Ceremony Marks Deadly 1967 Fire On Navy Ship


On the morning of July 29, 1967, the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier Forrestal was off the coast of North Vietnam with a crew of more than 5,000. It was about to launch an airstrike when an F-4 Phantom’s Zuni rocket accidentally fired and hit the fuel tank of a parked A-4 Skyhawk.

It began a day of explosions, devastation, death and heroism.

Allen Page has that day 46 years ago burned into his memory.

“It was just a wall of flame and I said, ‘Oh my God’. It was the closest to dying that I have ever had happen to me, and I’ve had some pretty close calls,” Page said.

Page was at VFW Post 392 in Virginia Beach on July 4 with fellow members of the USS Forrestal Association. It was their monthly lunch get-together. His buddies were gathered to discuss the annual Forrestal Memorial Ceremony to be held Friday at the Farrier Fire Fighting Facility in Norfolk.

Page, a 26-year-old lieutenant junior grade at the time, worked in the Operational Intelligence Center. He had just finished his 19-hour shift and was in his bunk one deck down.

“I didn’t hear ‘fire, fire, fire,’ ” Page said.

“I missed the first thousand pounder and the second thousand pounder, but the third thousand pounder knocked me out of my rack onto the floor.”

He remembers the explosions and seeing planes and bombs pushed overboard.

Later that evening, with the fire mostly under control, Page decided to try to get some rest.

Before his eyelids closed, he heard, “Chlorine gas, chlorine gas – anyone who can hear my voice go forward now!”

Page remembers someone running down the passageway and noticed a green gas pouring across the floor toward him.

He later learned that the gas was possibly the result of salt water leaking into the battery locker.

“Everyone on that ship that day became brothers,” Page said.

“When the first bomb went off my office went to instant black,” fellow survivor Michael Yatsko said.

“We all went out into the hangar bay and I noticed we had a bunch of ordnance stored down there.”

Yatsko, a 27-year-old personnelman 1st class at the time, remembers helping throw ordnance overboard.

He later went to his ready room, “because that was where the action would be in our particular squadron.”

Bombs were exploding and flaming fuel from the planes was leaking through the decks.

“There were only two decks left,” Yatsko said. “If we had another bomb go off down below, it would have sunk.”

The most vivid memory he carries to this day?

“You know… the smell of flesh burning. I will never…” Yatsko stopped for a moment as his eyes welled up. “Going back there and seeing all of those body bags. You know I went back to the Forrestal several times and every time I went aboard I could smell that flesh.”

The Forrestal lost 134 of its crew that day.

Safety lessons were learned and changes made after the tragedy. The aircraft carrier returned to her home port of Norfolk for repairs and served another 26 years.

Page and Yatsko saw many heroes that day. And lost a lot of friends.

They will be at the Friday ceremony to honor their fallen shipmates.

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