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Messenger story brings Navy veterans together
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By Leigh Ann Rutledge
Fifty-four years after a fiery explosion on the U.S.S. Forrestal, two veterans who experienced the horrific event from different sides of the ship met for the first time.
The explosion and fire, the worst loss of life on a U.S. Navy ship since WWII occurred July 29, 1967, at 10:52 a.m. in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.
An accidental firing of a Zuni 5-inch rocket which slammed into an A-4E Skyhawk (fighter jet) started a fire that took 134 lives and explosions that severely damaged three decks of the ship. Carrollton resident ADJ3 Alan Jones was on the flight deck when the horrific incident occurred. He hadn’t shared the events of that day with many people over the years but agreed to be interviewed for a Veterans Day story in The Messenger.
The story was published Nov. 9.
Jill Tasker picked up a copy of the paper for her husband, Ed Tasker, who grew up in Portage County and enlisted in the Navy at the age of 19. The couple now resides in Carroll County.
Tasker was featured in the Messenger the following week for a book he published, so when he called The Messenger, office personnel assumed it was in regard to the story. He spoke briefly about his book and then dropped a bombshell… he was also on the USS Forrestal that horrific day in 1967 and asked if an introduction could be made with Jones.
Airman Tasker was an aviation ordnance man assigned to VA-106 which were stationed on the USS Forrestal.
The introduction was arranged, and the two men met for the first time Dec. 1 in The Messenger office.
Tasker was the first to arrive at the office. When Jones walked in, there was an immediate connection as the two walked toward each other and shared a handshake.
Tasker was armed with a scrapbook and the 1967 Forrestal yearbook, which spurred conversation immediately between the pair. They talked about that day and realized they were almost directly across the deck from each other when the explosion occurred. Jones was thrown backwards; Tasker, forward. Tasker was also covered in jet fuel.
Both men were on their first assignments.
Jones was assigned to the ship and returned to Norfolk, VA, to port.
The air wing unit was offloaded in Mayport, FL, and Tasker left the ship at that time. He was stationed in Florida for a few months while they prepared new aircraft and was then deployed to Vietnam with the USS Intrepid for one year. He was then assigned to the USS Independence in the north Atlantic for a peacekeeping operation with NATO. After his unit decommissioned, he was deployed with VA-72 on the USS Shangri-La to Vietnam for a third and final tour.
As the two men left the Messenger office, they were making plans to meet again.
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