Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It

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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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In midsummer 1967, the United States aircraft carrier Forrestal, stationed off Vietnam, lost 134 men to fires and ensuing explosions after an errant missile from one of its own planes ruptured a fuel tank on a nearby jet. Gregory A. Freeman's Sailors to the End is a starkly illuminating account of the disaster which, like so many maritime tragedies, was perfectly preventable. Although a faulty detonation switch (similar to a surge suppressor) caused the rocket to fire, the crippling, deadly conflagrations were caused by exploding ordnance--"ancient ... thin-skinned" bombs of World War II vintage. The Navy never admitted its guilt in the matter, a point Freeman makes very clear. He has a knack for balancing instructive overviews with telling details (for example, each link in the ship's anchor chain weighed 360 pounds). Freeman does not shy from the grotesque detail, and many scenes, especially in the sick bay, are harrowing to read. The sad tale of the men of the Forrestal is a model of narrative clarity and honest reporting. --H. O'Billovich

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.

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9780066212678: Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It

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