Valley Forge LPH-8
by
Ed Perry HMM-164

Stories


 

I know it was some time in the Spring of 68 (maybe March or April), because I was still attached to Special Landing Force Bravo, although flying most days as a gunner with HMM-164.  We're headed back to the Valley Forge from a mission when the A/C gets on the ICS to say he sees lots of smoke on the horizon -- right where we're headed.  Everyone's first thought is that somehow the gooks have managed to figure out a way to hit the ship (though the captain usually kept it well out of harm's way -- not even LOS to shore at night).  So he changes tac freq and learns that there's been an accident on the flight deck . . .

We fly fast and shortly get within sight.   Lots of black, oily smoke everywhere and big orange flames on the deck forward of the "island."  There're still guys (some sailors, some Marines) jumping into the safety nets strung below flight deck level.  Others jumped so far they ended up in the water, and not a few pretty badly burned, etc.  We're trying to keep the ICS free for the A/C, so the crew chief motions for me to run the hoist down through the hell hole.  (I was the gunner; we're flying a 46.) We got two guys up OK and have the hoist on a third when the fucking cable comes partly un-stranded. It'll go down OK, but hangs up on the hoist pulley when coming up, leaving about 80 feet of cable with the poor bastard still in the sling waving in the wind.  No wire cutters at hand, so the A/C lowers him back in the water and numbnutz (yours truly) volunteers to jump in after him.   Now the guy is out cold, so I simply grabbed him and the cable and let them lift us up onto the deck near the fantail.  Bad stuff.

In any event, the post-action scuttlebutt was that an Army helo had brought some Army staff types out to the ship for briefings and coordination planning. Landing was uneventful, but when they were ready to depart (full fuel load, et al), the pilot misinterpreted hand signals given by a swabbie to the latter's crew to yank the chocks and release tie-downs. All was removed when the pilot started to increase throttle and forward lift except the tie-down on the front strut. The craft rotated almost vertically and then crashed nose-down onto the deck.  Instant conflagration.  Everyone on the helo (perhaps thankfully) was believed to have died almost instantly, but the resulting fire and ordnance cooking off due to the heat caused a numerous additional injuries (and, as I recall, some additional deaths among ship's crew).   Definitely a bad day. I always meant to find out more about the visitors (names, et al), but was always so pissed thinking about it that I never followed through.  We can probably all recall such stupid, needless events, but it still irks me that we couldn't do a better job of at least keeping ourselves safe with all the other nuts trying to off us.  (The same feelings arise when I think about a couple of other friends who were shot out of the air by arty south of Marble Mtn. and burned on the beach. Just total lack of fire discipline and coordination.)

Anyway, thanks for the chance to get this off my chest.  I haven't told anyone but my wife how I really felt about it, and that was almost 30 years ago.

Best regards and Semper Fi,

Ed Perry HMM-164

Ed Perry 1997

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