Robert John Brock - Two Explosions


Robert John Brock
323 Grant St. #2
Little Chute WI 54140

My name is Robert John Brock BTG3 #2 Fireroom, “B”Division. I served on the “Big Ben”, sometimes called “Bad Luck Benny”, due to the loss of men and pilots from the first day on shake down cruise in Cuba, “Gitmo”, and other accidents.

Around 6:30 a.m. on April 27, 1953, on the last week of training off “Gitmo”, in Fireroom #1, a 5” tube (downcomer in superheater) pulled loose. The 600# PSI boilers were going flank speed and the superheater at 850 degrees of dry steam cost the lives of 13 men.

The #2 Fireroom was also feeding steam on the same line. Our crew in the #2 Fireroom closed the overhead hatches and stayed at our posts. Pugh BTG 1 broke out fire hoses and using the stream of water as a umbrella to shelter our men. When we abandoned the boiler room some time later, we escaped to the upper deck, taking care not to touch the hot railings, etc. Our crew received “Letters of Commendation” for staying at our posts.

On May 26, 1954, a repeat situation occurred, again around 6:30 a.m. I had been ordered to secure hatch to the boiler, which I did. Just as I slammed down the hatch and was ready to re-enter the boiler room, I felt the concussion from the Hydro Catapult as it blew up. Over 100 men died that day. After being down and out, I finally spent time loading men on bomb elevators up to the hanger deck. The ship was about 70 miles from Quanset Point, R.I. Three days later, I departed ship to another escort carrier #107 going to Boston, MA.

On July 22, 1954, my time was served, and I was discharged back to Active reserves. My anxiety was back and I was given 10% for Nervous Anxiety, now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 1993 I was given 30%, and I appealed in 1995, receiving 100% for PTSD. Some of the proof used in my last hearing came from Richard Pope’s booklet about the May 26, 1954 explosion and the certificate of commendation.

My naval time served was 4 ˝ years active USNR- from 1948 to 1952 when I requested Active Duty and proceeded to Brooklyn Naval Yard getting CVA-20 out of moth balls, serving two years, and 1 ˝ years sea duty on different Reserve ships.

I worked at Schlitz Brewery for 10 years, working with boilers and ammonia refrigeration. In 1981 Schlitz closed. 1982 to 1984 I was a correctional officer, taking care of 125# coal fed boilers that were fed under feed stokers. I worked for the Milwaukee VA Hospital in 1985 in Refrigeration. In 1985 I also was at Borden Dairy as an Engineer taking care of 2 Cleaver Boilers and the refrigeration. I had a heart attack in 1986 and went on disability.

I have one daughter, Lauren Rick. I am now in Little Chute, WI, on the Fox River, near Appleton, WI. In March of 2002, a third attempt to open my clogged arteries was aborted. Recently, I moved to Little Chute from Phoenix AZ to be near my daughter.

My hobby is reading and enjoying history.

It’s great to be back in Wisconsin and near my daughter- beats Phoenix AZ (Dodge City) – too much heat, traffic, and crime.

Robert J. Brock BTG.3
U.S.S. Bennington CVA 20
1952 to 1954


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