These days, tattoos are so commonplace in the U.S. military that every branch has its own policy as part of its uniform regulations, but a few years ago that wasn’t the case. The U.S. Navy, however, has a long tradition of tattoos.

Here’s the meaning behind a few of the classics:

1. Fully-Rigged Ships


A tattoo of a fully-rigged ship from the age of sail means the sailor had been around Cape Horn, the rough, stormy waters around the southern tip of South America. A fully-rigged ship is one with three or more masts, square sails fully deployed.

2. Nautical Star


The star is a symbol of a sailor always to be able to find his way home. The nautical star is a five-pointed star in dark and light shades counterchanged to resemble a compass rose.

3. Shellback Turtle


Sailors can wear the Shellback Turtle when they get initiated into King Neptune’s Court after crossing the equator. If you’re unsure what exactly this means, We Are The Mighty has an explainer for you:

4. Crossed Cannons

Sailor tattoo crossed cannon

The crossed cannons mean a veteran has seen military service as a sailor.

5. Swallows

Sailor Tattoos swallows

Sailors earn a new swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled, which is about 5,754 regular miles, roughly the distance between New York City and Tel Aviv. The circumference of the earth is 21,639 nautical miles, just about 4.16 sparrows.

6. Anchor

Sailor-Tattoo- anchor

A single anchor means the sailor crossed the Atlantic or has been a member of the merchant marine, a fleet of civilian ships that carries military cargo. In wartime, this fleet is mobilized to carry war materiel, including troops and supplies.

During World War II, the Merchant Marine took a beating with high casualties, entering the European war long before the United States itself. Since the U.S. was delivering war supplies to Britain through Lend-Lease, Nazi u-boats targeted U.S. shipping bound for the UK. The Merchant Marine casualty rate was 3.9 percent, whereas the Marine Corps’, the next highest, was only 2.94 percent.

7. Rope on the Wrist


A knot of rope on a sailors wrist identifies him as a deckhand, someone who maintains the hull, decks, superstructure, mooring, and cargo handling. Deckhands are still common in ocean-going vessels, though they’re far less likely to be maintaining wooden ships.

8. Hula Girl


Hula girls signify the sailor has been to Hawaii.

9. Crossed Anchors


Sailors wearing the crossed anchors on the webbing between their thumb and index finger are identifying themselves as boatswain’s mates, the guys who maintain the deck and take care of smaller boat operations and damage control parties.

10. HOLD and FAST


These words are a charm spelled out on the four front-facing fingers on each hand. Sailors hope it brings them good luck while gripping the rigging. Holding fast means the sailor isn’t going to let the line go, no matter what. Sailors were a superstitious bunch and life on a sailing ship was tough (to say the least). Anything that gave them the edge in saving their own lives was worth doing.

11. Pig and Rooster

Sailor tattoo pig rooster

The foot tattoos of pigs and roosters were worn by sailors in WWII in the hopes it would keep the sailor from drowning. The Navy shipped these animals in crates at the time. When ships went down, the crates floated, and the animals inside would sometimes be the only survivors

12. Compass Rose


Another good luck charm that allows a sailor to find his way home.

13. Crosses

Worn on the soles of a sailor’s feet, these are thought to ward off sharks

14. Dagger through a Rose

Sailors aboard the USS New Jersey (National Archives)

Sailors aboard the USS New Jersey (National Archives)

This tattoo means the sailor is loyal and willing to fight anything, even something as sweet and beautiful as a rose

15. Dragon

Wearing a dragon means the sailor has served in China.

16. Golden Dragon


When a sailor crossed the International Date Line, he earns the right to wear the Golden Dragon tattoo. The International Date Line is the imaginary line of longitude that separates two calendar dates. When someone sails from East to West, they set their clock back one hour for every 15 degrees of longitude they pass. When they pass the date line, they’ve gained a full 24 hours.

17. Harpoon


Sailors tattooed with harpoons were serving or had served in a whaling or fishing fleet.

18. King Neptune

German sailors in the 1930s being addressed by King Neptune while "crossing the line."

German sailors in the 1930s being addressed by King Neptune while “crossing the line.”

Another badge of honor earned for crossing the Equator.

19. Palm Tree


The palm tree has two meanings, depending on your navy. Sailors in the Royal Navy during World War II could wear it after sailing on Mediterranean cruises. It can also be worn by U.S. sailors who served in Hawaii.


Women getting tatoos.  In their own way, each of these women was a pioneer of body art at a time when only criminals, sailors, and lowlifes sported tattoos.


USS Indianapolis (CL/CA-35)

USS Indianapolis (CL/CA-35)

A Portland-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. She was named for the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. She was the flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance while he commanded the Fifth Fleet in battles across the Central Pacific.

Her sinking led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. On 30 July 1945, after a high-speed trip to deliver parts for Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in combat, to the United States air base at Tinian, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58 while on her way to the Philippines, sinking in 12 minutes. Of 1,196 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 900 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while floating with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The Navy learned of the sinking when survivors were spotted four days later by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only 317 survived.

USS Indianapolis.jpg


MacKenzie and the Forrestal Fire

MacKenzie and the Forrestal Fire

By J. B. Hall


USS George K. MacKenzie Association

29 July 2015


MacKenzie and the Forrestal Fire

A Very Bad Day

“Oh shit!” was the Executive Officer’s reaction when he learned that the “boom” that he had just heard had come from the aircraft carrier off the port quarter, about six miles away. He was at the Ship’s Store when he heard the explosion, and asked the sailor in line behind him what the sound was.

Brian Moe, a Machinist’s Mate, was just outside the port door to the athwartships passageway at the aft end of the deck house. He pointed out the aircraft carrier that was the source of the sound, that now was showing bright orange flames and an enormous column of dense black smoke from pools of burning jet fuel, and was having additional explosions as a total of four one-thousand pound bombs exploded on the flight deck in the first minutes of the fire.1

USS Forrestal (CVA 59) was having a very bad day. A Zuni rocket on an F-4B Phantom had fired accidentally and struck an external fuel tank on an A-4E Skyhawk awaiting launch at 1052 on Saturday, 29 July 1967.2


USS George K. MacKenzie (DD 836) had been having a more benign day. They were six weeks into a six month cruise in the Western Pacific. It was their only six-month cruise in the decade of the 1960s. Not that they didn’t deploy. They would spend six and one-half years of that decade homeported in WestPac. But right now they were homeported in Long Beach, California.

They had just returned to Yankee Station after a short period supporting the Third Marine Division in I Corps. MacKenzie was operating with USS Oriskany (CVA 34) and USS Samuel N. Moore (DD 747) as Task Group 77.8.3

Operating with carrier groups on Yankee Station was a duty of intermediate intensity for a WestPac destroyer. Not as intense as direct combat on the North Vietnamese coast in Operation Sea Dragon, but more intense than picket duty on Search and Rescue station deeper in the Tonkin Gulf. Carrier duty involved operating in formation with the carrier at high speed and the accompanying frequent refueling, and required a relatively high degree of vigilance and readiness, since bad things could happen quickly. The main function was to serve as plane guard, following in the wake of the carrier, ready to rescue anyone unfortunate enough to go in the water.

Today MacKenzie had been in plane guard position behind Oriskany all morning, and things were apparently peaceful enough that the XO could take a trip to the Ship’s Store.

Forrestal Needs Assistance

Forrestal had already requested assistance, and MacKenzie had turned left to respond and increased speed to 30 knots. Ordinarily Forrestal would have two destroyers of her own nearby. She did have two destroyers, Rupertus (DD 851) flagship of Destroyer Division 32, and Henry W. Tucker (DD 875), another DesDiv 32 ship, operating with her as Task Group 77.6. But they weren’t both available.

Late during the midwatch this morning Forrestal had lost a man overboard. A helicopter was launched, found Seaman Kenneth Dyke and lowered a rescue chair. He had gotten in the chair, but as the chair was being hoisted he fell out and disappeared.

Rupertus and Tucker were assigned to search for him. When Forrestal began flight operations around 0600, Rupertus returned to serve as plane guard, while Tucker continued the search. So Tucker was not nearby when the fire began, and MacKenzie would be the next closest destroyer after Rupertus.

Rupertus Moves to Assist

Rupertus observed the initial fire at 1053. Captain Burke assumed the conn, ordered all back full and launched their motor whaleboat. At 1055 they observed high order detonations sending equipment, planes and men over the side and went to General Quarters, leaving the whaleboat to retrieve survivors and proceeding to approach Forrestal through a wake filled with personnel, life jackets, fuel tanks, crates and other debris.5

MacKenzie Moves to Assist

On the way to Forrestal, MacKenzie stopped to pick up three survivors that had been recovered by Rupertus’ motor whaleboat. Captain Sherwin J. Sleeper assumed the conn at 1118, went to General Quarters at 1144, launched MacKenzie’s motor whaleboat at 1151 to pick up more survivors, embarked three more survivors at 1154 and proceeded to assist Forrestal with firefighting at 1155.

Destroyers’ Assistance Needed

Forrestal required firefighting assistance from destroyers because there were portions of the fire that could not be reached by Forrestal’s own fire parties. The destroyers were fast and maneuverable enough to put water on those fires. Captain John Beling of Forrestal gave the destroyers permission to move in as close as possible, but did not order them to do so. He left that decision, and that assumption of risk, to the destroyer commanding officers.6


Here the superstructure of George K. Mackenzie can be seen as the ship maintained station on the carrier starboard quarter and poured water onto sections of the fire that could not be reached by Forrestal’s firefighters.

The Risks of Steaming Alongside

Steaming alongside another ship is an inherently dangerous activity. The ships are within seconds of a collision at speed, which can be caused by any number of common occurrences: steering casualties, propulsion casualties, instrumentation casualties, human error, etc. MacKenzie had significant recent experience at steaming alongside. Since beginning this cruise six weeks earlier she had conducted sixteen underway replenishments, all of which involved steaming alongside another ship for an extended period.7

This was different. First, underway replenishment is conducted with a distance on the order of 100 feet between ships, closer when sea conditions are more benign, farther when conditions are more sporty. This firefighting would require maintaining station ten to forty feet off Forrestal.

Then there was the normal risk of steering or propulsion casualties, magnified on Forrestal. (In case you think that a flight deck fire would not affect steering, you might want to consider the fact that all three sailors in port after steering on Forrestal died in the fire, but not before, as their last act, transferring steering control to starboard after steering.)8

Added to this was the fact that Forrestal sailors were jettisoning anything they could, including bombs and whole aircraft, by pushing them over the side, requiring evasive maneuvers by the destroyers.9

And there was one more thing. Forrestal was on fire. With ordnance exploding. MacKenzie sailor John Martin remembers one of the jettisoned bombs detonating, covering Rupertus with smoke and spray.10

Aircraft Carrier Anatomy

Aircraft carriers are different from other ships, so perhaps some preliminary description is in order for the benefit of destroyer sailors like myself.

The main deck of a carrier like Forrestal is the hangar deck. Everything above this deck could be considered superstructure, although it doesn’t look much like it. The aftermost part of the main deck is the fantail, like a conventional ship, aft of the superstructure and under the overhang of the flight deck. The flight deck is on the 04 level, four levels above the main deck. The hangar bays are three levels high. There is one full level of compartments between the ceiling of the hangar bays and the flight deck, the 03 level, called the gallery deck, which contains operational spaces amidships and berthing spaces at the fore and aft extremes. (Having a bunk directly beneath the arresting gear or the catapult would seem to be less than desirable, but that’s what is there). The 01 and 02 levels exist mostly forward and aft of the hangar bays.

Below the main deck the interior of the hull is conventional, with berthing, messing and office spaces on the second and third decks and engineering spaces, store rooms, tanks and magazines below.

The exterior of the hull has some additional aircraft carrier features. Because the flight deck is devoted to, well, flight, other functions requiring deck space, like weapon mounts, mooring, underway replenishment, boats, etc., have to be accommodated differently. They are accommodated by adding structures on the outside of the hull called sponsons. These provide small areas of deck at the main deck, 01 and 02 levels, and contain additional office, workshop and storage spaces.

The flight deck and the hangar deck are connected by four aircraft elevators, all at the edge of the flight deck. Elevator number one is forward of the island on the starboard side, number two is forward on the port side, both accessing hangar bay number 1. Elevator number three is aft of the island on the starboard side, accessing hangar bay number two, and elevator number four is further aft on the starboard side, accessing hangar bay number three.11

Forrestal’s starboard quarter after the fire, showing the fantail and the sponson supporting two 5’/54 gun mounts.12

Forrestal’s starboard quarter after the fire, showing the sponson and the forward of two 5’/54 gun mounts, aircraft crane and aircraft elevator number 4 accessing hangar bay number 3.13

The Seamen

The position of helmsman is conventionally considered part of the job of the Quartermaster rating, and the helmsman for General Quarters and Special Sea Details would be a senior Quartermaster. The enlisted billet description for a destroyer GQ helmsman when MacKenzie was commissioned called for a Quartermaster First Class.14

That’s not how it was done in MacKenzie in 1967. Quartermasters spent most of their time navigating, not steering. The helmsman, like the lee helmsman, the lookouts and most of the other sailors in the bridge watch were non-rated sailors or Petty Officers of other ratings.

In fact, many of the jobs in the manpower-intensive World War II destroyers were filled by first-term enlisted men, mostly non-rated. The two 5”/38 gun mounts required about 70 men, only a handful of whom were rated Gunner’s Mates. Similar situations existed in the fire rooms and engine rooms, the repair parties, etc.

The title for a non-rated man in the deck occupations was Seaman. Today they would have to demonstrate that this was more than just a name, but a description they had earned.

The Helmsman

The General Quarters helmsman today was Seaman J. D. Bigham from Pickneyville, Illinois. He was 20 years old and had been on the ship for less than a year. He had come to the bridge watch from the deck force, and he had been assigned as GQ helmsman because he was good. His relief was Ricky Davis, a Torpedoman, an excellent helmsman and a frequent flyer at Captain’s mast.

The job of helmsman demands concentration. The helmsman must continuously scan the gyrocompass repeater, the magnetic compass, the rudder angle indicator and the outside, maintaining situational awareness and hearing, responding to and acknowledging the commands from the conning officer.

Keeping the ship on course is not a simple matter of pointing. There is a lag between a command and its execution, another lag between the movement of the helm and the movement of the rudder, another bigger lag between the movement of the rudder and the movement of the ship due to momentum and inertia.

Keeping the ship on a heading requires constant adjustment. The degree of precision required varies with the situation. Independent steaming in calm seas might tolerate a few degrees of variation around the intended course. Steaming in formation would require greater precision and therefor greater concentration. Steaming alongside during underway replenishment requires the greatest precision and concentration ordinarily experienced. Today would require unprecedented precision and concentration.

The Hole Snipes

Precise control of speed is just as critical as steering. The engine order telegraph allows the conning officer the order the exact shaft rpm he desires, with adjustments as small as one rpm up or down. No automatic device makes this happen. Skilled throttlemen in each engineroom regulate the speed of their respective shaft manually, making continuous small adjustments to achieve the ordered rpm, while Boiler Technicians in each fire room manually control

their burners to maintain the required steam pressure. Most of these “hole snipes” are also young sailors in their first enlistments.

Nozzlemen and Hosemen

Fire hoses are manned by sailors in the General Quarters repair parties, composed of sailors from various departments and ratings. Today MacKenzie would deploy six fire hoses, three on the forecastle and three on the 01 level forward of the bridge. The smoke was intense enough that the hose crews required continuous relief, with men cycling from the rear of the hose to the nozzleman position, then taking a break.15

MacKenzie and Rupertus Alongside

In the first two minutes of the fire, long before either destroyer got near the Forrestal, four one-thousand pound bombs had exploded on the flight deck, created massive holes in the flight deck and creating shrapnel that the perforated compartments a great distance away from the explosions. For example, shrapnel had penetrated the port steering gear power room on the third deck under the fantail and injured all three sailors in the compartment, severing the arm of the electrician’s mate, penetrating the bottom of the ship and mangling the access to the compartment. Burning fuel was flowing into various compartments, spreading the fire and trapping men in various places.16

By 1129 Rupertus was on station 30 to 50 feet off Forrestal’s starboard quarter using fire hoses rigged on their foc’sle, torpedo deck and signal bridge to put water on burning aircraft on the flight deck aft of the island. At 1142 Rupertus moved to Forrestal’s port quarter, where they would continue fighting fires until 1309.17

Captain Sleeper brought MacKenzie up to Forrestal’s starboard quarter, dodging debris and survivors. By 1229 MacKenzie was maintaining station ten to forty feet off Forrestal’s starboard quarter at 15 knots.18 Areas that MacKenzie could reach included the fantail and the starboard quarter sponson, which included isolated decks on three levels containing two 5”/54 gun mounts, including magazines containing 5”/54 ammunition, and the boat and aircraft crane.

MacKenzie applied fire hoses to fires in those areas as Forrestal slowly changed course to port. Six fire hoses were manned, three on the forecastle and three on the 01 level forward of the bridge. An Associated Press newspaper story reported that four sailors on one of those isolated decks were saved by MacKenzie spraying water on them for an hour.19 MacKenzie sailors remember asking Forrestal sailors on the starboard sponson if they were going to jump. They said no, then waited until MacKenzie’s fire hoses had cooled the aircraft crane enough that they could climb up it to the flight deck.

Forrestal’s stern looking across from port to starboard showing MacKenzie on starboard quarter.20

At 1335 MacKenzie moved forward to put water on fires in Hangar Number 3.21 At this point MacKenzie was maneuvering adjacent to elevator number 4, the most extreme overhang on Forrestal, and the destroyer’s mast was within five feet of the edge of the elevator.22

At 1342 all fires on Forrestal were reported to be under control, although additional fires were reported throughout the afternoon and into the evening.23

Search and Rescue

At 1305 ComDesDiv 32 in Rupertus, acting as CTU 77.6.2, assumed tactical command of Rupertus, Tucker, Moore and MacKenzie as on scene search and rescue (SAR) commander.24

At 1343 Forrestal directed MacKenzie to break away, and MacKenzie increased speed to 27 knots, proceeded to retrieve the motor whaleboat, and

joined the SAR formation at 1503. Shortly thereafter MacKenzie left the SAR unit and returned to Oriskany.

The SAR unit was later augmented by the cruiser USS Saint Paul (CA 73) and destroyers Blue (DD 744), Barney (DDG 6) and Fecheteler (DD 870). Tucker was detached from the SAR unit to rejoin Forrestal. The SAR operation was terminated at 0231 on Sunday and Rupertus joined TG 77.8.25 A total of 47 men went overboard.26

MacKenzie Returns to Oriskany

MacKenzie rejoined Oriskany at 1615 as Oriskany was recovering her boats. At 1628 MacKenzie was sent back to Forrestal at 27 knots, transferring the six survivors to a helicopter two at a time and taking station on the port quarter of Forrestal again, this time to transfer firefighting foam and OBA canisters. At 2103 Mackenzie returned to station on Oriskany, who was following three miles astern of Forrestal.

USS Repose Arrives and Forrestal Departs

During the first watch Forrestal, Oriskany and escorts proceeded to rendezvous with the Hospital Ship Repose, who had come from the Danang area, and Forrestal’s dead and injured were transferred to Repose from 2253 Saturday to 1410 on Sunday. Forrestal then proceeded at 27 knots to Subic Bay, escorted by Henry W. Tucker and Baussel (DD 845).27

MacKenzie Departs

Just after noon on Sunday, MacKenzie detached from TG 77.8, refueled from USS Cacapon (AO 52), and proceeded to the vicinity of Quang Tri, South Vietnam for her next assignment.28

The balance of the six-month cruise included more naval gunfire support, more carrier operations and service in Operation Sea Dragon.


The Forrestal fire left 134 sailors dead and 161 injured. The dead are memorialized on panel 24E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. None of the casualties received the Purple Heart, because this event was considered an accident, not a combat action.29


Rear Adm. Harvey P. Lanham, Commander, Carrier Division Two, embarked in Forrestal, commended MacKenzie and Rupertus on the spot for “the most magnificent ship handling I’ve ever seen.”30

The Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC) award was established on July 17, 1967, just twelve days before the Forrestal fire, to recognize conduct by a unit that would merit the award of the Bronze Star Medal for an individual.31

MacKenzie and Rupertus each received the MUC for the Forrestal fire.32 The citation for MacKenzie’s MUC reads as follows:

The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in presenting the MERITORIOUS UNIT COMMENDATION to


for service as set forth in the following


For meritorious achievement on 29 July 1967 in significantly contributing to .firefighting efforts during a major fire in USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59).

When the after area of FORRESTAL erupted into flames due to widespread fire from aircraft fuel and bomb explosions in armed aircraft which were about to be launched for a strike against North Vietnam. USS GEORGE K. MACKENZIE proceeded close aboard FORRESTAL and, in the face of extreme hazard, effectively streamed water on the raging fires and hot bulkheads of munitions spaces.

The team effort and alert professionalism of MACKENZIE’s crew contributed greatly in containing the fire and in saving lives.

By their gallant performance, the officers and men of MACKENZIE upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.


USS Forrestal CV-59

USS Forrestal CV-59

By Garland Davis

Fifty two years ago a fire broke out onboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. An electrical anomaly had caused the discharge of a Zuni rocket on the flight deck, triggering a chain-reaction of explosions that killed 134 sailors and injured 161. At the time, Forrestal was engaged in combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, during the Vietnam War. The ship survived, but with damage exceeding US$72 million, not including the damage to aircraft the future United States Senator John McCain and future four-star admiral and US Pacific Fleet Commander Ronald J. Zlatoper were among the survivors.

At about 10:50 (local time) on 29 July, while preparing for the second strike of the day, an unguided 5.0 in (127.0 mm) Mk-32 “Zuni” rocket, one of four contained in an LAU-10 underwing rocket pod mounted on an F-4B Phantom II (believed to be aircraft No. 110 from VF-11), accidentally fired due to an electrical power surge during the switch from external to internal power. The surge, and a missing rocket safety pin, which would have prevented the fail surge, as well as a decision to plug in the “pigtail” system early to increase the number of takeoffs from the carrier, allowed the rocket to launch.

A drawing of the stern of Forrestal showing the spotting of aircraft at the time. Likely source of the Zuni was F-4 No. 110. White’s and McCain’s aircraft (A-4s No. 405 and 416, respectively) are in the right-hand circle.

The rocket flew across the flight deck, striking a wing-mounted external fuel tank on an A-4E Skyhawk awaiting launch, aircraft No. 405 from VA-46, piloted by Lieutenant Commander Fred D. White.. The Zuni rocket’s warhead safety mechanism prevented it from detonating, but the impact tore the tank off the wing and ignited the resulting spray of escaping JP-5 fuel, causing an instantaneous conflagration. Within seconds, other external fuel tanks on White’s aircraft overheated and ruptured, releasing more jet fuel to feed the flames, which began spreading along the flight deck.

The impact of the rocket had also dislodged two of the 1000-lb AN-M65 bombs, which fell to the deck, and lay in the pool of burning fuel between White’s aircraft and that of Lieutenant Commander John McCain. Damage Control Team No. 8 swung into action immediately, and Chief Gerald Farrier, recognizing the risk, and without the benefit of protective clothing, immediately smothered the bombs with a PKP fire extinguisher in an effort to knock down the fuel fire long enough to allow the pilots to escape. The pilots, still strapped into their aircraft, were immediately aware that a disaster was unfolding, but only some were able to escape in time. McCain, pilot of A-4 Skyhawk side No. 416, next to White’s, was among the first to notice the flames, and escaped by scrambling down the nose of his A-4 and jumping off the refueling probe shortly before the explosions began.

Damage Control Team No. 8 had been assured of a 10-minute window in which to extinguish the fire and prevent the bombs from detonating, but the Composition B bombs proved to be just as unstable as the ordnance crews had initially feared; after only slightly more than one minute, despite Chief Farrier’s constant efforts to cool the bombs, the casing of one suddenly split open and began to glow a bright red. The Chief, recognizing that a lethal cook-off was imminent, shouted for his team to withdraw, but the bomb detonated seconds later — one minute and 36 seconds after the start of the fire.

The detonation destroyed White’s and McCain’s aircraft, along with their remaining fuel and ordnance, blew a crater in the armored flight deck, and sprayed the deck and crew with bomb fragments and burning fuel. Damage Control Team No. 8 took the brunt of the initial blast; Chief Farrier and all but three of his men were killed instantly; the survivors were critically injured. Lieutenant Commander White had managed to escape his burning aircraft, but was unable to get far enough away in time; White was killed along with the firefighters in the first bomb explosion. In the tightly packed formation on the deck, the two nearest A-4s to White’s and McCain’s (both fully fueled and bomb-laden) were heavily damaged and began to burn, causing the fire to spread and more bombs to quickly cook-off.

Lieutenant Commander Herbert A. Hope of VA-46 (and operations officer of CVW-17) was far enough away to survive the first explosion and managed to escape by jumping out of the cockpit of his Skyhawk and rolling off the flight deck and into the starboard man-overboard net. Making his way down below to the hangar deck, he took command of a firefighting team. “The port quarter of the flight deck where I was”, he recalled, “is no longer there.” Two other pilots (Lieutenant Dennis M. Barton and Lieutenant Commander Gerry L. Stark) were also killed by explosions during this period, while the rest were able to escape their aircraft and get below deck.

Nine bomb explosions eventually occurred on the flight deck, eight caused by the AN-M65 Composition B bombs cooking off under the heat of the fuel fires, and the ninth occurring as a sympathetic detonation between an AN-M65 and a newer 500 lb M117 H6 bomb that it was lying next to on the deck. The other Composition H6-based bombs performed as designed and either burned on the deck or were jettisoned but did not detonate under the heat of the fires.

The explosions (several of which were estimated as up to 50% more powerful than a standard 1000 lb bomb, due to the unintentionally-enhanced power of the badly degraded Composition B) tore large holes in the flight deck, causing burning jet fuel to drain into the interior of the ship, including the living quarters directly underneath the flight deck, and the below-decks aircraft hangar.

Sailors and Marines controlled the flight deck fires by 12:15, and continued to clear smoke and to cool hot steel on the 02 and 03 levels, until all fires were under control by 13:42. Assistance was provided by one of the ship’s accompanying destroyers, USS Rupertus, which maneuvered around Forrestal, getting as close as 20 feet from the burning carrier, for 90 minutes using her own onboard fire hoses directed at the flight deck and hangar deck on the starboard side, and the port-side aft 5-in. mount. The commanding officer of the Rupertus, Commander Edwin Burke, received praise for what Rear Admiral Harvey P. Lanham, aboard Forrestal as the Task Group commander, called an “act of magnificent seamanship” The fire was not declared defeated until 04:00 the next morning, due to additional flare-ups.

Throughout the day, the ship’s medical staff worked in dangerous conditions to assist their comrades. HM2 Paul Streetman, one of 38 corpsmen assigned to the Forrestal, spent over 11 hours on the mangled flight deck tending to his shipmates. A large number of casualties quickly overwhelmed the ship’s medical teams, and the Forrestal was escorted by USS Henry W. Tucker to rendezvous with hospital ship USS Repose at 20:54, allowing the crew to begin transferring the dead and wounded at 22:53.













I wish for you fair winds and following seas, deep green water under your bow, your main rifles trained in the posture of peace and a gentle breeze at your stern.


Coffee Saves a Life

Coffee Saves a Life

By Garland Davis


Swells and waves swirl around the bow

Streaked and grooved by rust.

Glint of light! The Chief is awake!

The Chief needs a fix

a mix of water and crushed beans

a dream, of caffeine

Black is the brew.

Ding-dong, the Chief lives.


Hop Sing, Fortune Cookie & Piss Ant

Hop Sing, Fortune Cookie & Piss Ant

by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong


In the movies, you see the scene where all the ladies in the remote jungle village congregate on the banks of the local creek… Do the wash by banging it on the rocks… Laughing and exchanging gossip.


On Pier 22, that was Hop Sing’s laundry truck. Everyone knew that Hop Sing was a colonel in the Chinese communist intelligence community… The name on his truck was ‘WAN-HO CHINESE HAND LAUNDRY… NO TELEPHONE’ It actually had ‘No Telephone’ painted on the side of what was known as Hop Sing’s mobile spy wagon. We called him ‘Hop Sing the Button Crusher’ and his lovely bride was known throughout Squadron Six as ‘Four-tooth Fortune Cookie’… Or just ‘The Fortune Cookie’. And they had a goofy kid who bummed chewing gum and LifeSavers we called ‘Piss Ant’… Hop Sing, Fortune Cookie and Piss Ant… Wan-Ho Hand Laundry… No telephone.


Hop Sing could bust buttons at a rate that must have required a lug wrench or sledge hammer. The only way your dungaree shirts could survive the Wan-Ho laundry process was have a seamstress at Bells cut the sleeves off to short sleeve length… Turn your iron-on rate into a cigarette pocket… Cut the shirttail off and hem the thing so you didn’t have to tuck it in… And sew up the front so it became a pullover. This ‘smokeboat fashion statement’ could make a Master at Arms give birth to a three-toed sloth.


“Heello, my name not Hop Sing… Submarine mans call me Hop Sing… My name Wan Ho… Also not ‘No Telephone Ho’… Submarine man tell much lie… No serious no time… Always laugh… Make joke. Not funny joke… Stupid joke… Submarine man no serious, just always make joke. I say, ‘Why submarine man always be much dirty? Tender man always clean.’ Submarine man say, ‘Tender man always be lazy… Sleep all time and be much worthless sonuvabitch… Tender a floating fun house… Nobody work… Dress in clean uniform and go to circus all day… Eat Crackerjack and see surface craft officers do dog tricks.’ Submarine man say AS-18 stand for amusement ship for 18 year-old loafers… Orion man say submarine man all full of shit… Submarine man don’t know real truth, ever.”


“Submarine man always call wife ‘Fortune Cookie’… Not name fortune cookie… One time wife go make phone call to pay phone next to Quonset hut where is all hydraulic oil… She gone far away… No can hear all bad submarine mans… Submarine man say, ‘Hop Sing, is true all oriental women have cross-ways vagina?’ I say, who say that? Sailor say Encyclopedia Britannica, whatever that is… Must be problem in South Chinese place… Never see such thing.”


“One time submarine man say, ‘Mr. Chopstick man, you put starch in skivvies one more time, I take you skinny ass and bury you in parking place say ‘NO PARK, SQUADRON COMMANDER’ and me spend eternity look at staff car oil pan.”


“Submarine man call little number-one son ‘Piss Ant’. Always give piss ant chew gum and candy… Also give him sailor hat say PISS ANT on front.”


“Mans who ride submarine boats never have two same names in any laundry things. Mans say all names fool Russians to think submarine boats have 600 mans. This is lie… Submarine mans steal all times… Go to sea… Only mans to steal from each other… All submarine mans crooks.”


Hop Sing knew the operating schedule for every boat on the East Coast. This little guy was wired. He could drop little bundles of straight-gauge poop that would have amazed the Chief of Naval Operations.


“No take Requin man laundry… Just sit in truck two weeks… Requin go sea… Make lots ping time.”


“Where’d ja hear that you little sawed-off rice-eater?”


“Wan got sources… Wan in the know… Wan no bullshit, you bet!”


“Wan gahdam chink spy, you bet!”


“Wan no spy… Wan got sources… Wan listen all time… Not all time talk silly bullshit like submarine man.”


“Wan a damn communist intelligence man… Wan commie spy… Wan major pain-in-the-ass butt-red weasel!”


“You dirty, smell bad submarine man!”


Who knows what Wan was. To us, he was Hop Sing the Button Crusher, married to Fortune Cookie, mother of Piss Ant. You couldn’t help but like the little sawed-off sonuvabitch. He was one hundred percent dependable… Rain, shine, tornado, major flood or catastrophic quake… The Button Crusher and his Second Fleet Spywagon & Laundry Truck was at the pier head.


“Hokay, hokay… You get in line and have pay money ready or no get clothes… I got all day… You got morning quarter in thirty minute… I no care… I call ship name… You say ‘Yo’… I say fie dollah… You say, ‘Here is money’… Me take money, give you laundry… Requin no bring laundry no more until you get back from north run.”


“Northern run!! You better be pullin’ my damn chain you little slant-eyed sonuvabitch!!”


“If You Can’t Tap Dance…”

“If You Can’t Tap Dance…”

By: Garland Davis


We grew up in the “Cold War Navy”. There were more than six hundred ships, most left over from World War II and showing the effects of their age. Some had been Fram’d, jumboized, or rebuilt to extend their usefulness. But, they were still old, rusty, and showing their age. Most were overcrowded and uncomfortable. We kept them clean, sharp and operational. No one told us we couldn’t do any damned thing that we decided needed to be done.

It was a time that we refer to as the “Old Navy” or the “Real Navy” as opposed to today’s Navy with modern new technologically superior (?) ships that don’t work, sailors who don’t know how to make them work, who wear khaki and black uniforms and “Blueberry” dungarees that make one wonder if they are sailors or trying to look like a bastardized version of the Marine Corps.

Today’s diverse, politically correct and socially relevant Navy with male and female sailors who identify as Homosexuals, Lesbians, Transvestites, and Transgenders all serving together raises the question, “Is there anyone who identifies as a Heterosexual, a Boatswain’s Mate, a Machinist’s Mate, or a real sailor any longer?”

On many ships, smoking tobacco is no longer permitted or is frowned upon. I remember a time when it was almost impossible to see the evening movie for the cloud of blue smoke that filled the mess decks. When you were out of smokes, all you had to do was go to the movie and breath for your shot of nicotine.

We served during a time when shipboard sailors wore “steamer” dungarees straight from the laundry bag and they showed every wrinkle and hand lettered stencil. The newer Seafarer pressed dungarees were saved for inport. It was a time before all the embroidered unit ball caps. We wore the old shapeless “Blue Working Cap” or a dirty threadbare white hat with our dungarees.

We all served during the era that proceeded something called the “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” If a person was queer, you couldn’t ask them and they shouldn’t tell you. A common method of establishing heterosexuality in my Navy was when some drunk staggered up from his barstool and yelled, “Any Son-of-a-Bitch in Here That Can’t Tap Dance is Queer!”

And all the other drunks in the place would jump up and go into gyrations as if they were spastically stomping piss ants to immediately prove their passion was still for Asian girls packaged in frilly bras and lace panties. Their efforts at tap dancing also established that Gene Kelly and Bing Crosby had no worries about job security.

It was a time before liberty buddies and liberty plans. If there was any planning to a liberty, it was to allocate how much of his meager pay a sailor would relegate to cigarettes, alcohol, getting laid, more alcohol, and transportation back to the ship. If there was any money left he recklessly fooled it away at the ship’s store buying toothpaste, soap, and shaving cream.

It was a time when we were all invincible. And being invincible, we would never grow old.

That was a long time ago. Someone stole our invincibility and we grew old. So old that about all we can do is haul our asses to Branson, Missouri each May to live it all vicariously in the stories we tell and laugh about. That and calling the urologist for some Viagra to boost the hydraulics of the gear we tap danced for.

And we got Fat… Ugly… Ornery… More worthless and not a lot smarter. But we are smart enough to know that the crap coming out of Washington and the assholes we deal with at the VA is the same stuff that a John Deere manure spreader works with.

We have each other and a seabag of memories. In many cases, memories of a time now past. A time when a boy could grow up with real men as mentors and examples. Where else but in the company of such men could he be accepted and be allowed to write the bullshit he does about us and our lives and not have his ass kicked.

I love you guys… Did then and do now.

And when I wrote that last statement, I was tap dancing.


Why I joined the Navy

Why I Joined the Navy

By: Garland Davis


Fifty-six years ago today, at the Armed Forces Induction Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, I raised my right hand and was sworn into the United States Navy. Why did I do this, you ask?

When I began the third grade, the class made a weekly trip to the school library. The first couple of weeks were spent learning about the library and how books were cataloged. By the third week, students were expected to check out a book and read it. Most of my classmates were searching for books with lots of pictures, large words and a low number of pages. I was looking through the shelves for a book that interested me. I found a book with an engraved picture of a sailing ship on the front. I decided to check it out. It missed all of my contemporaries’ criteria. There were no pictures, the words were small and there were over a hundred pages.

The teacher was examining each student’s selection. She took the book I had selected and told me that it was too advanced for a beginning reader. I told her I wanted to try to read it. She relented and permitted me to check it out. She told me that she wanted a book report.

The name of the book was “John Paul Jones.” It was a biography written for, I suspect, teenagers. Almost from the beginning, I was transfixed by the story of Jones and the beginnings of the Navy.

I knew from the moment I finished that book the Navy was going to be my life. During the ensuing years of waiting for age seventeen, I read, literally, hundreds of books about the Navy and about the sea. I sailed with Horatio Hornblower, and Captain Aubrey. I was at Jutland with Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. I was with our Navy at the Coral Sea; I was on the flag bridge with Admiral Spruance at Midway; I was with the Australians and Americans during the defeat at Savo Sound; I watched all the Victory at Sea and Silent Service television documentaries; I begged to stay up late when there was a Navy movie on the Late Movie. I engrossed myself in the many books I read of Naval operations in various wars. I learned knots, semaphore and Morse code in the Boy Scouts. I made it known to my family and friends that the Navy was for me.

A month before my seventeenth birthday, I went to see the recruiter. I was tested and taken for a physical. The paperwork was prepared and my mother signed permission. I was offered the choice of Great Lakes or San Diego for recruit training. I chose San Diego. Since reading of the Navy’s war in the Pacific, I wanted to go as far west as possible.

I left Winston-Salem for Raleigh the morning of my seventeenth birthday and was sworn in the next morning at the Armed Forces Induction Center. That evening I took my first airplane ride to Chicago and then on to Albuquerque and then San Diego. The next morning, 20 July 1961, I arrived at the Recruit Training Center, San Diego and began a thirty-year adventure that ended much too soon.




July 18, 2017

By: Garland Davis

Birthday Cake.jpg

I achieved a new personal record today. It is my birthday. I am seventy-three! I have never been this old before.

I don’t know at what point one becomes old but, I guess this makes me officially “OLD.” I was not aware of how critical the situation had become until a recent incident brought it alarmingly to my attention. I was talking with a younger acquaintance and I happened to say, “I’ll tell you, when I was your age…”

I suddenly went silent. Not because I had forgotten what I meant to say (this happens more often than I care to admit), but because I was shocked. I heard myself sounding like every old fart I have encountered during my life. I was repeating the very thing that people said to me back in the day. You know, back in the day when I was, well not so old.

Of course, I knew that I was getting older. I could see it sometimes in the mirror. I think I saw myself in the mirror so often that the gradual changes of aging failed to register until one morning I wondered, “Who is this old Son of a Bitch looking back at me from the mirror? That can’t be me.”

Nevertheless, it is. Aging crept up on me when I wasn’t looking. When I go to the Navy Exchange, I find myself sometimes wondering why the Navy is promoting teenagers to Chief Petty Officer and who did that four striper know to be promoted to Captain so young? Why did they scrap the Kitty Hawk, they just built it? I still yell at old people on the highway, you know the road hog, slow pokes who are fifty five or sixty. And, I can’t help getting up at 5 AM in the morning, no matter how late I was up the night before, sometimes as late as 9 PM or so.

I don’t feel old. I just can’t seem to find it. Aging happens to others. I can’t place an actual number on old. I do believe it involves knowing how neat comfort height toilets are, that it is comfortable to wander around the house in my underwear and knowing that leaving my turn signal on because I am eventually going to turn left—within the next twenty minutes or so.

I didn’t really know how young I was in my youth. I knew I was young by the restrictions older people placed on me. Much of youth is waiting. Waiting for twelve or thirteen to start High School and be cool. Waiting for sixteen to drive…Waiting for seventeen to enlist in the Navy…Waiting for twenty-one to vote and purchase alcohol legally. I only realized how young I was in retrospect.

Whenever I talk with my shipmates and get their thoughts about getting older, the conservation usually leads to discussions of various ailments, in gruesome detail, and the attendant medications and surgeries. We bitch about Medicare, Tricare, the Veterans Administration, and the young, know-it-all, know nothing doctors. After a sufficient amount of beer is consumed the discussions often get down to the subject of regularity; you know the frequency and quality of bowel movements. When rectums and hemorrhoids become the subject, the bottom of the barrel is in sight.

This is about the time someone tells the story of a corpsman on the old Dicky B. Anderson who could cure everything but the clap and then it gets down to who can tell the biggest sea story. Stories of ships, shipmates, storms, wars, liberty ports, drinks and Asian girls. Suddenly we are young again laughing and living out the past vicariously in the bullshit and sea stories we share with each other. Shipmates.

We are told that with age comes wisdom. How’s that workin’ out for you? It hasn’t really panned out for me. But with the advance of technology, I figure, “What the hell?” With Google, I am as smart and wise as the next guy.”

And perhaps I am just wise enough to realize that, even at seventy-three, I may run into someone who might say to me, “When I was your age….” And maybe this time I won’t roll my eyes.

Damn, I just turned seventy-three today and seventy-four is rapidly gaining on my ass.

Psalm 90:10 says, “ The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” I guess that means my warranty expired three years ago and anything more is on me.


The old man

The old man

The old man watched them as they sailed

those ships of grace and might

across the far horizons

until they left his sight

frigate undersail.jpg

he came and sat there every day

and watched them as they sailed away

remembering the days when he

had walked the decks of ships at sea


his memories were all he had

to fill his days which were so sad

and filled with longing for the time

when he was young and in his prime


and once again he lived his past

of voyages before the mast

remembering the things he`d seen

and magic places he had been


but then the rain came from the skies

to end his reveries

and teardrops filled the old mans eyes

the price …..of memories.