‘It was just another quiet evening in the South China Sea during the last year of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. It was the USS Midway CVA-41’s second cruise to the war zone since her recommissioning after the major refitting and modernization she underwent in the late 1960s,’ Jack Forrestel, a former sailor who served aboard USS Midway (CVA-41) during the Vietnam War, remembers on Quora.
‘Midway was one of the carriers active during the early years of the war and present for duty immediately following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led President Johnson to unleash the fury of America’s armed forces into the growing war in 1964. One of her pilots downed the first MiG over the Gulf in 1965, but for the most turbulent years of the struggle, she was at Hunter’s Point undergoing a massive refitting.
‘We had spent six months operating on Yankee and Dixie Stations in 1971, but as the war went, that was a relatively quiet period of the conflict and our air wings main function was interdiction of NVA transport along the Ho Chi Minh Trail along the Cambodian and Laotian borders while the ship quietly cruised in large loops off the coast of Vietnam above and below the DMZ at the 17th parallel. We returned to Alameda and were scheduled to deploy again in six months’ time, but the NVA launched a massive attack in April of 1972, and we were deployed back to the war zone on a four-day notice. The NVA invasion was named The Easter Offensive and Midway along with five other carriers, were charged with the mining of Haiphong Harbor and a resumption of the bombing of military and industrial targets in North Vietnam as well as breaking the siege at An Loc and other surrounded ARVN bases during Operation Linebacker II. The American Naval and Air Force effort was equally massive and the NVA Invasion was halted. Midway pilots flew as many as 80 strikes a day for what turned into an eleven-month combat cruise, which brings me to the evening of October 24th, seven months into the cruise.’
‘An A-6 Intruder was returning from a night bombing mission with two 500 lb. bombs still attached to her wings. As the aircraft hit the deck, something went wrong and the jet crashed, hurling toward a bunch of recently recovered and parked aircraft, some of which were still armed. The call to General Quarters was announced and the entire crew leaped into action. My GQ station was in the Marine Compartment above 2-C fire room, which was my main duty station, where I stood 6 hours on 6 hours off watches producing the superheated steam that drove the propulsion plant and evaporators and fired the catapults. My GQ responsibility was firefighting and I was assigned as the #1 hose-man on an engineering firefighting team far from the accident that was taking place at that moment on the flight deck. Never-the-less, a shipboard accident is everyone’s concern and at that moment, none of us knew why we had been called to General Quarters. About fifteen minutes into the event, a call for blood was requested on the main mess decks which was directly above sick bay and being used as a triage area for wounded airmen. I volunteered and found out what was going on. Several airmen were injured and 5 men were killed outright when the flaming aircraft careened into them as it crashed into the parked planes. The Navigator ejected as the plane crashed on the deck and he was never recovered from the sea. The weight of his seat probably pulled him to the bottom as he was too low for his chute to open. His Pilot survived the crash having stayed with the aircraft and was pulled from the plane by a quick-thinking plane boss. Two heroic firemen drove their small truck into the blaze dousing it with foam, extinguishing the blaze in about ninety seconds, and saving Midway and her crew from being the victims of another catastrophic fire on Yankee Station. About two dozen injured sailors were evacuated to Da Nang for flights to hospitals in Japan that night while the airfield was under a rocket attack, but there were no further injuries and Midway’s doctors and corpsmen performed miracles, and an emergency amputation on the flight deck. I believe the surgeon was actually one of the ship’s two dentists. When I arrived at the triage area, the line of sailors volunteering blood was beyond adequate to the task at hand and I was returned unblooded to my GQ Station and my fire hose, but the cacophony of activity on the mess decks will always be with me.’
‘I dedicate this story to the men of the USS Midway and Air Wing 5, especially to those who were lost that night and during my time aboard. ‘As an addendum, I should say that the Captain ordered flight operations to resume the following morning and the ship remained on Yankee Station until our next scheduled rotation.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
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