Just before sundown on 17 May, an Iraqi pilot in an F-1 Mirage jet headed down the Gulf, scanning his instruments for oil tankers.
The first missile punched through the hull near the
port bridge wing, eight feet above the waterline. It bored a flaming
hole through berthing spaces, the post office, and the ship’s store,
spewing rocket propellant along its path. Burning at 3,500 degrees, the
weapon ground to a halt in a corner of the chiefs’ quarters, and failed
to explode. The second missile, which hit five feet farther forward,
detonated as designed. The fired burned for almost a day, incinerating
the crew’s quarters, the radar room, and the combat information center.
About one-quarter of the crew was incapacitated in the attack. Twenty-nine were killed immediately; eight more died later.
I was onboard the USS Haleakala AE-25 in the Western Pacific when this attack occurred. We immediately, without waiting for orders, starting planning our voyage to the Persian Gulf. We figured that the munitions in our holds would be needed.
Two days later, we were told that we would not be going.
Here’s to absent friends, and keeping your powder dry.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep.
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Thanks Lex for reminding me of this.
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