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Sailors to the End
Cover of Sailors to the End
Sailors to the End
The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It
Borrow Borrow Borrow

The aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was preparing to launch attacks into North Vietnam when one of its jets accidentally fired a rocket into an aircraft occupied by pilot John McCain. A huge fire ensued, and McCain barely escaped before a 1,000-pound bomb on his plane exploded, causing a chain reaction with other bombs on surrounding planes. The crew struggled for days to extinguish the fires, but, in the end, the tragedy took the lives of 134 men. For thirty-five years, the terrible loss of life has been blamed on the sailors themselves, but this meticulously documented history shows that they were truly the victims and heroes.

The aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was preparing to launch attacks into North Vietnam when one of its jets accidentally fired a rocket into an aircraft occupied by pilot John McCain. A huge fire ensued, and McCain barely escaped before a 1,000-pound bomb on his plane exploded, causing a chain reaction with other bombs on surrounding planes. The crew struggled for days to extinguish the fires, but, in the end, the tragedy took the lives of 134 men. For thirty-five years, the terrible loss of life has been blamed on the sailors themselves, but this meticulously documented history shows that they were truly the victims and heroes.

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  • Kindle Book
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Languages:-
Copies-
  • Available:
    6
  • Library copies:
    6
Levels-
  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    1220
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    9 - 12

Recommended for you

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Cast Your Fate to the Wind

    July 1967

    Bob Shelton was still troubled by the nightmare when he reached the bridge of the aircraft carrier. He had hoped that getting out of his bunk and making his way topside to watch the sun rise would help him shake it off, but it was still with him -- the puzzling images of fire and smoke on the ship, and the vague sense of dread. He kept going over it in his mind as he watched the horizon begin to glow golden, finally breaking into brilliant sunlight while the USS Forrestal sailed in the waters off of Vietnam.

    For Shelton, sunrise on the carrier was one of the few reliable indicators that time had passed. Life aboard the carrier could be disorienting and stressful as the young men worked long hours completely separated from the rest of the world. The Forrestal was an island where nothing seemed just like home, not even the hours that made up a day. Most of the crew worked belowdecks, the long workdays and irregular sleep schedules melting together, with few clues from the outside world that yesterday had ended and today had begun. But for those who could see it, the sunrise was a reassuring reminder that there was life beyond the ship.

    It hadn't taken Shelton long to realize that he didn't care much for life on board a carrier-even though he had always longed for a job in aviation, one that involved the planes that fascinated him so much. He wanted to be part of the fast-paced, glamorous world of navy flying even if he weren't the one sitting in the cockpit. His deployment to the USS Forrestal, the world's biggest and most sophisticated warship, was a plum assignment by most standards and his actual workstation wasn't far from the flight-deck operations. But still, the novelty had worn off quickly and he had grown weary of standing in line for everything, whether it was a meal or a haircut. Like so many of the other thousands of young men on board, he was riding out his military service and looking forward to going home. Shelton had been in the navy for more than a year and still had a year left to serve on the Forrestal. The war in Vietnam was heating up, and the workload on the carrier had increased dramatically since the ship arrived in the Gulf of Tonkin a few days earlier and started launching air strikes against the mainland. He knew the next year on the Forrestal would be hard.

    In the meantime, Shelton tried to take advantage of the little perks afforded him, and the sunrise was one of them. He reminded himself every day that many men belowdecks rarely got the chance to see daylight, much less something as beautiful as the day slowly breaking over the calm waters.

    Shelton had access to this small joy, because sheer luck and a few innate skills had resulted in his assignment to a group of sailors who worked on the bridge, standing within feet of the captain in -the big control center that rose over the flight deck, the panoramic windows providing a bird's-eye view of everything happening on the flight deck and the world beyond. Shelton didn't work there every day, sometimes rotating through a few other assignments, but even if he wasn't working a shift on the bridge, no one minded if he hung around one of the nearby break areas for a cup of coffee and some conversation.

    On this morning in late July 1967, Shelton was arriving even earlier than he had to. He wanted to take some time to relax before reporting to duty as quartermaster of the bridge, keeping detailed records of every order given and nearly everything that happened. It could be a demanding job if a lot was going on, so he liked to relax a bit first. And besides, he couldn't sleep after that nightmare...

About the Author-
  • Gregory A. Freeman is the author of Lay This Body Down: The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves. An award-winning journalist with twenty years' experience, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 29, 2002
    On July 29, 1967, a tremendous fire raged through the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Forrestal
    off the coast of Vietnam, killing 134 sailors and injuring more than 150 others. A former AP reporter, Freeman (Lay This Body Down) vividly recreates the disaster and sequence of events leading up to it: several shortcuts to expedite the launching of aircraft allowed Jim Banger's F-4 phantom accidentally to fire a rocket into the ship's deck, hitting a plane occupied by a 26-year-old John McCain and spilling hundred of gallons of fuel on deck. The fuel ignited and eventually set off obsolete WWII-era bombs loaded on other planes—one reason that the fire burned uncontrollably, but a reason left out of the official navy explanation of the disaster. Freeman's blow-by-blow account of the accident is preceded by excellent background material that includes descriptions of life aboard the Forrestal, carrier operations and the myriad dangers of working on a flight deck. Background on several inexperienced sailors gives insight into mid-1960s America, the draft and Vietnam, with a similar treatment shedding light on the careers of professional naval officers, including now U.S. Sen. McCain. In following these people, some of whom didn't make it, through the tragedy and its aftermath, Freeman easily outclasses many military re-creations in grasping the men's varying experiences. The revelatory research on the fire's causes furthers the book's exemplary character. (July)Forecast:The combination of McCain, Vietnam, fire fighting and excellent storytelling give this genre book an excellent chance of breaking out. Morrow's national print and broadcast campaign includes a 25-city radio campaign, and Freeman's former AP status should be a draw for potential interviewers.

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Sailors to the End
Sailors to the End
The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It
Gregory A. Freeman
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