Explosion 26 May, 1954
Re: Sharing my Dad's Memory of USS Bennington
U.S.S. Benninginton Explosion on May 26th, 1954:
Clark Winn's memory of that day (as told by his daughter)
I would like to share my Dad's (Clark Winn) story of his experience on May 26th, 1954.† He has told me this story numerous times, and I hope I have the facts down straight.† As his memory fades, he still has clear recollection of †this tragic day. †
After graduating from high school in 1951, Dad joined the US Navy and served as a dental assistant on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington. It was while he served on the Bennington, he experienced a tragedy that changed his life forever.†
On the morning of May 26, 1954, while the Bennington sailed off of Narragansett Bay, my Dad made a split decision to not join his friend/roommate for breakfast in the shipís dining hall. Instead, he opted to go directly to his workstation in the dental office (located in one of the shipís bulkheads). It was shortly after Dad arrived to his post that fluid in one of the Benningtonís catapults leaked out and was detonated by flames from a jet which caused an explosion on the front deck and then a series of secondary explosions, killing 103 men and injuring 201 others.
One of the hardest hit areas was the mess hall, where my Dadís roommate was killed. The ship went on lock down, which meant all bulkheads were sealed. Dad sat in the sealed, darkened office, listening to the chaos surrounding him, unable to do anything but await his fate.
He knew that some of the bulkheads were taking in water and smoke as he heard the men in the adjacent bulkheads screaming and begging for help. They were pounding on the walls, trying to communicate, letting others know that they were unable to escape. All Dad could do was listenÖ not knowing if his bulkhead would take in water or collapse. He told me that he tried to talk to some of the men through the wall, but after a while, they became silent and he knew that they had died.
In the aftermath, when the crisis was under control and Dad was released from his station, he immediately was assigned the task of assisting with triage on the wounded and tending to the dead. I wonít go into details of what he witnessed but there was one man that stood out in his memory. It was a sailor who had no chance of making it but kept asking my Dad if he was going to be OK. My Dad sat next to this young man, holding his hand, reassuring him that he would be fine until the man died from his injuries. My Dad tried to give this man some peace in his final minutes.
Later that day, the Bennington limped its way to the Navel Air Station at Quonset Point, RI where the injured were transferred and the dead were to be identified. One of Dadís final duties, while serving on the USS Bennington, was to identify the dead, burnt bodies of the men he served with, including his friend.
Later, my Dad was stationed in London, where he served out the rest of his time in the Navy.† Although he never directly said it aloud to me, I know that this experience was what caused my Dad to abandon his dreams of being a dentist.
At this writing (11-11-15), my Dad is 82 years old now and he has told me that he still can see the horror of that day, see the bodies and smell their burnt flesh.†