Friday, June 26, 2009

Mighty Forrestal to be Sunk

The scene of some the most deadly naval action of the VietNam war had nothing to do with the VietCong or North Vietnamese Navy. On July 29, 1967 the carrier USS Forrestal had an accidental luanch of a Zuni missile on the flight deck that ignited 2 planes fully loaded with ordianance and fuel. The resulting fire did more damage than some Japanese attacks during WWII. The Navy has decided to scrap or sink the Forrestal.

Forrestal, named for former Navy Secretary James Forrestal, was the site of the fire off the coast of VietNam that killed 134 men and destroyed 21 aircraft. One of thse planes belonged to a young shit hot aviator who followed in some of his father and grandfather's footsteps at Annapolis and the fleet; though he spurned the Submarine Service, opting for the daring do of Navel Aviatin (Why would you call it anything else?) This young airdale escaped the flames to go on to be a US Senator and candidate for President.

The "Forrest Fire" Incident also revealed heroes. 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.

Chief Aviation Boatswains Mate Gerald Farrier 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.

Crewman Gary L. Shaver was there that day.

"Chief Farrier at the time of the first explosion without hesiation grabbed a PKP fire extinguisher and ran at a full gate to what was to become our HELL on earth. He began attempting to cool a bomb laying on the deck surrounded by burning fuel. The entire deck was turning into chaos. Not one time did Chief Farrier loose sense of his immediate duty. Moments later there was an explosion. With my own eyes I saw Chief Farrier destroyed by the blast. There was never a look of fear or doubt in his eyes as he fought the growing fire. Only the look of determination to do his job! I know because I was no more than 20-25 feet from my Chief. I had exhausted a PKP bottle to no avail only moments before. He looked at me waved his arm as if to say "get the hell out of here." Virtually before I could move there was an explosion and Chief Farrier was gone. Chief Farrier was my flight deck Chief, friend, teacher, and most of all a leader of men. I ask that his name and efforts be forever recorded in the history of the U.S.S. Forrestal, CVA59 Respectfully and with Honor."

Despite his sacrifice, I have only been able determine that Chief Farrier was awarded only the standard VietNam camapign decorations. Should his valor be recognized by a higher decoration? If you were a Sublant sailor, you probably went to fire school at the Gerald Farrier Fire Training Facility in Norfolk but we can do better than just naming a building after him.

When you hear the final fate of the Forrestal, take a moment and remember Chief Gerald Farrier and all of the other men that lost their lives onboard her. Chief Farrier was without doubt, No Slack, Fast Attack. Let's get him the recognition he is due; he earned it.


630-738 said...

Thanks for this informative blog entry! I remember the name of the FF trainer, but sadly I never took the time to learn why it was named for Chief Farrier. He was definitely a true hero, and deserves proper recognition.

Anonymous said...

I recently read a news article that stated that the USS Forrestal was sold for $0.01 cent to a scrap yard to be dismantled. Being a former USAF airman and DoD employee, I have a fondness for reading about military history. I took to reading old news clips and watching videos of the Forrestal disaster. What struck me is that no matter how that fateful day is explained, one glaring fact stands out and that is that Gerald Farrier was the first of many hero’s that day. His actions solidify my belief that he was a true 'hero' in every sense and is deserving of the Medal of Honor. V/r Gregory