FIRE ON THE FLIGHT DECK!

July 29, 1967. I couldn’t begin telling you what I was doing that Saturday morning forty-five years ago. But my husband, as hard as he tries, will never forget. The explosions, the screams, the smell of burning flesh is forever etched in his brain.

After finishing his twelve-hour shift aboard the USS Forrestal, he grabbed a bite to eat, showered, and hit the sack. Two hours later he was awakened by deafening shrills of the alarm followed by, “Fire on deck! Fire on deck! General Quarters! General Quarters!”

That morning, while preparations for the second strike on North Vietnam were being made, a rocket was accidentally fired due to an electrical power surge during the switch from external power to internal power. The rocket flew across the flight deck, striking a wing-mounted external fuel tank on an A-4E Skyhawk awaiting launch. The impact tore the tank off the wing, igniting the fuel and dislodging two 1,000 pound bombs laying in a pool of burning fuel between White and McCain‘s aircraft. Within seconds, other external fuel tanks ruptured, causing a chain reaction of blazing horror across the flight deck.

Planes, bombs, and missiles were pushed off the deck into the Tonkin Gulf. Thirty-six hours later the flames were extinguished, 134 men were dead, and 161 injured. The Forrestal ended up in dry dock for eighteen months before going back out to sea.

Every year my husband meets with several of his comrades, laughing and joking, just enjoying what little time they have to spend together. They don’t focus on the tragedy that occurred that awful day, but rather on the friendship they formed; the happy memories of those four years they lived together, fought together, cried and laughed together.

I designed these bookmarks in honor of all who served on the USS Forrestal, fought the blazing inferno, and learned to live with the horrors that has forever changed their lives.

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