Explosion 26 May, 1954
William W. Kirk 1954-55
Explosion 26 May, 1954
Thu, 20 Apr 2000 19:21:42 -0400
William Kirk - firstname.lastname@example.org
April 20, 2000
Richard S. Pope
3139 S.W. 11th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201
Dear Mr. Pope:
Several years ago, while visiting Washington, DC, I happened upon the Navy Memorial. I was thrilled with their movie "At Sea", about an Aircraft carrier on a training cruise. It brought back many cherished memories, both good and bad, of my 18 months of service on the CVA-20 USS Bennington. Upon returning home I "surfed the web" and found the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation web page on the Internet. It contained a brief history of all USN ships including the Bennington. As I scanned the information I was stunned and greatly saddened to learn that my ship had been sold to India for scrap. It was the first time I had any real news of her since my discharge in 1955.
Just today, an old friend sent me the Bennington Web Page containing your story of the 1954 explosion. I was amazed to know something like the Bennington web page even existed. thank you for keeping our ship alive in this manner. It means a great deal to me, as I'm sure it does to many other crew members who served on her.
I was a Lithographer 3/c and at the time of the blast was just waking up in the X division bunk room. Miraculously, up until several days before the explosion most printers, including me, slept in the print shop. we had it pretty good down there. In exchange for freshly printed liberty passes of all colors, head of the line chow passes, personal stationary, business cards and every other form of printed matter, we had plenty of food along with other niceties and courtesy's that made our lives more comfortable. I think we called it "comshaw". One fortunate (as it turned out) day, after a surprise inspection by the captain, we were forced to give up our print shop retreat and go back to sleeping in X division bunks. The print shop was located forward, almost directly behind the catapult room (where the explosions originated) and next to the brig. I don't believe anyone down there could have survived. I see several Marines on your list of the dead and I believe at least one, if not both, may have been on guard duty in the brig. Only that timely inspection visit by Captain Raborn's group kept about four additional names from your list.
Several days later, 5 June, 1954, while on leave at my home in New Jersey, I wrote a letter describing my experiences on that horrible day to a friend, Paul Ivins, RM3 who was serving on the USS Sarasota. I kept a copy of that letter all these years and will gladly fax it to you if you like. Just send me your number. I also have a scrapbook which contains glue stained copies of newspaper accounts of the accident along with photos and other memorabilia of my time on CVA 20. Included are actual photos of Marilyn Monroe when she visited the Bennington while filming "The Seven Year Itch" in New York. I could also add a very interesting story about my crew's barge turning over in New York Harbor during ammunition unloading. We spilled tons of live shells into Gravesend bay. It made headlines and was an ongoing story for many days in the New York press. I kept a very low profile for quite a while after that.
I stayed on with the ship as a "fire watch", during her repair and conversion time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My only duties were to weigh the fire extinguishers in X division twice a month: there were exactly two of them. This allowed plenty of time for daily trips into the "City". Remember, in better days we used to print (and of course still possessed)liberty passes of every color. I was finally discharged at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 15, 1955 ten months after, as a New York newspaper headlined: the "Big Blast on the Big Ben". Aside from my old Radioman friend Paul writing me about a Bennington reunion that had occurred somewhere, that was the last time I ever saw, or even heard of, "Big Ben" until my visit to the Navy Memorial in 1998.
Following my discharge I attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania on the GI Bill. I graduated in 1960 and later formed my own printing equipment company. At 69 years of age I am still active in my business but looking forward to having more time to contact old friends and doing things like this in the future. It was a mini reunion with an old friend, Walt Bantle MM3, that prompted him to remember seeing your web page and sending it to me.
William W. Kirk
215 Osceola Court
Winter Park, FL 32789