PRESERVING A MILITARY LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The following Reflection represents LTJG David Brendle’s legacy of their military service from 1966 to 1977. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.
Riskiest Moment: Was there any specific incident during your military service when you felt your life was at risk? What were the circumstances, and what was the outcome?
I was an HM3 corpsman aboard the USS Enterprise CVAN 65 on January 14, 1969. We were awaiting a final drill and inspection before leaving Hawaii for Viet Nam. What was supposed to be a routine exercise turned into a deadly nightmare.
Six F-4 Phantoms, seven A-7 Corsairs, one RA-5C Vigilante, one EKA-3B, and one E-2A Hawkeye were on the flight deck, combat ready, armed with bombs and rockets. At 0818, an explosion shook the flight deck followed by the announcement: General Quarters, General Quarters.This is not a drill, this is not a drill, man your battle stations. I ran to my station, reported to the officer in charge, grabbed my medical kit and returned to the hanger bay. Fear painted every face including my own. More explosions followed and overhead insulation started falling. The fog foam fire-fighting system covered the deck a foot deep, and I took cover under the wing of an F-4 Phantom. As the ship shuddered under each blast, my imagination ran wild, but it was worse than I imagined.
After the last explosion, four men ran toward me carrying BM2 Snipes, the lead petty officer of our repair party, on a stretcher. A piece of shrapnel had cut off one-eighth of his cranium. I applied a battle wrap and sent the crew to sick bay, but he did not survive. I can’t unsee that scene and the ones that followed.
When we secured from GQ, I returned to my work space until I was called to assist in sick bay. So many injured and dead; so much suffering. We had one operating room and limited bed space, so we evacuated the seriously injured to Pearl by helicopter. As we assessed the destruction, I couldn’t imagine how we sustained so much damage and remained afloat.
The explosions were caused by a “huffer,” a small tug used to start the aircraft, that was parked with its exhaust venting directly onto a Zuni rocket. The rocket detonated, piercing the plane’s fuel tanks and setting them ablaze. Rockets and bombs exploded on other planes, blowing holes in the flight deck, and burning fuel ran into the lower decks. The captain turned the ship into the wind, clearing smoke and flames from the flight deck, but fire continued to rage inside the ship.
When we returned to Pearl, I was in charge of placing the deceased into body bags and removing them from the ship where they would be identified and sent home. This duty left more scenes I can never unsee. For a twenty-year-old corpsman, it was overwhelming.
In this major historical naval disaster, twenty-eight sailors died, 314 were injured, fifteen aircraft were destroyed and the ship suffered extensive damage.
I survived, but I will never forget the death and destruction, the faces of the dead and wounded, the courage and sacrifice of my shipmates. I will never forget that I was a corpsman aboard the USS Enterprise during the fire of January 14, 1969.
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