The North Bend Eagle

 

Forrestal fire
Crewmen play a fire hose on burning aircraft on the carrier’s deck while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin on July 29, 1967.

Vets recall desperate hours of USS Forrestal fire

by Nathan Arneal
Published 7/26/17

It was around 4 a.m., July 29, 1967, when Wayne Miller was trying his house key in a door in Omaha that wasn’t his.

For some reason, it worked.

He quietly let himself into the apartment and took a seat on the stairs and waited.

A couple of hours later, Marguerite Barnes woke up and was surprised and confused to see her son’s best friend sitting there on the stairs. At the time, Norman Barnes was serving on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal off the coast of Vietnam.

When Marguerite Barnes finally got her hearing aide in, she heard Miller ask:

“You haven’t heard any news on the radio, have you?”

“No, I haven’t,” Marguerite replied cautiously.

“The Forrestal is burning.”

Feather

On leave from the U.S. Navy in the summer of 1967, Jerry Halladay was enjoying a few days at home in North Bend. On June 5, 1967, Israel launched an attack on Egypt and soon much of the Middle East was involved, bringing an abrupt and premature end to Halladay’s vacation home.

The 20-year-old reported for duty on the USS Forrestal, where he was a store keeper, selling personal items such as soap and toothbrushes to sailors and pilots. The Forrestal was three city blocks long and a block wide, the United States’ first supercarrier and the largest aircraft carrier in the world with more than 5,000 men living on it.

Just hours after Halladay arrived on the Forrestal, it pulled up anchor and headed to sea. As the ship neared Rio de Janeiro, Israel and its Arab neighbors signed a cease-fire and the Six-Day War was over. So the Forrestal headed for its next target: Vietnam.

Several weeks later Carrier Air Wing 17 joined the Forrestal in the Philippines. Along with it came Norman Barnes, 21, an air dale who maintained and fueled the aircraft of his fighter squadron.

The Forrestal left the Philippines for Yankee Station, a point in the Gulf of Tonkin for launching air strikes against North Vietnam.

After three days of bombing raids, a resupply ship visited the Forrestal with a new load of ammunition. Jerry Halladay was among the crew members tasked with unloading the new munitions, although some of the munitions weren’t exactly new. Among the bombs unloaded and scheduled to be dropped the next day were several 1,000-pound “fat boy” bombs that were more than a decade old, and their age showed.

When newer 1,000-pounders got too hot, they simply split open. The older, Korean War vintage bombs? When they got too hot, they exploded.

 

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