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….