When placed in commission on 01 October 1955, USS FORRESTAL was the first of the "super-carriers" and the largest warship ever constructed. She displaced almost 80,000 tons and was 1,076 feet long and 129 feet in beam at the waterline. When her air wing was embarked she had a complement of over 5,000 sailors and Marines, and her "main battery" consisted of 80 to 100 aircraft of various types. She was a formidable weapon of war.

FORRESTAL was home-ported on the East Coast and spent the first twelve years of her commissioned life serving with the 2nd and 6th Fleets. She departed Norfolk (Virginia) on 6 June 1967 for her first deployment to Vietnam with Carrier Air Wing 17 and about 80 aircraft embarked:
  • Attack Squadrons 46 and 106 with 24 A-4E SKYHAWK light bombers
  • Attack Squadron 65 with 12 A-6A INTRUDER all-weather bombers
  • Fighter Squadrons 11 and 74 with 24 F-4B PHANTOM fighter-bombers
  • Heavy Reconnaissance Squadron 11 (RVAH-11) with 6 RA-5C VIGILANTE recon aircraft
  • Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123 (VAW-123) with four HAWKEYE airborne control aircraft
  • Det 59, Heavy Attack Squadron 10 (VAH-10) with four KA-3B SKYWARRIOR tankers
  • Det 59, Helicopter Squadron 2 (HC-2), with several UH-2A SEASPRITE utility and ASW helicopters
  • A VAP-61 detachment of RA-3B SKYWARRIOR intelligence collection aircraft
FORRESTAL arrived on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin on 25 July and immediately began combat operations. The first four days were routine; the fifth day, 29 July, was not.

The ship was preparing to launch a major strike and many fully fueled and armed aircraft were parked about the deck. At 10:52 AM a 5" ZUNI rocket accidentally fired from an F-4 Phantom parked on the starboard side of the ship and pointed inboard. The rocket impacted an armed A-4 Skyhawk (piloted by then-LCDR, now Senator, John McCain) parked on the port side.

The rocket's impact dislodged and ruptured the Skyhawk's 400-gallon external fuel tank and ignited the jet fuel which poured out. A 1000-pound bomb also fell to the deck, into the spreading pool of flaming jet fuel. Within 90 seconds the bomb "cooked off" and detonated. That explosion resulted in a chain reaction as the closely-packed aircraft were first engulfed in and then contributed to a massive fire with repeated high-order bomb detonations. The ship's "plat" cameras, mounted on the island and embedded in the deck itself, provided ample video coverage of the initial accident and the subsequent catastrophe.

The first responders were Repair Party 8, led by Chief Petty Officer Gerald Farrier, who can be seen in the plat tapes running toward McCain's Skyhawk immediately after the rocket strike. The fuel tank had already ruptured and burning fuel was spreading around the aircraft. Chief Farrier had, as his weapon against this blaze, a hand-held fire extinguisher. He had not yet reached the Skyhawk when the first detonation occurred . . . he simply disappeared in the blast. A number of air- and deck crew were trapped in the inferno; many died there, while others were able to escape to the deck-edge catwalks.

Outside the rapidly spreading fire, the flight deck crew immediately began an effort to contain the blaze. The on-deck firefighting crews rallied after the first explosion and attacked the fire, only to disappear in the second, and larger, round of explosions. The plat tapes show the decimated firefighters recruiting help from anyone in the vicinity, and these make-shift crews once again pressed into the growing inferno. The third round of detonations cleared the deck of men and fire-fighting gear, but within a minute more crewmen from the forward deck and below-deck areas had reconstituted fire-fighting teams and were working their way aft.

Forrestal     Forrestal     Forrestal
Forrestal Forrestal   

Over a dozen 1,000 and 500 pound bombs detonated within the first few minutes of the fire, punching holes through the 3" armor plating of the flight deck. Flaming fuel poured through those holes, into the working and berthing spaces on the O-3 level, then down into the aft hangar bay. Numerous smaller explosions occurred as lesser weapons, ranging from the Skyhawk's cannon ammunition to 5" rocket warheads, detonated.

Although it was 13 hours and more before the last fire was extinguished, FORRESTAL's crew did put it out ... but at the cost of 135 dead and hundreds more injured. FORRESTAL left Yankee Station under her own power, steaming to Subic Bay for temporary repairs before returning to Norfolk on 15 September 1967.

After shipyard repairs, USS FORRESTAL continued to serve, making many more deployments with the 2nd and 6th Fleets ... but she never again deployed to Vietnam. The Aircraft Carrier USS FORRESTAL was decomissioned on 11 September 1993 after 38 years of active service.

The listing below includes all of the men who died as a result of the 29 July fire. Names are linked to their personal memorial pages on The Virtual Wall. Several are marked with asterisks (*) to indicate men who died after 29 July of injuries received.

PO2 Marvin J Adkins, VF-11 SN Everett A Allen, CVA-59
PO3 Gary J Ardeneaux, VF-11 PO1 Toney A Barnett, VF-74
LT Dennis M Barton, VA-46 PO2 Robert L Bennett, VF-11
PO2 Mark R Bishop, VF-11 SN James L Blaskis, CVA-59
AA William V Brindle, VF-74 PO3 Bobby J Brown, VF-11
PO1 Jerry D Byars, VF-11 PO3 Francis Campeau, VF-11
PO3 Jack M Carlan, VF-74 AN Daniel G Cavazos, VF-74
SN Ray A Chatelain, CVA-59 * AN Richard D Clendenen, VF-11
SN William D Collins, VF-11 AN Robert B Cotten, VF-11
PO2 James L Crenshaw, VF-74 PO2 Mario C Crugnola, VF-74
AN Robert J Davies, VF-74 PO2 Thomas J Dawson, VA-65
PO3 Jerold V Despard, VF-11 PO3 Edward R Dorsey, HS-2
PO3 Joseph G Dugas, VF-11 PO3 Paul A Dupere, VF-74
SN John S Duplaga, VF-11 SN Kenneth Dyke, CVA-59
PO1 Walter T Eads, VF-74 PO2 James A Earick, VA-106
PO2 John T Edwards, VF-11 CPO Gerald W Farrier, CVA-59
FN Kenneth L Fasth, CVA-59 PO1 John J Fiedler, VF-74
AN Russell L Fike, VF-74 PO1 Harold Fontenot, VA-106
AN Johnnie L Frazier, HS-2 AN Gerald G Fredrickson, CVA-59
PO1 Herbert A Frye, VF-74 AN Ramon Garza, VF-74
LT Robert E Geller, VA-65 PO3 Richard H Gibson, CVA-59
AN Lawrence J Gilbert, VF-74 PO3 William T Gilroy, VF-11
PO3 Larry E Grace, VF-74 PO3 Russell A Grazier, VF-74
PO3 Charles C Gregory, VF-74 SN William C Hartgen, CVA-59
AN Robert L Hasz, CVA-59 AN Richard A Hatcher, VA-46
AN William K Hinckley, VF-11 PO2 Stephen L Hock, CVA-59
PO3 Larry D Holley, VF-11 PO2 Calvin D Howison, VF-11
AA Philip L Hudson, CVA-59 * AO3 Julius B Hughes, VF-11
WO Donald N Hugo, CVA-59 AN Ralph W Jacobs, VF-74
PO3 Donald W Jedlicka, VF-11 AN William B Justin, CVA-59
AN Thomas M Kane, VF-74 AN Charles D Kieser, VF-74
AN Joseph Kosik, VF-11 PO3 Edward L La Barr, VF-11
SN Wade A Lannom, VF-11 AN William Lee, CVA-59
PO2 Robert C Leonberg, CVA-59 AN John T Lilla, VF-11
PO3 Arnold E Lohse, VF-11 AN Charles E Long, VF-11
PO2 William E Lowe, VF-11 PO3 Kenneth W Lozier, VF-11
PO3 James S Mac Vickar, VF-74 AN Ralph E Manning, CVA-59
PO2 Earle E Mc Auliffe, VF-74 AN Brian D Mc Conahay, VF-74
PO1 George C Mc Donald, VF-74 PO2 Frank C Mc Nelis, VF-11
PO3 William V Mc Quade, VF-11 AN Alan R Metz, VA-106
AN George D Miller, VF-74 AN Edward A Mindyas, VF-74
PO3 Hubert H Morgan, VF-11 PO3 Leroy Moser, VF-11
AN James E Neumeyer, VF-74 PO3 Gary E Newby, VF-11
AA James E Newkirk, VF-11 FN Ronald R Ogrinc, CVA-59
AN Thomas D Ott, VA-46 AN Wayne H Ott, VF-74
CPO Richard L Owens, VA-46 PO3 Richard T Pinta, VF-11
PO2 Raymond N Plesh, VA-106 AN John C Pody, VA-46
PO2 Ernest E Polston, VF-11 AN Douglas A Postt, VF-74
PO3 Robert M Priviech, VF-11 PO3 John M Pruner, VF-11
PO3 Robert A Rhuda, VF-74 AN Charles R Rich, VA-106
PO3 Jerry P Rodgers, VF-11 PO2 Dale R Ross, VF-11
AN James M Runnels, VF-11 AN Harvey D Scofield, VF-11
PO2 Joseph C Shartzer, VA-65 PO3 William J Shields, VF-11
PO3 Richard M Sietz, CVA-59 AN David W Smith, VF-11
SN Richard T Smith, VF-74 PO2 John F Snow, VF-74
PO1 John C Spiess, VF-74 SN Nelson E Spitler, CVA-59
PO3 Johnny W Spivey, VF-74 LCDR Gerry L Stark, VA-46
AN Walter E Steele, CVA-59 PO2 Wendell W Stewart, VA-106 *
AA Robert A Stickler, VF-74 AN Kenneth D Strain, CVA-59
PO2 Robert H Swain, CVA-59 AN Delton E Terry, VF-11
PO3 Norman A Thomas, CVA-59 PO1 William F Thompson, VF-74
PO3 Richard J Vallone, VF-11 AN Robert J Velasquez, CVA-59
AN Juan A Velez, VA-106 AN George E Wall, VA-106
AN Harold D Watkins, VA-46 AA Gregory L Webb, VF-74
PO3 Gerald A Wehde, VA-65 PO3 Judson A Wells, VF-11
PO3 Richard L Wescott, VF-11 AA Edward J Wessels, VF-74
LCDR Fred D White, VA-46 AN Kerry D Wisdom, VF-74
AN Robert L Zwerlein, VA-46 *

Selected web sites for the USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59)
The USS Forrestal Association
Navy Days - 1965-1970: USS Forrestal
The Last Voyage of the USS Forrestal
USS Forrestal is Scrapped for a Penny

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