FFSLS Remembers USS Forrestal

The Navy’s Farrier Fire Fighting School Learning Site (FFSLS) hosted the 45th annual memorial ceremony of the disaster aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA 59) July 20, held by members of the USS Forrestal Association.

The ceremony was attended by former crew members of Forrestal, surviving family members, Sailors and instructors from the fire fighting school.
The name of each Sailor killed during the tragedy was read, while a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and the Navy Hymn.

Among the family members was Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Ashley McNelis whose grandfather, Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Frank McNelis, died on the Forrestal.

“To me it feels unreal to be able to be around people who served with my grandfather, because I didn’t get a chance to know him,” said McNelis. “By talking to them I get a chance to see what my grandfather was like, and I am honored to be able to do this for my family.”

Forrestal was conducting wartime flight operations in the Gulf of Tonkin July 29, 1967, during the Vietnam conflict. After four days of air operations, the crew of Forrestal was suddenly put in a state of emergency when they were forced to move their attention from the conflict to fighting a massive fire on the flightdeck of the ship.

Joel May was a Machinist’s Mate Fireman in main machinery room three when the fire was triggered by a stray voltage and caused a Zuni rocket to accidentally launch from an F-4 Phantom across the flight deck, hitting a parked and armed A-4 Skyhawk.

“I was 19 years old, and I was just about to go to sleep when I heard ‘fire, fire, fire,” said May. “Next thing I heard were the bombs going off, and I went to general quarters for 72 hours.”

The belly fuel tank of the Skyhawk ruptured from the impact, spilling fuel and causing a chain reaction of fires with planes parked along the deck.

“We are no heroes, we just did what we needed to do to save our ship,” said May.

A single bell was rung for each of the Sailors who sacrificed their lives battling the blaze.

“You never forget those who didn’t come back, you always honor them,” said May. “My heart goes out to those that died, everyday, and from what I went through on that day.”

The incident killed 134 men and almost destroyed the ship, but it also changed the way that the Navy handles damage control. The Navy has since built on the lessons learned from the disaster aboard Forrestal and continues to improve training to prevent future disasters.

The Navy’s Farrier Fire Fighting School Learning Site was dedicated to and named after Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Gerald W. Farrier, who was one of the first Sailors to die on board USS Forrestal.

Naval Today Staff, July 23, 2012