Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day History

A history lesson here:
"Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service."

Argghhh! has a Memorial worth visiting. And remembering.

Update: USS Cole Memorial

USS Stark info

Navy EC-121 Shootdown info

Update2: Sometime it's hard to remember that 50 years ago the B-52 was a new airplane. Castle AFB, where my dad was stationed, was their first home. The early days were not pretty, and several flight crews died before the planes were improved and became the long-flying legends they are today. Since the Strategic Air Command was a family, and at Castle everyone knew everyone else, the crashes impacted the entire community. It was a grim time.
Like Boeing bombers before it--most notably the B-17 and the B-29--the B-52 suffered from more than its share of growing pains. A number of crashes in 1956, including some spectacular midair explosions over California, had begun to erode public confidence in the B-52, threatening the program's very survival.

The trouble began on 16 February 1956, when a B-52 exploded in midair near Tracy, California, while on a flight from nearby Castle AFB. The crash made national headlines, in part because of the B-52's then unprecedented cost of $8 million.6 More negative headlines followed when General LeMay testified before Congress that a "serious component failure" had caused the Air Force to reject 31 of the first 78 B-52s produced. The component in question--an alternator flywheel--had been implicated in the February crash.7

Several months later, however, an in-flight explosion claimed a second Castle B-52 and the lives of five crew members.8 Once again, the electrical system of the Stratofortress was implicated.9 This time, however, the controversy about the B-52 had built to the point where the entire fleet was grounded, with an Air Force spokesman admitting that he had "no idea" as to how long the grounding would remain in effect.10

About this time, a free-lance reporter named P. D. Eldred began to interview air crews, maintenance people, and families at Castle, gathering enough information for an article highly critical of the B-52. General LeMay learned of Eldred's upcoming article and began planning a counteroffensive--a demonstration that would show the American people that SAC's newest bomber was a safe and effective weapon system.11

The result of this was called "Operation Quick Kick," an endurance flight involving eight B-52s that--supported by a fleet of tankers--flew nonstop around the perimeter of North America. The demonstration received wide publicity, and for a very short time neutralized the efforts of Mr Eldred.12

But just five days after the completion of Quick Kick, yet another B-52 crashed, again in spectacular fashion, killing all 10 crew members. Located with photoflash bombs to enable nighttime photography, the bomber burned and exploded for hours, generating still more negative press and breathing new life into P. D. Eldred's article. This time, the Associated Press bought his B-52 expos_, intending to run it worldwide. Further, Congressman B. F. Sisk, (D.-Calif.) called for a congressional investigation to determine whether the B-52 was a "safe aircraft for our airmen to fly."
source) To those crews and their families, some of us remember, every Memorial Day.

Update3: On July 17, 1944,
A massive explosion destroyed the Port Chicago, California, naval ammunition base on the Sacramento River near San Francisco Bay. It killed 320 naval personnel and civilians, including 202 Black stevedores--ammunition loaders; and several hundred injured. Others killed were nine white officers in charge of the loaders, 70 members of the mixed crews of the two ships, 15 Coast Guardsmen on vessels nearby, and several civilians.

Update4: On June 3, 1969, USS Frank E. Evans (DD-764) lost 74 men when the ship was cut in half by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne while operating together in the South China Sea (source)

Update5: On May 22, 1968, USS Scorpion (SSN-589) was lost with all hands, 99 men. (source)

Update6: On July 29, 1967, an accidental missile firing on the deck of USS Forrestal (CVA-59) caused a fire that took the lives of 134 men.(source)

Update7: On April 19, 1989, 47 members of the gun crew for number 2 turret on USS Iowa (BB-61) died when the mount exploded. (source)

Update8: On April 10, 1963, USS Thresher (SSN-593) sank with all hands, killing 129 men. (source)

Update9: US Merchant Marine deaths in WWII: 9,512 of 243,000 who served or 3.90% or 1 in 26 (the highest ratio of any service in WWII) (source)

Remember the dead.

In honor of my uncle Bob, killed in Burma as pilot with the 75th Fighter Squadron (succesors to the AVG "Flying Tigers").

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