USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) - 1971-75
John F. Kennedy conducted carquals from 19-23 January 1970, then underwent repair and maintenance at Norfolk Naval Shipyard from 30 January, a pre-administrative readiness inspection while in restricted availability at the shipyard from 4-8 May, and a fast cruise on 18-19 May. She completed her restricted availability on 23 May 1970.
Following limited carquals and other exercises, John F. Kennedy completed nuclear weapons acceptance inspection on 28 May 1970 and on 12 June sailed for Guantanamo for refresher training. She completed her administrative readiness inspection three days later.
John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk, and through July and August continued training and upkeep, punctuating those operations with a visit to Boston, Massachusetts (2-4 August 1970) during which time Senator Edward M. Kennedy, brother of the late President, members of the Kennedy family, including Caroline, who had been the ship’s sponsor, and her brother John F. Kennedy, Jr., visited the ship.
While conducting operations en route to Norfolk on 6 August 1970, an RA-5C experienced trouble on a catapult launch and went into the water. An HC-2 HH-2D (BuNo 152205) flown by Lieutenant (j.g.)s James C. Harrison and Larry R. Ammerman, with Aviation Machinist’s Mate (Jet Engine Mechanic) Airman Kurt M. Karlsen and Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Robert E. Touchett, rescued the Vigilante’s crew, Commander Edward O. Williams and Lieutenant Ralph S. Feeback, without incident.
After a stint of local operations out of Norfolk that followed John F. Kennedy’s return from Boston, Captain Ferdinand B. Koch relieved Captain Lake on 4 September 1970. Ten days later, on 14 September, the carrier headed for the Caribbean and an ORI. On 18 September, however, she received a change of orders in the wake of the 6th Fleet having been placed on alert (3 September) because of tension in the Middle East. Fighting had broken out between Jordanian and Palestinian forces. Following Syrian intervention in Jordan on 18 September, John F. Kennedy and elements of the 8th Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB), received orders to return to the Med. By 24 September, however, all Syrian forces had quit Jordanian territory and on 8 October the carrier returned to Souda Bay.
During her 1970-1971 deployment, John F. Kennedy, with CVW-1 (VF-14, VF-32, VA-34, VA-46, VA-72, RVAH-14, HC-2, VAQ-131 and VAW-125) embarked, visited Athens three times, Naples twice, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and Malta twice (on 27 November 1970 being visited by U.S. Ambassador to Malta John C. Pritzlaff), Avgo Nisi, near Crete, Souda Bay again, St. Paul’s Bay, Valletta, Malta, and Barcelona. On 19 December 1970, while in Souda Bay, John F. Kennedy hosted the Bob Hope Christmas Show.
On New Year’s Day 1971, while John F. Kennedy lay anchored at Athens, she deployed one of HC-2’s HH-2Ds on a rescue mission. Bernard Selinger, a Canadian citizen, had fallen while mountain-climbing near Delphi, Greece, and broken his back. The Seasprite, flown by a volunteer crew; Lieutenants W. Dale Sokel and David C. Heiter, with Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) 3d Class James E. Cook as rescue crewman and Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert P. Legg, MC, and Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Clifton F. Halsey representing the ship’s medical department, flew “over, around, and between mountains” into the valley where the village of Delphi lay, retrieved Salinger, and transported him back to Athenai Airport, where an ambulance awaited him to take him to a hospital.
Departing Athens on 6 January 1971, John F. Kennedy proceeded to Malta, where she lay in St. Paul’s Bay (14-16 January) and Valletta (16-23 January) before getting underway and conducting operations with guided missile frigate Dahlgren (DLG-12) in the Ionian Sea. Further evolutions in that body of water ensued (24-29 January), observed by a Soviet Kashin-class destroyer (No. 522) on the 24th.
Reaching Barcelona on 30 January 1971, John F. Kennedy remained there until 8 February. Out-chopping from the 6th Fleet on that date, she continued to operate in the Mediterranean for the next 10 days. During that time, on 11 February 1971, while the carrier was at sea, she hosted Secretary of the Navy Chaffee and Rear Admiral Merlin H. Staring.
John F. Kennedy then took part in NATO exercises in the North Atlantic en route to her home port, fueling from the British fleet replenishment tanker Olmeda (A.124) on 20 February 1971 and in turn fueling the Dutch anti-submarine destroyer Gelderland (D.811) the following day. Ultimately, John F. Kennedy reached Pier 12 on 1 March 1971. What had been slated to be a two-week training cruise in the Caribbean had ended up as a 35,127-mile odyssey to the Mediterranean that had spanned six months.
John F. Kennedy conducted flight operations off the Virginia capes from 13-22 April 1971, one day into those evolutions (14 April), an explosion in the 02N2 plant burned Motor Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Charles Pifer, who was transferred to Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia, three days later. A crash tragically punctuated the intensive carquals when Lieutenant John P. Lay of VA-46 died when his Ling-Temco-Vought A-7B Corsair went down into the ocean on 17 April. After a brief in-port period, the ship returned to the capes from 3-8 May for Operation Exotic Dancer IV, which included a 64-hour endurance exercise (EndurEx). Two days later, she began carquals. Training continued into July, August, and September, in areas that ranged from Guantanamo (during which time she operated a reserve squadron, CVWR-20, from 10-20 August), to Jacksonville, Florida, the Virginia capes, and Newport, Rhode Island.
On 1 October 1971, John F. Kennedy welcomed her third commanding officer when Captain Robert H. Gormley relieved Captain Koch. In November, the ship began operations with the cleaner and more efficient distillate fuel oil. On 1 December, John F. Kennedy cleared Norfolk, and on 9 December, she relieved America (CVA-66) at Rota, rejoining the 6th Fleet; the next day, she entered the Mediterranean.
John F. Kennedy reached Naples on 17 December 1971 and lingered until the day after Christmas. She then conducted air operations en route to Barcelona, where she spent New Year’s Eve, when the ship’s supply division opened a dairy bar on the after mess decks during the festivities, distributing milkshakes and sundaes free of charge.
During the balance of 1972, John F. Kennedy, with CVW-1 embarked (VA-34, VA-46, and VA-72, VF-14 and VF-32, RVAH-14, VAW-125, a VAQ-135 detachment, and Detachment 67 of HC-2) conducted operations in the Med during a period of relative stability in the international scene. The ship and her air wing took part in a succession of exercises: PhiblEx 8-72 (9-10 January), National Week XII (6-9 February) (during the commencement of which A-7 jet blast blew Hospitalman 2d Class Curcuru over the side); Quickdraw (20-21 February), Dawn Patrol (4-9 may), Operation Red Eye (with Spanish forces, 26 May-1 June), and National Week XIII (17-20 July), interspersed with port calls that included Naples, Athens, Corfu, Thessaloniki, Rhodes, Genoa, Cannes, Barcelona, Palma de Majorca, Malaga, Gaeta, Italy, Golfo di Palma, Augusta Bay, Izmir, Turkey, La Maddalena, Sardinia, and Rota. On 8 April 1972, Lord Balniel, UK Minister of State for Defense visited John F. Kennedy. That same day, Aviation Structural Mechanic (Safety Equipment) 3d Class Mark W. Raymond of VA-34 died in an A-6 canopy accident. Two days later, the carrier hosted Operation Rivets, the retirement ceremony for Admiral Horacio (“Rivets”) Rivero.
Only five days after the canopy accident that claimed the life of Aviation Structural Mechanic (Safety Equipment) 3d Class Raymond, an A-6 crashed during a conventional ordnance exercise on 13 April 1972, and a search and rescue effort ensued for Lieutenant (j.g.)s William T. Hackman and David L. Douglas, without success. Two days later, however, debris from the missing Intruder was sighted near the Avgo Nisi target range.
CVW-1 lost three more aircraft (two from VA-72) before the year was out. The first was an A-7 (BuNo 154386) to hydraulic failure on 20 May 1972, with Lieutenant Bernard J. Hedger, from VA-72, being rescued by an HH-2D flown by Lieutenants LeRoy E. Hays and Roy E. Hey, with Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) 3d Class F. L. Barthold and Aviation Machinist’s Mate (Jet Engine Mechanic) 3d Class G. H. Trouton, as crew. The second was an HH-2D Seasprite (Angel 013) to a lost tail rotor on 11 June, its four-man crew (Lieutenants Larry E. Crume and James R. Palmquist, Aviation Machinist’s Mate (Jet Engine Mechanic) 3d Class Kent D. Swedberg and Aviation Structural Mechanic (Safety Equipment) Airman Richard F. Diaz) being rescued by Angel 010 flown by Lieutenants Hays and James C. Harrison, with Aviation Machinist’s Mates (Jet Engine Mechanic) 2d Class David T. Warmkessel and James C. McDonald as crew. The third was another Corsair (Decoy 401) due to a stall spin, on 27 June, with Lieutenant (j.g.) Newton R. Gaines, also of VA-72, being rescued by Angel 010 (Lieutenant Palmquist and Lieutenant Commander Lawrence B. Kauffman, with Swedberg and McDonald as crew), with British guided missile destroyer HMS Antrim providing wind velocity data to the inbound helo.
From 14-28 September 1972, John F. Kennedy participated in NATO Exercise Strong Express. During that time, on 17 September, she crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time and received a visit, on 19 September, by Secretary of the Navy John Warner and General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Another notable event that occurred during those operations was the cross-decking of an F-4K Phantom II and a Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer IIB from HMS Ark Royal to John F. Kennedy and an F-4B and an A-6 to the British carrier, an evolution that “increased the flexibility of air operations in allied efforts and opened the door to increased efficiency in combat conditions and strategic concepts.” Flight deck crews having been exchanged prior to the evolution ensured that those involved encountered “no major difficulties.” During the same period, John F. Kennedy, operating in the North Sea, cross-decked four A-7s to Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) operating in the Mediterranean at the time, and received a like number of Corsairs from Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Upon the conclusion of Strong Express, John F. Kennedy proceeded to Norfolk, arriving on 6 October 1972. The next day, she went “cold iron” until 31 October. On 1 November, the ship conducted a fast cruise, then shifted to Portsmouth to begin eight weeks of restricted availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. During that yard period, that saw the rework of the catapult water brakes, repairs to weapons elevators, installation of modifications to enable the ship to handle the EA-6B, and the installation of four new salt water cooling pumps, among other items, the carrier also underwent a change of command when Captain John C. Dixon, Jr. relieved Captain Gormley on 30 November 1972.
Emerging from her overhaul on 5 January 1973, John F. Kennedy, earmarked to deploy to Southeast Asia, worked-up in the Virginia capes operating areas, but during her 8-17 February in-port period received word that, in the wake of the Paris peace accords, she would deploy to the Med in April instead of the western Pacific in March. The carrier then began her ORI with flight operations off the Virginia capes and down off the Florida coast, including operations against the Pinecastle, Florida, target range. On the first launch of the day on 17 February, a division of Intruders from VA-46 sank its quarry, ex-Meade (DD-602). Soon thereafter, the ship visited Mayport, Florida (20 February) before returning to Norfolk on 22 February. She remained in port until she participated in Exercise Exotic Dancer VI (28 March – 4 April).
John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk on 16 April 1973 and dropped anchor at Rota on 25 April, relieving Intrepid (CVS-11). The next day, she hosted Spanish Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sophia, during which visit the 35-year old heir apparent to the Spanish throne commented upon not only the complexity of carrier operations, but the cleanliness of the ship in which he was embarked. CVW-1 performed an air show for the royal guests and then the ship got underway for the Strait of Gibraltar.
John F. Kennedy spent the next five months of 1973 operating with the 6th Fleet, her port visits including Barcelona and Palma, Formia, Italy, Augusta Bay, Gaeta, Souda Bay, Rhodes, Athens, and Livorno. Her period of routine operations, exercises, and underway replenishments, was punctuated by the ship losing her 301-ton starboard anchor (and 180 fathoms of chain) at Cannes on 1 June. She regained it, with the help of the salvage vessel Opportune (ARS-41) a week later. At Palma on 2 September, John F. Kennedy’s fire and rescue detail extinguished an engine room fire on board a nearby yacht.
After transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on 22 September 1973, John F. Kennedy paused briefly at Rota (23-24 September), relieved by Franklin D. Roosevelt, before she got underway to proceed to the North Sea. Transiting the English Channel on 30 September, the carrier crossed the Arctic Circle on 4 October during NATO exercise Swift Move, a nine-day evolution that combined the efforts of more than 20,000 men, 34 ships, and 250 land and sea-based aircraft from Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Afterwards, on 10 October 1973, John F. Kennedy put in to Edinburgh, Scotland, where, the following day, a fire in a storeroom damaged steam pipe lagging and electrical wiring for her number three catapult – with all repairs completed by the ship’s force within 72 hours.
John F. Kennedy had originally been slated to return home after her three-day visit in Edinburgh, but another crisis in the Middle East reared its head when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel on 6 October 1973 in The Yom Kippur War. Accordingly, John F. Kennedy sailed from Edinburgh on 13 October in company with guided missile frigate Dale (DLG-19), guided missile destroyer Richard E. Byrd (DDG-23), and destroyer Sarsfield (DD-837), supported by the oiler Caloosahatchee (AO-98). The carrier and her consorts proceeded to a holding area 100 miles west of Gibraltar, to assume an alert position to respond to the crisis in the Middle East.
On 25 October 1973, the day after the completion of the program to fly A-4 Skyhawks to Israel, staging them through the Azores and Franklin D. Roosevelt (on station south of Sicily) John F. Kennedy (which had been earmarked to support those flights if required), received orders to rejoin the 6th Fleet, and entered the Mediterranean. The ship’s entering the Med reflected the middle-level alert ordered for U.S. forces world-wide after the Soviet Union reportedly planned a unilateral move of troops into the Middle East to monitor the shaky cease-fire that had taken effect in the wake of the most recent conflict between Israel and her neighbors. John F. Kennedy prepared contingency weapons loads on 27 October.
As tensions in the region remained high, the carrier remained at sea into mid-November 1973, operating south of Crete, day and night, with task groups formed around Independence (CVA-62) and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and refueled by the fast combat support ship Seattle (AOE-3) (4 November), and old consort Pawcatuck (9 and 12 November), after which point she put in briefly to Souda Bay on 15 November, only to get underway once more before the day was done. The 6th Fleet resumed its normal alert status on 17 November, however, and the next day, “the ship, normally busily noisy, fell silent” as Captain Dixon informed the crew over the 1MC that John F. Kennedy was finally going home. “With a return date in sight,” her historian wrote, “the crew looked forward to their homecoming and reunion with their families, loved ones, and friends.” The ship, her “second” Med cruise of the deployment completed, transited the Strait of Gibraltar on 22 November, and moored to the familiar Pier 12 on 1 December.
John F. Kennedy conducted local operations out of Norfolk to start the year 1974, spending two short periods in January and February participating in operations off the Virginia capes. On 1 March, she got underway from Pier 12 and shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard; a fortnight later, on 15 March 1974, she shifted to dry dock no. 8, where she would remain well into June.
Among the major projects undertaken over the ensuing months to provide the carrier with ASW capabilities and enable her to conduct combined air, surface and sub-surface warfare were the installation of the Tactical Support Center (TSC), designed as a module of the combat information center (CIC), to provide pre-flight planning, in-flight support, post-flight analysis, and mission evaluation for all ASW missions flown by the new Grumman S-3A Vikings and Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopters; the satellite read-out equipment (SROE), to provide the tactical commander and his meteorologist “real time” weather data acquired and transmitted by the defense meteorological satellite system; and the versatile avionics shop test (VAST), an enhanced aircraft maintenance facility. In addition, since each embarked type of jet presented a unique problem to the ship’s aircraft-handling capability, the new Grumman F-14 Tomcat’s exhaust being hotter than that of the other aircraft’s and the S-3A’s higher than any other embarked plane’s due to the position of its engines, for example, the jet blast deflectors needed to be rebuilt to provide a larger protective surface and an improved cooling capability.
During this overhaul, John F. Kennedy experienced a turnover of people, too, of approximately 60 percent. Among those leaving was Captain Dixon, relieved on 24 May 1974 by Captain William A. Gureck.
John F. Kennedy left dry dock at the end of June 1974, and remained in yard hands into late October, at the end of which time she conducted a fast cruise. On 12 November, she put to sea for her first post repair trial, and the following day recovered a VF-32 Tomcat (Modex 204, BuNo 159015) flown by Commander Jerry G. Knutson and Lieutenant (j.g.) David C. “Davy” Leestma, the first F-14 to land on board. Upon completion of those trials, John F. Kennedy returned to the yard and wrapped up her overhaul on 25 November, one week earlier than scheduled. On 26 November, she returned to Pier 12, Naval Station, Norfolk. The ship was redesignated from CVA-67 to CV-67 effective 1 December 1974.
John F. Kennedy spent the first six months of 1975 preparing for a return to the Med. From 6-20 January 1975, she conducted refresher training out of Guantanamo, punctuating it with a visit to Montego Bay, Jamaica, before she returned to Norfolk. On 6 February, Rear Admiral Ronald J. Hays, ComCarGru 4, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy. The carrier then got underway on 19 February for the Jacksonville operating area, to qualify her own CVW-1 and Marine Air Group (MAG) 32. On 22 February, John F. Kennedy recovered an S-3A from Air Anti-Submarine Squadron (VS) 21 in the first carrier landing of a fleet-assigned Viking. Returning to Norfolk on 28 February, the ship then conducted two stints of type training in the Virginia capes operating area (4-14 March and 18-28 March).
Underway on 7 April 1975, John F. Kennedy sailed for the Jacksonville operating area for a third stint of type training, during which, on 9 April, Commander Melvin E. Taunt, commanding officer of HS-11 (who had had to make an emergency landing in a farmer’s field in North Carolina just three days earlier after a massive transmission oil leak in his SH-3D), made an emergency water landing when another major oil leak forced him to ditch about seven miles from the ship, which recovered the downed Sea King in less than two hours with minimal damage. The following day, Major General Sayed Javad of the Imperial Iranian Air Force, came on board to observe F-14 Tomcat operations.
On 15 April 1975, John F. Kennedy sailed to participate in Agate Punch, an amphibious exercise conducted in the vicinity of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. She also hosted a succession of visitors during that time that included not only flag officers but novelist Herman Wouk (21 April). John F. Kennedy’s air wing participated in multi-faceted operations during Agate Punch that ranged from air defense of the task force, ASW, and supporting a landing force. The evolution was designed to test the carrier’s close air support capability, but also provided the ship an opportunity to test the CV concept, as she operated continuously for 253 hours in an air, surface and sub-surface threat environment, recording 961 arrested landings. Tragically, in the closing phases of the exercises, on 25 April, a VA-34 Intruder crashed, killing Lieutenant (jg) Arthur K. Bennett III; Bennett’s bombardier/navigator, however, ejected and was safely recovered.
Following a fourth stint of type training, off Jacksonville, John F. Kennedy departed Mayport on 10 May 1975 to return to Norfolk; that day, an unsuccessful catapult launch cost VA-34 a KA-6D. Two Sea Kings from HS-11, one flown by Lieutenant Jon R. Jensen and Ensign Mark A. Hansen, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class D.S. Thompson as rescue crewman, the other by Lieutenant Michael L. Hoppus and Ensign Rodney H. Trump, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class W.S. Ewell and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman E.L. Lawson embarked, rescued the pilot and bombardier/navigator.
With only a month left before her Med deployment, John F. Kennedy then took part in Solid Shield, a joint exercise designed to prepare Atlantic Command Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Headquarters for joint combat/amphibious operations, from 27 May to 6 June 1975. After the exercise concluded, she returned to Norfolk and remained there until 28 June. During this time, Rear Admiral Hays hauled down his flag and on 27 June, Rear Admiral Justin E. Langille III, Commander Cruiser Destroyer Group (ComCruDesGru) 12, broke his flag on board.
John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk on the afternoon of 28 June 1975 with CVW-1, consisting of nine squadrons: two of F-14A Tomcats (VF-14 and VF-32); two of A-7B Corsairs (VA-46 and VA-72); one of A-6E Intruders (VA 34); one of EA-6B Prowlers (VAQ -133); one of E-2C Hawkeyes (VAW-125); one of S-3A Vikings (VS-21); and one of SH-3D Sea Kings (HS-11), embarked. RVAH-1 was also assigned to the air wing, but due to deck congestion, was not embarked, remaining on alert in Key West, Florida, ready to deploy if needed.
The highlight of John F. Kennedy’s voyage to Rota occurred on Independence Day, 4 July 1975, when an E-2C Hummer from VAW-125 detected two Soviet Tu-95 Bear-Ds. They overflew the ship approximately 400 nautical miles west of the coast of Spain. Ironically, with all of CVW-1’s Tomcats temporarily “down” due to engine problems, the lot of interception fell to Corsairs, two A-7Bs from VA-46 and two from VA-72, the latter being flown by Lieutenant Michael Akin and Lieutenant (j.g.) Terry Rogers. The next day, the ship began a final cycle of refresher training prior to joining the 6th Fleet; during the second day of such work, 6 July, Lieutenant Commander Ronald T. Mears, of VA-46, had to bail out of his A-7B Corsair (side number 306) (BuNo 154487) five miles astern of the ship when his engine flamed out about 50 miles west of Rota. The Sea King piloted by Lieutenant Commander William C. Hunter and Lieutenant (j.g.) Trump, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 1st Class Wilmoth and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman R.A. Arkie as rescue crewmen, had Mears in sight in six minutes, and recovered him, uininjured, two minutes later.
John F. Kennedy anchored at Rota on 7 July 1975. There, she relieved Franklin D. Roosevelt and in-chopped to the 6th Fleet; she began Mediterranean operations on 14 July, exercising with units of the Spanish Air Defense and Tactical Air Commands, and USAF units stationed in Spain. On 19 July, while anchored at Augusta Bay, Rear Admiral Langille hauled down his flag and Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Commander Task Force 60, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy got underway from Augusta Bay on 5 August 1975. That day, an F-14A Tomcat (Camelot 100) (BuNo 159007) from VF-14 crashed after the ship’s number four arresting gear damper failed; Lieutenant Commander Carlton L. Lavinder, Jr., the pilot, and Lieutenant Bartholomew J. Recame, the NFO, both ejected safely. An SH-3D piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) William E. Hoffman and Lieutenant Commander Marvin E. Hobbs, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class R.M. Davis and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman S.R. Northcutt, rescued Lavinder and Recame and returned them to the ship.
Following her participation in National Week exercises during the first part of August 1975, during which time contingency forces were maintained for the potential evacuation of the approximately 100 U.S. government employees and 1,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon during strife in that country, John F. Kennedy visited Bari, Italy, on 16 August. When high winds and heavy seas resulted in the cancellation of liberty for three days, the carrier’s embarked helicopters from HS-11 airlifted the 900-man liberty party and 12,000 pounds of mail between the fleet landing and the ship on 20-21 August.
Subsequently, John F. Kennedy conducted another cycle of operations before putting in to Naples on 27 August 1975 for a ten-day port visit, after which she returned to the eastern Med to prepare for Deep Express, a major NATO exercise that occurred in the Aegean Sea and on Turkish soil (22-27 September). With tensions in Lebanon still high, John F. Kennedy arrived at Kithira Anchorage, Greece, on 28 September on 36-hour alert for possible evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon. During that time, the carrier stood ready to provide Marine and amphibious task group commanders with intelligence support needed to prepare for such operations that, fortunately, the situation did not ultimately require.
Following a port call at Catania, Sicily (1-3 October 1975), John F. Kennedy participated in a National Week exercise with Italian and other NATO forces (4-8 October), and then transited to the Strait of Messina (9-13 October), and, ultimately, reached Naples, out of which she conducted cyclic operations in the Tyrrhenian Sea during the latter part of October and in mid-November.
During the third such cycle of operations that began on 19 November 1975, on 22 November, at 2159 local time, the guided missile cruiser Belknap (CG-26), while maneuvering to take her station on John F. Kennedy during the night’s last recovery operations, collided with her approximately 70 nautical miles east of Sicily. On board the carrier, a severe fuel fire blazed up on the port side, and on her flight deck. Flight deck firefighters contained the fire there inside of 10 minutes, but a fire in a receiving room burned below for several hours. At one point, heavy smoke forced the evacuation of all the carrier’s fire rooms, forcing her to go dead in the water. Temporarily hors de combat, John F. Kennedy diverted all flights to Naval Air Facility Sigonella, with the exception of her embarked SH-3Ds from HS-11 that supported the unfolding rescue and relief operations.
John F. Kennedy’s overhanging angled deck, however, had ripped into Belknap’s superstructure from her bridge aft as the cruiser passed beneath it. JP-5 fuel from ruptured lines in the port catwalk sprayed onto severed electrical wiring in her gaping wound. Flames engulfed the damaged areas of the cruiser, and within minutes, Belknap’s entire amidships superstructure was an inferno. Shortly after the fire began, boats from other vessels operating with John F. Kennedy and Belknap began to pull alongside the burning ship, often with complete disregard for their own safety. Ammunition from Belknap’s three-inch ready storage locker, located amidships, cooked off, hurling fiery fragments into the air and splashing around the rescue boats. Undaunted, the rescuers pulled out the seriously wounded and delivered fire-fighting supplies to the sailors who refused to surrender their ship to the conflagration. Guided missile destroyer Claude V. Ricketts and destroyer Bordelon (DD-881) moved in on both sides of Belknap, their men directing fire hoses into the amidships area that the stricken ship’s crew could not reach. Claude V. Ricketts moved in and secured alongside Belknap’s port side, and evacuated the injured while fragments from exploding ammunition showered down upon her weather decks. Frigate Pharris (FF-1094) closed in the carrier’s port side to provide fire-fighting assistance.
Among the acts of heroism on board John F. Kennedy were those that earned recommended citations to Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) 3d Class Raymond A. Pabon, Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) Airman William L. Snyder, and Aviation Structural Mechanic (Hydraulics) 3d Class Harold T. Collier from VF-32. Airman James D. Lunn, of VA-72, having been issued an oxygen breathing apparatus, grabbed a hose and climbed up three levels to the source of a fire. Perceiving a dull red-orange glow of burning tires within the thick black smoke, Lunn trained his hose upon it until an explosion blew him backwards through a hatch, depositing him three decks below in a foot of water. He was taken to sickbay, where the carrier’s medical people treated his burned hands and lacerated right ear.
Sadly, John F. Kennedy lost one man, Yeoman 2d Class David A. Chivalette of CVW-1, to smoke inhalation; two men from VA-72 (one of whom was the aforementioned Airman Lunn), suffered injuries. Belknap lost seven men; 23 suffered serious injuries. HS-11’s Sea Kings flew over 36 hours of support flights, transferring 88 men, including 17 litter patients and 60 hurt, but ambulatory, sailors. Ultimately towed to Philadelphia, Belknap was decommissioned and rebuilt.
The next day, Rear Admiral Donald D. Engen, Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, embarked to conduct an investigation into the collision; and on 24 November 1975, having been deemed “operationally capable,” John F. Kennedy resumed flight operations in the Tyrrhenian Sea, using catapults one and two, while repairs proceeded on catapults three and four. The ship’s Fresnel lens having been destroyed in the collision with Belknap and the fire that ensued, John F. Kennedy’s landing signal officers employed a manually operated visual landing aid system (MOVLAS) rigged on the starboard side abreast the island. VA-72’s historian noted that the “boarding rates of all air wing pilots stayed consistently near 100%.” Admiral Engen convened a formal investigation on the morning of 25 November.
John F. Kennedy arrived at Naples the following day, where there was, as VA-72’s scribe put it quite rightly, “a little relaxation for a deserving crew.” Three days into that port visit, on 29 November 1975, Captain John R. C. Mitchell relieved Captain Gureck.
Putting to sea again on 4 December, John F. Kennedy conducted cyclic operations in the western Med (4-8 and 14 December) that book-ended a visit to Palma (9-13 December) and preceded a Poop Deck exercise with Spanish forces (15-16 December) and conducted Corsair strike and interdiction missions against French targets as well as CAP missions, and Tomcat interceptions of raiding Mirages and Jaguars (17-18 December). John F. Kennedy wound up those operations with CVW-1 conducting Phiblex 6-76, delivering live ordnance against the Capodanna target peninsula, simulating close air support for amphibious landings.
John F. Kennedy ultimately reached Barcelona on 22 December 1975. She spent Christmas there, and two on 27 December, returned to sea to begin a cycle of three days of flight operations to maintain pilot proficiency, after which she returned to Barcelona, where she remained over New Year’s.
- USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) Chronology and Significant Events 1964-70
- USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) Chronology and Significant Events 1971-75
- USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) Chronology and Significant Events 1976-85
- USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) Chronology and Significant Events 1986-90
- USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) Chronology and Significant Events 1991-2000
- USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) Chronology and Significant Events 2001-2005