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USS Forrestal Tragedy Remembered 50 Years Later

170729-N-IG696-0445
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL (July 31, 2017) Sailors present flags representing the 134 Sailors who died during the fire aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59) during a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the tragedy in Conmy Hall, July 31. More than 250 survivors of the fire and their families were in attendance for the ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Amadi/RELEASED)

07/31/17 12:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Amadi, Naval District Washington Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Sailors from various commands around the region gathered on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59) with a special ceremony July 29.

More than 250 surviving crew members and their families filled the seats of Conmy Hall to remember the Sailors who died in the fire on USS Forrestal. Sailors stationed at nearby commands including the Center for Service Support Detachment Defense Information School, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11, Expeditionary Combat Camera (COMCAM) and Naval District Washington presented American flags during the ceremony to represent each Sailor who passed away.

"The first time I heard about the Forrestal fire was in boot camp," said Senior Chief Logistics Specialist Allison Strong, event volunteer coordinator, assigned to Naval District Washington. "We watched a video about what happened on the Forrestal and we were told that was the impetus for everyone learning about damage control. Being part of this event is very special to me and it was an honor to be able to help put it together."

On July 29, 1967, a rocket was accidentally fired aboard Forrestal, causing massive damage to the ship and a fire that killed 134 Sailors and injured many more. It took more than 24 hours for Forrestal Sailors as well as Sailors from nearby ships to completely extinguish the fire.

"When that happened, I didn't expect to be here 50 years later," said (retired)Photographer's Mate 2nd Class William Solt, Forrestal fire survivor. "I asked my son, his wife and two of my grandsons to come with me to attend this. I want them to see and know what a sacrifice these Sailors made. We had a past president of the Forrestal Association who would say 'friends are for life and shipmates are forever.' That's what's playing out here today."

The USS Forrestal Association is a non-profit veterans' organization formed in 1990 that is committed to preserving the memory of those lost in the tragedy. The group puts together events every year to help honor and remember their fallen shipmates.

"I've got 45 years of service in the military, nine in the Navy and 36 in the Army, and I will never forget what happened July 29, 1967," said retired Army Colonel Emmet O'Hare, event coordinator and Forrestal fire survivor. "We have to do things like this. There's no getting around it, it's a duty we took on after we lost those Sailors."

O'Hare says three years ago, July 29, a young woman came up to members of the USS Forrestal Association as they were laying a wreath to honor fallen Sailors. She had never met her father and told them he was killed in the fire on the Forrestal. She asked the group if any of them recognized her father's name.

"Three of the guys there knew her dad and she spent the next three hours crying, listening to stories about him. That's what it's all about. It's about getting other people to understand what we went through and the comradery that we shared on that ship," said O'Hare.

It took O'Hare more than 100 hours and meetings with dozens of agencies to put together the 50-year commemorative ceremony, but says his desire to remember his friends keeps him moving forward.

"I want the knowledge of those events to be carried on to everyone everywhere. I was in one of those crews that found the bodies and there are some bad memories there. I knew some of those guys personally and they're no longer here. It literally hurts me if I don't get to take the time to honor and remember those guys," said O'Hare.

For more information from NDW, visit www.facebook.com/NavDistWash.

For more news from Naval District Washington, visit www.navy.mil/local/ndw/.

For more news from Naval District Washington, visit www.navy.mil/local/ndw/.

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