The Ex-USS Forrestal will always be known as a ship that would not go down without a fight.
On July 29, 1967, the ship was rocked by a series of apocalyptic explosions when a massive fire broke out on the flight deck. For more than 24 hours, the ship’s 5,000 enlisted sailors and officers waged pitched battle to save the world’s first super carrier from the flames.
The fire nearly killed then-Lt. Cmdr. John McCain,who was a Navy pilot serving aboard the ship at the time. He was waiting to take off when his plane was struck by a rocket from the aircraft in position behind him.
“I will never forget when that Zuni rocket hit my A-4 Skyhawk after it was accidentally fired from across the flight deck, rupturing the fuel tank and setting that horrific, costly fire,” McCain, now a senator from Arizona, said in a statement the day after the former supercarrier began its tow to a scrap yard. “I will always remember and honor my brave comrades who died in the Forrestal fire.”
By the time the last fires were extinguished, 134 crew members had been killed, another 161 injured and more than 20 aircraft had been destroyed. Both ship and crew emerged bruised and battered — but not beaten.
Looking back on the fire, Capt. John Beling, Forrestal’s commanding officer, praised the bravery of his crew.
“The thing that is foremost in my mind is the concrete demonstration that I have seen of the worth of American youth,” he said. “I saw many examples of heroism. I saw, and subsequently heard of, not one single example of cowardice.”
By the time Forrestal was decommissioned in 1993, the ship had served for 38 years. McCain said the ship holds a special place in the Navy’s history.
“Forrestal represented American ingenuity and shipbuilding excellence, integrating operational needs and engineering insight that created the first steam catapult, angled flight deck, and use of optical landing systems,” he said in the statement. “During her 38 years of active service, Forrestal and its attached air wings were involved in missions around the globe.
“At the beginning of her sea life, she was sent to the Eastern Mediterranean during the Suez and Lebanon Crises, and over the course of her service life, was involved in dozens of NATO operations, overseas deployments, patrol missions and strategic port visits around the Atlantic and 6th Fleets. She was ‘home’ to thousands of the nation’s finest sailors and aviators this country has ever known.”
After an unsuccessful attempt to offer the ship as a museum, the Navy designated the ship for salvage in 2003. The ship is currently on her way to a scrapyard in Texas, where it will unceremoniously slip the surly bonds of earth.
“Although the ship is being towed to Brownsville, Texas to be physically dismembered, her legacy, the bonds forged and memories created among shipmates will live forever,” McCain said. “I bid her a final ‘fair winds and following seas.’ ”