|Birth: ||Apr. 10, 1947|
|Death: ||Jul. 29, 1967|
Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Thomas J. Dawson of San Jose, California is honored on Panel 24E, Row 19 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
USS Forrestal Fire
The worst accident aboard a
United States Navy Surface
Vessel Since World War II
On 29 July 1967 the USS FORRESTAL was operating on Yankee Station off the coast of North Vietnam conducting combat operations. This was the fifth such day of operations and at 10:52am the crew was starting the second launch cycle of the day, when suddenly a Zuni rocket accidentally fired from an F-4 PHANTOM into a parked and armed A-4 SKYHAWK. The accidental launch and subsequent impact caused the belly fuel tank and a 1,000 pound bomb on the Skyhawk to fall off, the tank broke open spilling JP5 (jet fuel) onto the flight deck and ignited a fire. Within a minute and a half the bomb was the first to cook-off and explode, this caused a massive chain reaction of explosions that engulfed half the airwings aircraft, and blew huge holes in the steel flight deck. Fed by fuel and bombs from other aircraft that were armed and ready for the coming strike, the fire spread quickly, many pilots and support personnel were trapped and burned alive. Fuel and bombs spilled into the holes in the flight deck igniting fires on decks further into the bowels of the ship. Berthing spaces immediately below the flight deck became death traps for fifty men, while other crewmen were blown overboard by the explosion. Nearby ships hastened to the FORRESTAL's aid. The ORISKANY (CV 34), herself a victim of a tragic fire in October 1966, stood by to offer fire-fighting and medical aid to the larger carrier. Nearby escort vessels sprayed water on the burning FORRESTAL and within an hour the fire on the flight deck was under control. The crew heroically fought the fire and carried armed bombs to the side of the ship to throw them overboard for 13 hours. Secondary fires below deck took another 12 hours to contain. Once the fires were under control, the extent of the devastation was apparent. Most tragic was the loss to the crew, 134 had lost their lives, while an additional 64 were injured, this was and still remains the single worst loss of life on a United States Navy vessel since the USS FRANKLIN (CV 13) was bombed in WW II. The ship proceeded to Cubi Point in the Philippines for temporary repairs. In only eight days enough repairs were made that she could start the long trip back to her home port of Norfolk, Virginia for permanent repairs. On her way home she was capable of operating aircraft if needed. FORRESTAL would spend seven months in the yards being repaired, she was re-built from the hanger up and forward to aircraft elevator number four, this accounts for about 1/5 the ships length and 5 decks. On 8 April 1968 FORRESTAL was once again ready to take her place in the fleet, however she was never to return to Vietnam. With over a dozen major detonations from 1,000 and 500 lb bombs and numerous missile, fuel tank, and aircraft explosions no ship has ever survived the pounding FORRESTAL underwent that day, before or since. She and her crew proved the toughness and dangers associated with the operation of super-carriers, this is one of her greatest legacies. The USS FORRESTAL would go on to serve the United States for another 26 years during the height of the Cold War and see it through to its demise. She and her crew were always ready to go into battle again, the call never came, she served in war for 4 1/2 days but served to ensure peace for over 13,860. FORRESTAL had truly served her purpose as 'First in Defense'.
Cremated, Ashes scattered at sea.
Created by: Elizabeth Reed
Record added: Dec 28, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 23597208