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

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

In the tradition of New York Times bestsellers In Harm's Way and The Terrible Hours comes a mesmerizing, high-adrenaline account of the heroic sailors who survived one of the worst accidents in U.S. naval history.

Sailors to the End tells the dramatic and until now forgotten story of the 1967 fire on board the USS Forrestal during its time at Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam. The aircraft carrier, the mightiest of the U.S. fleet, was preparing to launch attacks into North Vietnam when one of its jets accidentally fired a rocket across the flight deck and 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, the five thousand men on board experiencing different kinds of hell -- some trapped in damaged compartments waiting to die, some battling rivers of flaming jet fuel in order to rescue their buddies. Almost all of them were innocent eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds, but in an instant they were thrust into a tragedy that nearly destroyed the ship and took the lives of 134 men.

Written with the intensity and excitement of a thriller, and based on never-before-disclosed information and extensive interviews with the fire's survivors, here is the first full, minute-by-minute account of the disaster. Told through the stories of a dozen sailors, including John Beling, the carrier's beloved captain who was made a scapegoat for the disaster, Sailors to the End follows the Forrestal from its home in Norfolk, Virginia, through its mission in Vietnam. Focusing on the fateful fire and its aftermath, this book provides a gripping tale of heartache and heroism as young men find themselves trapped on a burning ship with bombs exploding all around them.

Sailors to the End also corrects the official view of the fire, providing evidence that the U.S. government compromised the ship's safety by insisting on increased bombing despite the shortage of reliable weapons. 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, deserving recognition for their efforts during a sweeping tragedy that until now has been only a footnote in history. Gregory A. Freeman dramatically brings this story to life, creating a work that is both riveting and moving.

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Review:

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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