USS Forrestal Nov 2007

USS Forrestal Newport R.I. Nov. 2007
Photo by John Sees

Forrestal Ceremonies & Information Page
Updated: December 18, 2014

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Forrestal Fire - 1967

(5/28/14): Aftermath of the Forrestal Fire--July 29, 1967--Home video taken of the flightdeck. Conbtributed by Donald Hughley

[Webmaster's Note: The History Channel aired its new program "Shockwave" on Nov. 30 and included a segment of the Forrestal Fire. If you missed it, they often repeat programs. Check This article was contributed by co-sponsor Pete Wallace. Check "Sea Stories" Page 6 where John Sees and Pete remember a less known fire aboard the USS Enterprise CVN-65.]

Jerseyan recalls living hell on ship
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

It was 40 years ago today, in the waters off Vietnam, that the crew of the USS Forrestal saw the gates of hell.

A missile accidentally fired from a plane on the flight deck triggered a blazing inferno that would claim the lives of 134 men, two from New Jersey -- Francis Campeau of Bergenfield and Richard Vallone of Bridgewater.

Not since World War II had a ship's crew sustained so many casualties.

The Forrestal, the first of the Navy's newest class of super carriers left Norfolk, Va., in June 1967 for what was to be her first combat deployment.

Arriving off the coast of Vietnam on July 25, combat operations went into full swing, with the Forrestal's aircraft flying 150 sorties over the next four days.

The Tonkin Gulf was exceptionally hot and the morning of July 29 was no different. Walter Stinner woke at 4:30 a.m., along with the rest of his crew, to prepare the planes for the day's missions.

Stinner grew up in Elizabeth's port section. Five days after he graduated high school in June, 1967, he enlisted in the Navy. With the war in Vietnam escalating, he figured he'd rather choose the branch of service he would serve in, than have it chosen for him.

Crews were prepping planes for the second launch of the morning, when shortly before 11 a.m., a Zuni rocket accidentally fired from an F-4 Phantom. It flew across the deck, striking a 400-gallon fuel tank on a parked A-4D Skyhawk -- a plane that was to be flown by Sen. John McCain, then a young pilot.

The ruptured tank spewed jet fuel onto the deck, which ignited and spread flames under aircraft fully loaded with bombs and missiles ready for launch. The intense heat started to set them off, blowing holes through the titanium deck plate and then enabling the burning fuel to spread below decks. Night crews who were sleeping below were trapped.

"I was all the way aft, loading my last plane, when behind my back there's this large explosion," Stinner said. "For a few seconds we couldn't see what was happening. But when the smoke cleared, it became obvious we were in for a major fire. It was all hands, general quarters."

"It was frightening," Stinner said. "It was as close as you're going to come to a living hell. You're on an 1,100-foot flight deck with bombs, rockets, missiles, all exploding, ejection seats going off, thousand and thousands of gallons of jet fuel exploding, spreading the fire.

"We were very close to losing the ship. We were listing pretty good," he said. "I cannot stress enough the heroics of 18-, 19-year old kids."

While crews battled the fires, others, including Stinner's crew, had to push the remaining planes overboard before they also exploded.

"We did not have time to unload all this ordnance," he said. "You lined up guys on both sides of the wings and just pushed them over."

Ken Killmeyer can still see images of one of the crew members he helped carry from the flames. Killmeyer is the historian for the USS Forrestal Association.

"I couldn't tell you whether he was black, white or what. He was completely burnt," Killmeyer said, recalling the temporary morgue that was set up on one of the hanger decks.

It was a day that left searing memories for all of the crew who survived, some who still struggle with post traumatic stress, he said.

And then there was the toll on the families, who waited days, some for weeks, before they knew the fate of a loved one.

The Forrestal made her way to the Philippines, where crew members could finally call home and tell family members they were okay.

Mary Campeau, 81, still remembers waiting. "It's pretty awful when you don't know whether it's your son or not," she said. "It was terrible. . .you just sat there waiting and hoping."

Her son thought he would put in his four years and then go to college, she said. "He wanted to be a history teacher."

This weekend, nearly 500 people, former crew members, relatives and friends were expected to attend several memorials to the crew of the Forrestal. At Arlington National Cemetery, there is a grave in memory of the 18 crew members who were either lost at sea -- explosions blew some overboard -- or could not be identified. There also was to be a service at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Because of the attention being paid to the 40th anniversary, Mrs. Campeau went to Washington, D.C., this weekend with her two daughters.

Most years, she has a Mass said in her son's memory and goes out to Pinelawn, the veterans cemetary on Long Island, where her son is buried.

"Whenever we can, we go out to the grave and put flowers on it," she said. "There's nothing much else you can do."

Gabriel H. Gluck may be reached at (908) 302-1506 or

Forrestal Ceremonial Stone with Plaque
Agawam, MA.

A Dedication Ceremony took place at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam, MA. Shipmate Chet Kuzontkoski has worked diligently over the past several months to have a Ceremonial Stone with Plaque produced and placed in the cemetery commemorating all who have served aboard FORRESTAL. The Veterans Memorial Cemetery is located at 1390 Main Street in Agawam, MA.

Steve Squadrilli
Plainville, MA
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Created on ... September 05, 2007