The Scoop Deck

First supercarrier goes for cheap

Forrestal

The first Navy supercarrier, the ex-Forrestal, is headed for the scrap heap. Here it is in 1987, six years before it was decommissioned. (Navy photo)

The Navy unloaded its first supercarrier Tuesday for 1 cent.

Texas shipbreakers earned a penny from the Navy to dismantle and recycle the remaining hulk that was formerly the aircraft carrier Forrestal, a ship that sailed to wars and crises over 38 years and which suffered one of the Navy’s worst tragedies: a 1967 fire that killed 134 sailors.

Despite its service over 21 deployments, the ship’s legacy is forever tied to the flight deck conflagration that raged for hours after a rocket mounted under wing accidentally fired, slamming into another jet and unleashing a fuel blaze that cooked off bombs. The flames and explosions killed many of the ship’s best firefighters, who had rushed into action. One aviator, then-Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, escaped by sliding down the nose of his A-4 Skyhawk. Because of reflashes, it took 16 hours to declare the fire out.

Named for James Forrestal, former Navy secretary and the first secretary of defense, Forrestal has been part of the Navy’s lexicon ever since. The incident showed the danger of fighting a fuel fire with seawater, as some crew members did, leading the Navy to develop wash-down sprayers for flattops.  And it showcased the importance of using foam to extinguish fuel blazes.

Footage from the blaze is still shown to recruits to convey the dangers of shipboard fires.

Forrestal was decommissioned in 1993. It called Newport, R.I., home until 2010, when it was moved to its current Philadelphia location. The ship scrapers, All Star Metals, will tow the 1,067-foot long Forrestal to their recycling facility in Brownsville, Texas, Naval Sea Systems said in a Tuesday news release.

Two other conventionally-powered carriers, ex-Saratoga and ex-Constellation, are also up for scrapping.

Do you have stories from aboard the Forrestal? Leave them in our comments section below, or send them to us at navylet@navytimes.com.

Peter Forrestal, Michael Forrestal,  Josephine Forrestal

Josephine Forrestal, the widow of the former Navy secretary who was the ship’s namesake, christened the supercarrier in a Dec. 11, 1954, ceremony in Newport News, Va. (AP file photo)

(Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the transaction between the Navy and All Star Metals. The Navy paid All Star Metals 1 cent to scrap the ex-Forrestal.)

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Comments

  1. gary finley Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I was at D&S pier 31 when she came in with a hole in her flight deck you could drive a bus through, That was 1967 or 68, that part I don”t remember. The whole I do remember. Bomb went off on the deck I think, bunch of guys died. I was stationed on the USS Sierra AD 18 at the time.

  2. Mark Piggott Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    It is shameful that the U.S. Navy sold the Forrestal for one cent to the scrap heap when the Forrestal Association tried to buy it fpr a museum and could only raise $2 million of the $4 million they wanted a few years ago. This is a piece of history being scrapped for cash.

  3. Paul Daniel Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I was assigned to VF-11 ( world famous Red Rippers) and came aboard in July 1975 at Bari, Italy. Spent the next four years aboard the old gal, have a lot if good memories and tons of photos I have shared only with my family.

  4. wayne perzee Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    I agree with Mark Piggott. With everything the government just went through the last couple of weeks due to the shut down, they are going to sell the ship for a penny. The Navy would be better off to break the ship down and sell piece by piece, OR BETTER YET SELL HER TO THE VETERANS THAT WILL TAKE CARE OF HER. But then again the second part makes to much sense, lets build the deficit and give away things that could bring in money.

  5. Robert Geigle Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Spent 9 months in the Med with her in 72/73. We were late relieving the Independence due to an 03 level fire that destroyed the CIC. 6 weeks later we left Norfolk. I was with VMFA-513 at the time, first West Coast Marine squadron to go on a Med Cruise. Good time that I remember well.

  6. Kevin Haight Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I totally agree with Mark and Wayne. What is wrong with this government? It really upsets me as a taxpayer.

  7. Connor Wilson Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    It’s very likely the Forrestal is in horrible shape right now. For the government to hang onto it any longer is likely costing more money than a potential sale could bring in.

    Couple with that the fact it would likely cost millions in time and man-hours to restore it to shape enough as a museum, it makes sense why they would offload it for one cent. It’s costing them more to keep it around.

  8. Tony Dietz Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I’m sure every ship has a place in the heart of those that sailed in them , but it is strange that we can’t seem to hold onto those that merit special attention. I cringe everytime I think of the scrapping of Enterprise in 1959-60. Now we’re letting the “FID” go to the breakers for a penny. From a historical perspective she is the progenitor of our modern carrier fleet. I hear there is talk of preserving the Kennedy. The “FID” is more historically significant then the Kennedy. If as a nation we can only afford to save one “Supercarrier” then logic would favor the “FID”. Of course we are dealing with that dysfunctional abomination we call the U.S. Government. why on earth would they ever do anything that made sense? I think as a percentage of their GDP the Brits do a better job at preserving the heritage of their Navy than we do. Hard to fathom.

  9. YN1(AW) David Dibble, USN(Ret) Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    My God I dont know what to say. Sad……………disgraceful…………….sickening. I may have been Airwing (VA-105), but the FID was MY SHIP………..MY FIRST SHIP……….AND I AM AND FOREVER WILL BE DAMN PROUD TO CALL MYSELF A FID SAILOR. I made the 88 MED/IO/NATO (108 days at sea straight before we hit our first liberty port in Naples Italy and we only had 15 days of liberty all deployment). I want to cry, I really do. Grown man or not………….its just such a disgrace with her history to let her go like this. For a G.D. Penny????????? I wish there were something we could do. Does anyone think we can at least try and get a piece of her hull for keepsake?

  10. Mike Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I was on JFK 1993- 1996. We took the JFK to Philly for a 2 year major overhaul, the Forrestal was moth balled in Philly at this time. My shop on the JFK had to CANNIBALIZE valves and parts off the Forrestal. We went aboard the Forrestal and traced the firemain from the 2nd deck, weapons mags, pump rooms and main spaces all of the valves were brand new ” We could not believe how new everything looked. The boilers and everything in the main spaces were brand new. We were told when we got back to the JFK ,the Forrestal went through a 4 year major overhaul then they DECOM it right after the overhaul. ” Can you believe that. The Forrestal was in awesome shape much better than the Kennedy was at this time. Back then sailors did a lot of the heavy work now its all contracted. After Forrestal they took the 4 year overhaul down to a 2 year overhaul. The crew on the JFK worked there ass off in Philly those years back. Sad to here there going to scrap a great ship.

  11. Old Sea Dog Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Given this administration’s disdain for anything military, getting rid of Pentagon brass that will not embrace their socialistic and Progressive policies, this sale for a penney is exactly what I would expect of them.

  12. Cliff Ashley Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I was on the flight deck of Forrestal on July 29, 1967 when the fire broke out. My squadron, VA-106 lost 8 out of the 134 men that died as a result of the fire. It saddens me to know the she is going to be scrapped. From a financial stand point, it may make sense to scrap her but from an emotional stand point to those that served on her; it is a tough pill to swallow. I also made a Med-Cruise on the Saratoga in 1966 and I guess she will be gone also. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my time on Forrestal CVA 59 and my shipmates that died.

  13. Rick Chiatello Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 9:24 am

    I am proud to have served 5 years aboard Forrestal, and ashamed of the fact that nobody could turn the first supercarrier, and one with so much rich history, into a museum for generations to come, to be able to see first hand what this great ship actually meant.

  14. Michael Laisure Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 9:50 am

    AG3
    OA Division
    Weather Office
    1974 – 1978
    Great friends, great times, bad time.. This Ship had made history her Keel was first laid.. and had a distinguished Career. The USS Forrestal (FID) will always be remembered by ‘it’s” Crew ….!

  15. ted foster Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Every ship that decoms and eventually gets scrapped carries with it a trail of Sailor tears. I was always told the Ship is the body, but it’s the crew that makes her alive. No feasible way the Navy or the US Govt can keep every Ship as a reminder of former days of glory.

  16. Dave Romano Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Watched the carrier sail in to SF Bay from GG Bridge headed to Hunters Point, circa 1959.

  17. David Schirmer Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Taxpayers should be happy. This ship is a direct cost monthly to the Navy (taxpayers) This sale is called recycling. With 17 trillion in debt and another 100 trillion or so in unfunded liabilities including pensions and healthcare, the armed forces need to start trimming and “lean out” everywhere possible. The fact that the military usually ends up with dis-proportionate cuts compared to other govt. departments is problematic. That doesn’t mean the shedding of expenses isn’t warranted, it means we need to do the same with ALL gov’t depts. Getting a ship for .01 cent probably means the scrapper has to tow it to Texas and comply with a phone book size set of regs and compliance BS. That costs a boatload of money. I’m thinking the scrapper makes a little money and keeps a couple hundred workers on the payroll for another year or two. If the former sailors can’t raise the dough for yet another museum piece- that speaks for itself.

  18. Don G. Boyer Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    This “save the old USS” syndrome is getting entirely annoying. There aren’t enough veterans in the US to acquire a former supercarrier via donations or any other means and in today’s financial environment nobody in their right mind wants to be involved in that kind of expense for a naval vessel, no matter how “historic”. If acquired, no organization would be able to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the ship over the years — painting alone would be millions of dollars a pop. While one always hates to see the old ships go for scrap, trying to preserve one that size is foolish in the extreme unless Bill Gates wants it.

  19. Justin Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I want to say thank you to David (#16) for helping me with my massive frustration that matches Mark’s (#2) post. I mean, a car goes for $400 in scrap. But if you include the costs of towing and government specifications in how you dismantle it, then yes, that does make sense. Thank you for more info than what CNN was willing to provide.

  20. ACCUSN Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I was aboard CV-59 on July 29 1967.
    I consider my self a Forrestal fire survivor.
    Was laying in my bunk when the first fire call sounded. !st bomb went off as i was rolling out..
    2nd one went off as I was leaving 01-119 4- l.
    i WAS NOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LADDER, NOT TOO MUCH WORSE FOR WEAR. What really scared me the most was a couple days later as we steamed into Subic and the word REFLASH sounded on the 1MC.
    Sorry to see it scrapped, But Uncle SAm doesn’t always know when $2 mil is the best offer it could get. !! or so yeaers later we have a carcass for Junk instead of a Museum.

  21. Bob Moss lt usn ret Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Imwas on the USS Kula Gulf CVE 108 in 1054 when people were volunteering for pre-com of Forrestall. We were on a jeep carrier. Needless to say all the BTs wanter something new!

  22. Bob Moss lt usn ret Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Boy I blew the spelling on my post! That was 1954. I am old but not quite that old!

  23. Ron Meece Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    I was also aboard the Forrestal during the fire. It is really saddening to think of the tremendous effort that we put forth that day to extinguish the fire. Those 8 from VA-106 were our buddies. Their names are on the Vietnam wall not to be forgotten. However they are more deeply engraved on the hearts of us who survived. What our government does no longer surprises me. A fool says in his heart there is no God how much less is a fool who says we don’t wont God in our government or our schools. What do you expect from a government ran by the foolish.

  24. Paul Ghiotto Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    If one goes to the website for the Historic Naval Ships Assn. they will discover the enormous costs of maintaining museum ships in the condition that paying tourists and the Navy expect. One of the biggest problems occurs when the initial enthusiasm – and the sailors who sailed on the ship – dies out. Check out the situation with the USS Yorktown in Charleston and the USS Olympia in Philadelphia. Folks, it ain’t easy maintaining “older women!”

  25. Mike Sheldon Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I was aboard CVA-59 during the fire, I was with CVW-17 and VF-74. Lost many good shipmates that day and the memories will always be there. Sad to see a piece of Naval History go for junk. Still flying now only in my piper Cherokee and saw it from the air many times while she was in Newport RI. Always wanted to try to land on her deck one more time–bolter-bolter

  26. Henry frisbie Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    not unexpected but a sad day, med cruise, 72/73. dad was a thirty year man and I followed a lot of his old boats to the scrap yard, like losing family.

  27. CMDCM(ret) Joe Diaz Says:
    October 24th, 2013 at 2:49 am

    I was in Subic, a 18 year old seaman on a minesweeper,when the FID was offloading the caskets, one after another down the gangway. Saddest sight in my whole life. Left for Vietnam the next day. BUT – in 2005 I was going to the Command Master Chief course in Newport, RI and saw the FIB and “Sarah” side by side – well beyond economical repair. Fixing up another carrier as a musuem is really a crazy task. I hate to see history die like this – but with the training tapes, reunions, etc. She’ll NEVER die.

  28. Jeremy Bateman Says:
    October 27th, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    No matter what the arguments about saving carriers are, she’s gone. The best thing’s probly to write the Navy Sec to name one of the new DDG51s as a new USS Forrestal in memory of the man, the 1st supercarrier, and the 5000-at-a-time who served on her, especially the 134.

  29. Steve Alvarado Says:
    October 28th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I would much rather see these ships sunk off our coasts as artificial reefs as opposed to being scrapped.

  30. Tim King Says:
    October 28th, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I was stationed at NAS Cubi Pt in 1967. I was one of about a dozen airdales who volunteered to assist in casualty preparation. We were given masks white aprons and we were doused in peppermint oil. The Forrestal tied up at the carrier pier at Cubi and the fire alarms were still going off. To a commenter above: the casualties were NOT brought down the gangway in caskets. The casualties were in body bags and were brought down on the elevator, on pallets, and GSE then moved the pallets to waiting C-130s. Each body bag had a flag on it. The carrier oiler was crowded with media. We volunteers went aboard to the hangar deck where the bodies were being prepared. They actually did not need our assistance. We left the ship via catwalks in the aft part of the ship – where the most damage had been done. It was horrendous – the unbelievable damage and the smell – the smell of death everywhere. I can smell it now. I will never forget this as long as I live.

  31. James Says:
    October 30th, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    This article is misleading. They are not selling them the ship for one cent. Usually the Navy pays a contractor to dismantle a ship. In this case the payment is the scrap value of the ship plus 1 cent. You can’t do a contract without any funding (in most cases) and this is the way around that FAR rule.