AO3 Rufus McKibben, US Navy (1966-1970)
AO3 Rufus McKibben
Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/bio/RUFUS.MCKIBBEN
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
My grandfather Perry McKibben, served in the US Army in WW I. My father Wilburn McKibben, received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in Europe in the US Army in WWII. My uncle Lloyd McKibben served in the US Army in the Pacific and earned a Purple Heart at Tarawa. My uncle William Hitchcock was a medic in the Army in Europe in WW II. My Uncle Rufus Perry McKibben was in the Army Air Corps and was killed in post war Japan on Jan 6, 1947, the day I was born. I am Rufus Paul McKibben and I didn’t have a chance to volunteer, I was drafted.
I received my draft notice In December 1965. I was a 19 year old senior at Redwood High School in Visalia Ca. Mr. Bob Donald was my football and wrestling Coach, he was also my English teacher and councilor. When I showed Mr. Donald my draft notice he picked up the phone and called the local Selective Service Board he called them “#%@” and told them that “@#%”. I received a deferment until the day after graduation. I beat the draft by joining the Navy on a 120 day delay entry program. I graduated High School on June 9, 1966. I started Navy boot camp in San Diego on June 10, 1966.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
After boot camp I was assigned to Aviation Ordnance “A” School in Jacksonville Fl., where we learned about bombs, rockets, missiles, guns, and anything the navy had that goes BANG.
After graduation I was promoted to AOAN (E-3) and received orders to VF-74 Bedevilers NAS Oceania Virginia Beach, VA. of Air Wing 17 which was attached to USS Forrestal.
Six classmates from class 642A 1966 were assigned to squadrons attached to USS Forrestal.
CHARLES “CHUCK” RICH VA -106 died in the fire of 7-29-67.
PAUL ANDREW “PAK” KRUEGER VF-74 lost his right leg below the knee while attempting to rescue a pilot. (I named my youngest son PAUL ANDREW).
ROBERT “SATCH” RANNI VA-106, JERRY JANSHESKI VA-106, SCOTTY ARNOLD VF-11, and I survived but not untouched.
Chuck, PAK, Satch and Mac – we were best of friends. (Scotty Arnold front row left).
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF YES, CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHICH ONES AND HOW YOU PARTICIPATED?
I was an Aviation Ordnanceman Airman (AOAN) with VF-74 Bedevilers attached to Air Wing 17 on board USS Forrestal. Forrestal conducted combat operations against North Vietnam from 7-24-67 to 7-29-67. Forrestal launched over 700 sorties in the first 4 days without losing any aircraft. On the 5th day we lost over 20 aircraft and 134 men. VF-74 alone lost 42 men. VF-11 lost 43 men. Our berthing compartments were on the 03 level all the way aft directly below the flight deck, almost all of our night crew died. They didn’t have a chance. Only days before the fire I was switched from night check to day check. I switched lockers and bunks with Ramon Garza. He burned to death in my former bunk.
Pictured is where VF-74 AO shop used to be. I was standing in that spot 10 minutes prior to the fire.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Aside from the fire of 7-29-67. An incident happened prior to a deployment, some time in 1968, my working party was loading the cruise boxes of VF-74 ordnance onto a conveyor and onto Forrestal. A first class petty officer, I can’t remember his name, stepped onto the conveyor and it ate his leg almost to the hip before we were able to turn it off. All the skin on his leg was torn around the ankle and forced up over his knee. I opened cruise boxes until I found tools and started dismantling the conveyor. By the time emergency personnel arrived they only had to make some cuts with a torch to free him. I was ordered to ride in the ambulance to the hospital with him. The following day in the Forrestal P.O.D. I was commended for my quick actions. My mystery Petty officer returned to VF-74 over a year later. He had to use a cane to walk but because of his critical rating was not discharged.
DID YOU RECEIVE ANY AWARDS FOR VALOR? CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED?
Names of Shipmates and Officers Involved:
Jack Adams AOAN VF-74
Gene Siburn ADJAN VF-74 Plane Captain #200
LT. H. T. Wood VF-74 Ordnance division officer
AO CPO Tomas Lawler VF-74 Ordnance
LTCDR John McCain (Senator AZ.)
(Capt) Admiral John K. Beling
I make no claim to Valor however on July 29, 1967 in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of NorthVietnam, on the flight deck of the USS FORRESTAL. Just prior to the second launch of the day Jack Adams and I were working together at the end of the waist cats on elevator #2 checking for stray voltage on and arming Zunni rocket pods loaded on an F-4 Phantom. At the same time on the aft of the ship a Zunni Rocket misfired, hitting LCDR John McCain’s aircraft and starting a massive fire. When we saw two fire hoses racing across the deck we joined one of the hose teams. As we came abreast of the aft end of the island we ran out of hose and stopped, the other hose team continued towards the fire. Seconds later a 1000lb. detonated wiping out the other hose team and knocking us to the deck. Jack and I went towards the fire instead of away from it. When we were about 150 feet away from the fire the second and third explosions detonated knocking us down again. As we attempted to escape the fourth bomb exploded. We ran forward on starboard side of the island across elevator #1 and into the #1 catapult room. When the major explosions stopped we returned to the flight deck. VF-74 Phantom # 200 was burning on the port side, port landing gear blown out, there was a Sidewinder missile on the starboard side. As Jack and I removed the missile and firefighters sprayed water on us the ejection seat fired from the intense heat. Later I was nominated for the Navy Marine Corp Medal. I didn’t know who nominated me or for what. About a year later I was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, for the above actions which would not have been possible without the direct help of Jack Adams.
Jack Adams AO VF-74 got nothing, what we did may not have been worthy of a medal but we should have been recognized equally.
In honor of Admiral John K. Beling who recently passed away, I would like to recite the prayer that Capt Beling offered following the fire as it has had a profound influence on me.
‘Our heavenly Father, we see this day as one minute and yet a lifetime for all of us. We thank You for the courage of those who gave there lives in saving their shipmates today. We humbly ask You to grant them peace and to their loved ones the consolation and strength to bear their loss. Help us to renew the faith we have in You. We thank You for our own lives. May we remember You as You have remembered us today. From our hearts we turn to You now, knowing that you have been at our side in every minute of this day. Heavenly Father, help us to rebuild and re-man our ship, so that our brothers who died today may not have made a fruitless sacrifice.’
Captain John K. Beling, USS Forrestal July 29, 1967.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
Two come to mind. Being nominated for the Navy Marine Corps Medal and being awarded the Navy Achievement Medal.
I would prefer to not have been recognized at all, but to have been singly recognized for something that I could not have done alone, I still find disheartening. Jack Adams and I only did our jobs just like every other man on the Forrestal that day.
Pictured are Ron Woodcock AO VF-74, me, and Jack Adams at the dedication of the JOHNNY WAYNE SPIVEY BRIDGE in Willacoochee Georgia 2004. Our friend and shipmate Johnny Spivey AO VF-74 died in the Forrestal fire.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Without question Jack Adams, AO3 VF-74 from Pilgrim, Kentucky (also a TWS member).
After just surviving four major explosions from point blank range Jack and I returned to the flight deck and went aft until we saw one of our squadrons planes (#200 VF-74), the port landing gear was gone and the port side of the plane was on fire. I had retained my tool pouch and in it was an Aero 7A Sidewinder missile launcher tool, I took the tool out of the pouch looked at Jack. Without a word, as a fire crew sprayed water on us we went under the wing Jack first to the rear of the missile I inserted the tool and turned the wrong way over and over, I looked at Jack he calmly said turn it the other way I did and we were successful in removing the missile. When we came out from under the plane with the missile it was taken from us by force by EOD. I think of Jack Adams every day.
This photo of VF-74 #200 was taken only seconds after Jack and I removed a missile from it, the rear cockpit area is still smoldering from the ejection seat firing.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULARLY HUMOROUS STORY FROM YOUR SERVICE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
When I first reported to VF-74, AO division officer LT H. T. Wood, he got a laugh out of my name. In time I learned Mr. Wood’s full name, the H. T. stands for Hansel Trevor. I was not in a position to laugh but I will never forget his name.
As we were returning from Vietnam after having lost everything except the clothes on our back, living in temporary quarters working out of a temporary shop, Mr. Wood announced that we were lacking in military discipline and ordered Chief Lawler to conduct marching drills on the flight deck. We were the laughing stock of the whole ship. About three days before our arrival back in Norfolk Chief Lawler was marching us and not paying attention to where he was going and ran into the horizontal stabilizer of an F-4 and gashed his head wide open. When we returned to Norfolk and disembarked he was one of our walking wounded. Poor Chief, it wasn’t even his fault. Thanks for the memories Mr. H. T. Wood, I hope you made Admiral.
I guess funny depends on your point of view.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
In the past 44 years I have had 32 jobs. I have been at my present job as a Research and Development Lab Technician for 15 years. I was in the Navy for 4 years. Hughes Aircraft for 1 1/2 years. I drove big rig trucks for 5 years with 4 different employers. I was a structural steel fabricator for 4 years. I was an Irrigation Systems Mechanic at Friant Dam with the US Bureau of Reclamation for 4 Years, and 1 year with Fruehauf Trailers welding inside confined and potentially explosive tanks. The remaining jobs in my portfolio were a waste of time, and that is a lot of wasted time.
ARE YOU A MEMBER OF ANY MILITARY ASSOCIATION(S)? IF SO, WHICH ASSOCIATIONS AND WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIP(S).
I am a life member of the USS Forrestal Association. Larry McNulty and I were honored to be asked to heave the memorial wreath from the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego in 2010 for the USS Forrestal Memorial Service for all 276 sailors that died aboard Forrestal in her 38 year career.
I am a former member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter # 247 Fresno/Clovis CA. I was elected to one term as Secretary Treasure, one term as Vice President and two terms as President. I was appointed and served one term as California State Membership Committee Chairman. I was also elected to be a Delegate to the 5th National Convention of Vietnam Veterans of America in San Fransisco CA. 1991.
I am a former member of the American Legion Post #147in Clovis CA.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Knowing that the worst day of my life is behind me I think I have approached my life with fearlessness. During my career I have placed myself in many hazardous and psychically demanding situations. The training I received in the Navy has given me the ability to adjust to new challenges.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
You are a volunteer in the most highly trained military in the world. Make peace with God. Serve with pride, trust your training, it will serve you a lifetime.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Through TWS I was reunited with former shipmate Ed Hagan who after the Navy Became a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. I visited Ed and his wife Sandy in Neice CA. I told Ed of my 1991 application to the VA for PTSD, Ed encouraged me to reapply and wrote an amazing letter for my new claim. As a result of Ed’s effort on my behalf I won my claim. Sadly Ed passed away last year. Thanks to TWS I was able to reunite with Ed before his passing. Ed worked for California IVE and Vocational Expert Federal and State Courts. Appointed Area One Board for Developmental Disabilities by Lake County Board of Supervisors.