Thursday, September 07, 2006

21 November 1955

Several entries in this journal have begun “Nothing new today,” or words to that effect—I would rather have every day like that than one like tonight!

The movie on the mess deck was “Houdini”—the story of the great magician. I was sitting crouched on my chair, the better to see over the heads of the guys in front of me. About two hundred other guys were seated on benches, chairs, or the hard steel deck, or standing in the back. The movie was approaching its climax when suddenly the squawk box blared: “Man Overboard—Port Side!” The ship swung so sharply & suddenly to starboard that benches & chairs toppled & everyone was forced to the side of the hall. The lights came on almost immediately, & everyone began filing from the room, with much confusion. I saw one of the cooks & asked where we were to go—he said we had to muster on the hanger deck; that is the only way they could tell who it was who had gone over.

The scene on the hanger deck was one of mass confusion. Many planes were parked about, & guys were running every which way, getting to their stations. A jet was on the number two elevator, evidently just being lowered—I noticed it was a very dark night—the kind of blackness found only on the ocean. An officer came running across the hanger deck, yelling for guys to push the jet off the elevator & onto the hanger deck.

Since only cooks muster on the hanger deck & mess cooks muster on the mess decks, I went below. A few moments later Nick came down, looking very pale. I asked him what was wrong. He said “You can’t walk on the flight deck without slipping.”

A jet, coming in for a landing, had missed all the barriers & smashed into a group of guys preparing to launch planes—no one knew how many were dead, or how many had been thrown over the side. The bodies were scattered all over the flight deck, all dismembered. They’d started bringing them down on the elevator just after I’d left.

No one knows yet how many are gone—we’re missing two mess cooks (guys sometimes go up to the flight deck to watch operations). Six bodies were brought down, with God knows how many injured.

Sick Bay has been calling for blood donors; there is blood in the passageways leading to Sick Bay. As I am writing this, a call came to the Commissary Office to open the Garbage Disposal room so that the stretchers can be washed. The Reefers (Refrigeration Rooms ) have been opened to receive the bodies.

As the muster was called, I looked at the faces around me—all silent, some very pale; a few smoked cigarettes, others looked around as each name was called, wondering who would not answer. Something I will not soon forget.

Rumors & scuttlebutt will sweep the ship for days, but we will never be told how many went over the side, or how many more died. It may be in the stateside papers, but I doubt it.

And just a few moments ago, the squawk box announced, as it has hundreds of times during flight operations: “The smoking lamp is out while fueling aircraft.”

The doctor was just in, asking for keys to the Reefers again—“We found some more gear belonging to one of them—we don’t know which one.” A destroyer just came alongside with the pilot of the plane—other destroyers are busy searching for others. Let’s hope they are all found.

I could go on, but somehow I just don’t feel like it….

Another call just came for O-blood; at least thirty guys are standing in line, from seamen to Commanders. People can be marvelous beings….


Ken Beemer said...

Oy Vey !! That day must still haunt
you sometimes. How many of those
lost did you know personaly?

Dorien/Roger said...

With a crew of 3,000, it was of course impossible to know everyone, and I did not know any of those killed. But the trauma of the accident deeply affected everyone on board. And yes, I still remember it vividly.


Dave said...

As I said in my first e-mail to you, I vividly remember that night. Heard the call and left our compartment(O-2 deck) to the gun tub, then up the ladder to the flight deck. Just after starting across, tripped over the upper half of what was, just moments before, a person. Did what I could up there, then to sick bay to give blood. After breakfast, spent a couple of hours picking pieces out of the padeyes. Just another example why working on the flight deck is the most dangerous job in the world, even more so at night.
Is there a more mournful sound that a bugler playing taps aboard ship? The sound echoing off all that steel and enclosed space.....

Dorien/Roger said...

Dave, even after 50 years, your powerful words brought back the shock and trauma of that night, and I was safely below decks through it all. I can't imagine how horrific it had to have been for you and others on the flight deck.

Your description of the sound of taps played on the hangar deck really got to me. Have you ever considered being a writer?

Jay Hudson said...

Dorien, I was a kid then.I've never heard of this incident even though I'm a voracious reader. I do remember the terrible fire onboard the Forrestal.
Thank you and Dave for writing about it, otherwise many folks would never have heard of this.

Jay Hudson

Eric said...

I've been guilty of enjoying your letters, the escape through time, seing the wonders of the world through your eyes. Forgetting that life isn't whimsy, that it can haunt you for years after. I remember another letter home about your first experiences with "Jim Crow" in the south of that time. Thank you for sharing some of the not so sweet memories as well.