"The flight deck had to be regarded as a place where the highest professional skill was continuously demanded, to avoid accidents and fatalities."

This story of the Forrestal starts in early 1967 as the ship prepares for real war—the purpose for which this first super aircraft carrier was constructed. The behemoth of eleven years had just undergone an overhaul with the latest technology. Loaded halfway with new recruits, it traveled south from Norfolk to GITMO for extensive training off Cuba. The training concentrated on GQ assignments to man fire stations and conducted man-overboard rehearsals. Captain Beling, USN, reinforced training to avoid a fire breaking out like the one recently on the Oriskany. Besides his crew, Beling had responsibility for the aircraft squadrons aboard―a total of 5,500 men destined for Vietnam.

On July 29, 1967, the unthinkable happens on the aft flight deck. Aircraft loaded with weapons are readying for takeoff when a Zuni rocket fires. Triggered by a faulty connector, the rocket zooms across the deck striking the fuel tank of another aircraft. Four hundred gallons of fuel pour out. Fire starts. Airmen strapped inside planes know they have 94 seconds until cook-off—the point where bombs explode due to heat.

The book reads as real-time drama due to the author’s meticulous arrangement of comments, records, and data he had available. In 1995, Killmeyer became the Forrestal historian; shipmates responded with never-before-told stories. With significant resources, it took twenty-two years to craft his 873-page book. Killmeyer deftly builds suspense through foreshadowing. Stories of ship-mates are woven skillfully among the details of that long day. The reader follows one twin brother’s search, but only one brother survives the fire. The author personally recalls the smoke, water, and confusion below decks as brave young men fought fires caused by high-order explosions blasting through the aft deck. This detailed account should prove a welcome resource for those interested in naval history.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home