LTJG David Brendle, U.S. Navy (1966-1977)



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 (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.

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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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Tags: A-7 Corsairs, E-2A Hawkeye, EKA-3B, F-4 Phantom, RA-5C Vigilante, USS Enterprise CVAN 65

1 Comment

  1. CDR John F. Cole, USN Retired, 100% Disabled

    As A Young Machinist Mate (Nuclear) Second Class In RM Division, I Too Was There;
    On The Morning Of January 14, 1969. @ 08:19:56 Hawaiian Local Time, We Were Preparing To Conduct Our Second Day Of The Required ORI, Prior To Deployment To Yankee Station Off The Coast Of Vietnam, When A Flight Deck Fire Developed Resulting In 36 Dead And 386 More Injured. For Over Four Hours The Survival Of The Ship With All Hands Being Lost Due To An Explosion In The After Magazine Was Very Much In Question, As Two Major Caliber (500# He) Bombs Lay In The Blazing Jet Fuel Flames Internal To The Ship Down On The 3rd Deck, Which At This Location Was The Overhead Of The After Magazine (4th Deck To The Keel). If We Had Not Been Able To Extinguish The Fires And Cool Off The Bombs When We Did, And Even Just One Of Those Bombs Had Cooked Off And Exploded, The After Magazine Would Have Also Exploded And The USS Enterprise Would Have Joined The HMS Hood And The USS Arizona As Historical Events Where The Explosion Of A Single Magazine Resulted In The Loss Of A Major Combat Ship With All Hands Going Down With The Ship. “The Only Reason That We All Are Here Today Is That We Got The Fires Out And The After Magazine Did Not Explode!” “The Only Reason That I Am Here Today Is That I Was In Sick Bay For Observation Following A Concussion During The Previous Days ORI Drills. My Hose Team Replacement, A Young Fireman was Killed And If I Had Been In My Bunk Still Sleeping When The First Bombs Exploded I Would Have Been Beheaded By A Very Large Piece Of Shrapnel That Opened A Hole From The Flight Deck Through The Stern Area Of The Hanger Bay, Then Down Through My Pillow Before Continuing Down And Out Through The Stern Above The Screws. After It Was All Over About 4:00pm Or So, I Could Stand By My Bunk And Look Up To See The Blue Sky Above And Look Down To See The Screws Churning In The Beautiful Blue-Green Waters Below.”

    Though It Was Not My First Exposure To It, I Will Never Forget The Stench Of The Burned Human Flesh, The Smell Of The Blood On The Decks, The Sight Of The Body Bags, The Shocked And Glazed Look In The Eyes Of The Chief Who Only Had One Small Cut On His Balding Scalp But Died From The Shock, The Holes Through My Berthing, Head And Tv Lounge Compartments That Allowed Me To Look Down And See The Ships Screws Turning In The Blue Green Waters Below Me And Looking Up To See Bright Blue Sky Through The Four Decks And The Flight Deck Above Me. The Holes Were Made By Other He Bombs Exploding Five Decks Above Me On The Very Aft End Of The Flight Deck When The Fully Loaded F-4 Phantoms There Blew Up Dumping Their 6-7 Tons Of JP-5 Jet Fuel Into The Compartments Below To Cook-Off And Detonate Their Bomb Loads Which Allowed The Fuel, Bombs And Fire To Fall Further Into The Interior Depths Of The Ship.

    I Just Praise God That His Hand Was On The Ship And Its Crew That Day And That He Saw Fit To Spare Us From The Fate Of The 36 Shipmates Who Died That As Well As The 386 Who Were Injured, Many Very Severely Maimed As Well As Burned!


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