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Lankford Honors 134 Fallen, 161 Injured Sailors on the Anniversary of the 1967 Fire Aboard the USS Forrestal

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) was joined by Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mike Braun (R-IN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Angus King (I-ME), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce a resolution to remember the anniversary of an accidental fire on the USS Forrestal (a US Navy carrier stationed off the coast of Vietnam) on July 29, 1967, that killed 134 service members and injured 161 Sailors, including at least three Oklahomans. The deadly fire began with the accidental launch of a rocket. Lankford’s resolution passed the Senate unanimously. 

“The memory of the 134 heroes lost on the USS Forrestal and the 161 who were injured is sewn in the fabric of our nation,” said Lankford. “On the 55th anniversary, we honor the sailors and marines who sacrificed their lives to fight the devastating fire and the efforts of those who survived that tragic day. We must continue to remember those we lost on the USS Forrestal and their families who now still see that empty seat at the dinner table. We should continue to learn from that terrible day to prevent another accidental tragedy like this from ever happening again.” 

“Today, we remember and honor the USS Forrestal heroes who lost their lives during the Vietnam War due to the tragic fire 55 years ago, while the ship was deployed in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam,” said Inhofe. “134 sailors lost their lives and 161 were seriously injured that day, and their families have suffered the loss of these loved ones ever since.”

Background

During the Vietnam War, the USS Forrestal was often stationed off the coast of north Vietnam, conducting combat operations. On the morning of July 29, the ship was preparing to attack when an electrical malfunction accidentally ignited a rocket from one of its own F-4 Phantom jet fighters. The rocket streaked across the deck and hit a parked A-4 Skyhawk jet. The Skyhawk, which was waiting to take off, was piloted by the late Senator John McCain.

Fuel from the Skyhawk spilled out and caught fire. The fire then spread to nearby planes on the ship’s deck and detonated a 1,000-pound bomb, which killed many of the initial firefighters and further spread the fire. A chain reaction of explosions blew holes in the flight deck and had half the large ship on fire at one point. Many pilots were trapped in their planes as the fire spread. It took a full day before the fires could be fully contained.

Hundreds of sailors were seriously injured, and 134 lost their lives in the devastating fire. Twenty-one planes were destroyed. It was the worst loss of a life on a US Navy ship since World War II. Temporary repairs were made to the ship in the Philippines before the USS Forrestal headed back to Norfolk, VA. It was repaired and put back into service the following April but never returned to Vietnam.

At least two Oklahomans survived the fire aboard the USS Forrestal, E-4 James “Jim” Lockett, VF-11, of Oklahoma City and Clarence “Skip” Riley, VF-11, of Vinita. Tragically, at least three Oklahoma Sailors’ lives were lost, including: SN Wade Andrew Lannom Jr, VF-11, of Achille ; AN Walter Edwin Steele, CVA-59, of Chickasha; and AN Delton Eugene Terry, VF-11, of Choctaw.

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