Explosion 26 May, 1954
Lonnie and Joe:
You may recall that you graciously accepted a couple EMails from me over the last couple of years detailing my memories of the May 26, 1954 explosion on USS BENNINGTON (CVA-20). I was a member of the Air Group on the ship on that day. These EMails are a part of the BENNINGTON web site at "Crews Stories - Timeline".
During the time my memories have been a part of the BENNINGTON's site I have heard from several people seeking information about their relatives who were lost on that fateful day. I helped them to the extent that I was able.
In the past couple of week I have heard from Richard Underwood who at the time of the explosion was serving as a Lieutenant-helicopter pilot at the United States Coast Guard Air Station, Salem, MA. He and his helicopter crew were among the first responders to the BENNINGTON distress call on May 26, 1954 and Dick piloted the first helicopter to land on BENNINGTON bringing additional medical assistance and to fly seriously injured officers and men to a land based hospital.
Dick and I have developed a story about his involvement in these rescue missions which we hope you will add to the "Timeline". We thought his story would be of interest to survivors and their families. We also thought his story fills a gap in the web site concerning the off-loading of the injured prior to BENNINGTON's arrival at dockside.
Dick Underwood's memories are contained in the accompanying EMail, which you will find below, titled US COAST GUARD - USS BENNINGTON.
If you are able to add Dick Underwood's story to the BENNINGTON web site would you be willing to send him and me an EMail notifying us when it has been added?
Thank you for your consideration and for your dedication to the memory of USS BENNINGTON..
ONE NATION UNDER GOD - IN GOD WE TRUST
Don Hauser (515/277-7494)
Des Moines, IA 50312-2747
(Former Coast Guard Lieutenant)
U.S. COAST GUARD – USS BENNINGTON
May 26, 1954 started as many spring days at the United States Coast Guard Air Station at Salem, Massachusetts. It was sunny and clear and all hands were implementing the plans for the day.
Those plans radically changed and in a hurry when a distress call came in from the USS BENNINGTON. Something tragic had happened during the early morning launching of sorties and the lives of hundreds of her officers and men were suddenly at grave risk.
As a Coast Guard pilot stationed at Salem, I immediately got airborne with a co-pilot and mechanic in a Coast Guard HO4S helicopter and vectored for the BENNINGTON which reportedly was about 75 miles south of Narragansett Bay heading toward her home port of Quonset, Rhode Island.
En route the one hundred plus miles over Massachusetts from Salem to the ship, it occurred to me that more medical help might be needed and that it would be wise to refuel not knowing for certain what this emergency mission would entail or how much flying time would be required.
I landed at Navy Quonset, refueled, picked up two navy doctors and continued on to the BENNINGTON.
Captain William F. "Red" Raborn, Jr., BENNINGTON’s Commanding Officer was on the radio as we approached the ship, which was slowly steaming toward Narragansett Bay and Quonset Point and when he heard that I had two doctors aboard he was clearly ecstatic. He said "Coast Guard 1298, you are cleared to land IMMEDIATELY!"
This was my first experience landing on an aircraft carrier. I had gone through the naval flight program in Pensacola and Corpus Christi except for the carrier landing stage.
As I recall, our HO4S could take six stretchers at a time, and while the BENNINGTON slowly steamed toward Quonset, I made six trips between the ship and the Quonset hospital prior to the ship’s arrival at dock side where the remainder of the injured personnel were carried over the side and transported to the hospital by ambulance. Ours was the first helicopter to land on the BENNINGTON but there were several others involved in the rescue mission.
I learned later that BENNINGTON’s medical staff, following their assessment of the injured, initiated a triage, separating the injured into groups of (a) likely to survive with immediate medical treatment, (b) likely to survive with medical treatment, and (c) the very seriously injured not likely to survive.
My HO4S was privileged to work with the first group and hopefully the thirty-six seamen we rushed to the shore based hospital for treatment all survived having had the advantage of being air lifted from the ship for shore based treatment.
I have always remembered this day and often wondered what became of the injured officers and men we were able to air lift for treatment. Recently, after a discussion with friends about landing on aircraft carriers, I visited the excellent USS BENNINGTON web site and noticed little mention of the methods used in removing injured officers and men from the ship for medical treatment. I have initiated this letter to you, the ship’s historian and web master, hoping to fill a gap in the coverage given on the web site about transportation for treatment accorded to BENNINGTON’s injured personnel.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my memories of this fateful day with you and other Americans interested in this important event in our peace time Navy and Coast Guard.