Monday, November 21, 2011

Veteran's Day

On November 22, 1975, the aircraft carrier CV-67, USS John F. Kennedy, was conducting night flight operations in heavy weather off the coast of Sicily.  Escort ships in the battle group participated in the flight operations by conducting protective weaving maneuvers around the carrier.  One of the escorts was a guided missile cruiser, the USS Belknap, DLG-26. 

I was on the Kennedy at the time, serving as a computer technician with VF-14.  It was my second cruise.

The Belknap crossed in front of the Kennedy in a pattern designed to protect the carrier, but something went wrong.  Rather than correcting course, the Belknap continued the sharp turn and struck the Kennedy on the port side near the angle deck, cutting several gashes in the side of the carrier.  The Belknap also severed several JP-5 (jet fuel) lines on the side of the carrier, dumping jet fuel on the Belknap.  The fuel ignited, engulfing both ships in flames.  The heat was so intense that the aluminum superstructure of the Belknap melted to the deck.  Heavy smoke forced evacuation of the carrier’s fire rooms, forcing the carrier to go dead in the water.  General Quarters on the carrier lasted 12 hours.  Seven people on the Belknap died that night, and 23 were seriously injured. 

There was one casualty on the Kennedy, Yeoman 2nd Class David A. Chivalette. I knew David.
David was an office clerk, and was trying to get to his GQ station (probably his office) when he was overcome by smoke.  He was 22 years old, and was due to be honorably discharged in a few weeks.  He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We just celebrated Veteran’s Day.  When U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed Armistice Day (later, Veterans Day) in 1919, he said "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations”.
David Chivalette died in his country’s service.  While his death wasn’t as a result of some made-for-TV act of heroism, his sacrifice was complete. 
I think of David, and wonder.  I knew he wanted to go to college – that’s why both of us were in the military to begin with.  We both needed the GI Bill to afford college.  I wonder what he would have majored in, what he would do?  Would he marry?  Children?  Grandchildren? 
Our military is in harm’s way every day.  No one person is more important than another – they’re a team.  No one life is less valuable than another.  No one death is less tragic than another.  We should honor our military every day, not just one day a year.
This blog is for you David.  May you rest in peace.


Lucy Merrill said...

"They also serve who only stand and wait." — John Milton
No service is unimportant, nor is it safe, as your friend's fate demonstrated. Thanks for this tribute to him and for your service to what was then not an especially grateful nation.

Chuck Till said...

Touching, Alan. Thank you.

As you probably know, the Belknap fire -- along with the Royal Navy's experience in the Falklands War -- persuaded the USN to revert to steel superstructures in the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers.