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.
On July 29, 1967, a tremendous fire raged through the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Forrestal off the coast of Vietnam, killing 134 sailors and injuring more than 150 others. A former AP reporter, Freeman (Lay This Body Down) vividly recreates the disaster and sequence of events leading up to it: several shortcuts to expedite the launching of aircraft allowed Jim Banger's F-4 phantom accidentally to fire a rocket into the ship's deck, hitting a plane occupied by a 26-year-old John McCain and spilling hundred of gallons of fuel on deck. The fuel ignited and eventually set off obsolete WWII-era bombs loaded on other planes one reason that the fire burned uncontrollably, but a reason left out of the official navy explanation of the disaster. Freeman's blow-by-blow account of the accident is preceded by excellent background material that includes descriptions of life aboard the Forrestal, carrier operations and the myriad dangers of working on a flight deck. Background on several inexperienced sailors gives insight into mid-1960s America, the draft and Vietnam, with a similar treatment shedding light on the careers of professional naval officers, including now U.S. Sen. McCain. In following these people, some of whom didn't make it, through the tragedy and its aftermath, Freeman easily outclasses many military re-creations in grasping the men's varying experiences. The revelatory research on the fire's causes furthers the book's exemplary character.