, and the third and final exercise of this deployment. Aircraft flew a large number of sorties principally against their British, Italian and Portuguese counterparts.

11–15 Oct 1978: Forrestal transited the Strait of Gibraltar by steering westerly courses to Rota. The ship put to sea on the 13th to conduct a one-day exercise with Saratoga and her task group, which enabled aircraft to practice mock attacks against the ships and for the latter’s gunners to train in anti-air warfare. SN Williams from the deck department of fast combat support ship Detroit (AOE-4) fell overboard just as the ship completed refueling the carrier that night and the vessels broke away from each other, but a Sea King crew, LT Henderson, LTJG Smouse, AW2 Purinton and AWAN Bryan K. Bailey, retrieved him. Their rescue became especially difficult and challenging due to the lack of a visible horizon for pilot reference and insufficient wind to aid hovering, and in addition, the sailor did not wear reflective tape on his flotation garment and did not use signaling devices. Nonetheless, the helo crew preserved and saved his life. The shaken seaman recovered in the carrier’s sick bay, and a helo returned him the next day to Detroit. The next day Saratoga relieved Forrestal, enabling the latter to begin her voyage home before dawn on the 15th.

15–26 Oct 1978: On her homeward transit, Forrestal steered an extreme northerly course to participate in Operation Windbreak, a special program designed to introduce sailors and their equipment to relatively unfamiliar waters and conditions, and to gauge how well the Russians monitored American ships sailing to and from Mediterranean waters. Forrestal steamed as far north as 62°N, about 150 miles south of Iceland, where seas raging to 34-feet and winds in excess of 70-knots slammed into the ship. The wind chill factor dropped to 0° and drove sailors inside to avoid frostbite and exposure. Guided missile cruiser Harry E. Yarnell (CG-17) and destroyer Arthur W. Radford (DD-968) also joined the carrier for the unique exercise, and VADM McDonald embarked Forrestal during Windbreak.

13 Nov 1978–early 1979: Forrestal completed a four-month extended selected restricted availability at Mayport. In addition to several different shore establishments, destroyer tender Yosemite (AD-19) agreed to take on over 700 “intermediate-level” repairs involving welding and pipe fitting. On the eve of the Gator Bowl contest, Ohio State University football coach Wayne W. “Woody” Hayes, a World War II Navy veteran known for bringing his experiences from the Fleet into his coaching style, led an entourage of 100 team members on board, on 28 December. Sailors noted that Coach Hayes “had a smile and handshake” for shipmates as he “eagerly roamed” the ship. On 28 January 1979, however, hydrogen sulfide fumes overcame four civilian workers from Pepper Industries of Jacksonville, and two sailors, while the workers pumped out a fuel tank. The two men from the ship gallantly rushed to aid the civilians when the fumes overcame them, though all six victims recovered without serious injuries. A spokesman from Forrestal noted that “hydrogen sulfide is not stored in any form aboard ship.”

12 Apr 1979: The first jets to land on board following her availability roared over the fantail and hooked the arresting cable.

27 Apr–May 1979: Forrestal sailed from Mayport for several weeks of refresher training in Caribbean waters. The carrier and fast combat support ship Savannah (AOE-4) collided while refueling on 9 May. A resistor/capacitor in the 400 cycle power supply to the master gyro on board Savannah failed, which prevented the automated shift of power from 400 cycle to battery power. The gyro failure alarm did not actuate in the pilot house on board the replenishment ship until the collision. Both ships sustained minor damage but no casualties among their crews, and the impact inflicted limited damage on Forrestal’s port side which affected her refueling rigs and hoses. Savannah continued to fulfill her busy schedule and replenished guided missile cruiser Texas (CGN-39) that afternoon, while the carrier continued to match her previous records while under the auspices of the Fleet Training Group inspectors.

4 Jun 1979: Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor, Jr., visited the ship.

1 Jul 1979: AA Melton H. Coleman was murdered and his body thrown overboard, off the coast off Jacksonville. Despite an intensive search rescuers could not retrieve him. In early September investigators sentenced SA Wayne A. Bishop to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit murder, and charged a second crewmember, Michael K. Nicolson, with conspiracy to commit murder and premeditated murder.

2–16 Aug 1979: RADM Bryan W. Compton, Jr., commanded Forrestal as she participated in CompTuEx 3-79, a Second Fleet readiness exercise. Training included missile, surface, anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare and gunnery exercises. British frigates HMS Alacrity (F-174) and HMS Galatia (F-18) also joined the carrier. Undersecretary of the Navy R. James Woolsey embarked overnight (15–16 August).

21 Sep 1979: Aircraft No 100, an F-4J, LCDR Curry M. Lawler and LTJG Joseph M. Foster from VF-11, struck the ramp, sheering the starboard mainmount, and crashed on the flight deck during nighttime flight operations off the Jacksonville Operating Area at 2123, near 30°56’1”N, 79°34’6”W. Helo searchers picked-up LCDR Lawler and returned him to the ship, where crewmembers treated the pilot for shock in sick bay. LTJG Foster also ejected but the co-pilot landed on the flight deck, where their burning Phantom II pinned him beneath the wreckage before his shipmates could release the man from his harrowing ordeal. The naval aviator suffered fractured ribs and internal injuries which required several weeks of recovery in a hospital.

Nov 1979: During this period the pro-Western Iranian government collapsed, forcing the Shah into exile in the United States. Tensions among opposing groups produced a state of near-anarchy within the troubled land. One of the more radical groups, “Students Following the Imam’s Line,” blamed America for the discord, and sought to mobilize support for their policies by seizing the U.S. Embassy in Teheran on 4 November 1979. Receiving tacit approval from the Ayatollah R. Khomeini, the extremists continued to hold 52 hostages. The crime outraged Americans and the U.S. government responded by ordering naval forces to the region, tentatively to include Forrestal.

30 Nov 1979: Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo visited the ship to view flight operations and also spoke to crewmembers via the ship’s closed circuit television.

5–6 Dec 1979: While she steamed en route to the Med, Forrestal launched simulated air strikes against Independence as the latter returned from deployment. Forrestal ten conducted a ‘blue-water turnover’ with Independence.

9–13 Dec 1979: The ship visited Rota to accomplish briefings tailored to the Mediterranean and NATO environment, and which enabled RADM Robert F. Dunn, Commander, Carrier Group 10, to break his flag from the carrier.

14–20 Dec 1979: As they prepared for contingencies due to the Iranian crisis, Forrestal and Nimitz participated in MultiPlEx, an exercise incorporating two carrier task forces in combined operations in the Mediterranean. Both carriers operated as adversaries and sent mock air strikes against each other, and in addition, they hunted attack submarines Shark (SSN-591) and Italian Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia (S-502).

21 Dec 1979–4 Jan 1980: The ship visited Marseilles. French families flooded the U.S. consulate there with offers to invite sailors and marines into their homes during the Christmas holidays. On New Years, however, Forrestal sailed for Naples to relieve Nimitz, which enabled Nimitz to respond to the Iranian crisis by leading a nuclear-powered battle group comprising guided missile cruisers California (CGN-36) and Texas from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Their voyage left Forrestal as the only American carrier deployed to the Mediterranean during this time of heightened international tensions.