Bob Foley

  • Place of Birth: Buffalo, NY
  • State of Residence: AZ
  • Years of Service: 1965-1971
  • Branch of Military: Navy
  • Rank: MM1, RM2
  • Wars Involved In: Vietnam
  • Please Specify: Cold War
  • Theater(s) of Operation: Tonkin Gulf

During Vietnam, I was stationed on the Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Enterprise and did Vietnam tours on it in ’68, ’69, and ’71.

I was engaged on the first tour, I was married and my wife was pregnant on the second, and my daughter was 1 1/2 when I left on the third.

Before I left on the second tour I had a premonition I would not come back home from that tour. When a combat ship prepares to go into a combat zone, which the Tonkin Gulf was, it had to pass an Operational Readiness Inspection, which means we went through a series of drills and combat operation simulations to demonstrate that we could operate safely in combat situations. About 13 minutes before a scheduled general quarters drill which was to include combat air operations with live ammunition, a young sailor, while starting an aircraft engine accidentally launched a heat seeking missile which was hanging on the wing of the plane he was starting because he let the exhaust of his huffer ( the cart used to start jet engines )aim its hot exhaust on the nose of the missile. The rocket shot across the flight deck and hit the plane across from it, exploding 500# bombs, napalm and missiles. It was a chain reaction igniting 2 squadrons of planes loaded with ordinance. Many of the air crews were killed including some pilots who were already in their planes and either burned to death in the plane or tried to eject and had the wind carry them by their parachutes right into the fire. I was eating breakfast getting ready for the general quarters drill when the whole ship shook, then the boatswain called away general quarters, saying this is not a drill!! I got up and headed for my general quarters station which was in #2 engine room , about 100 feet below water level. By the time I got to my engine room entrance, they were already bringing down wounded from the flight deck on the pilot’s elevator. There was already so much blood on the deck that as the captain put the ship into a tight turn so the smoke from the fires would blow away from the fire fighters, the blood splashed up against the bulkhead(wall ) making a big puddle. I had to walk through it to get to my duty station and I will never forget looking back and seeing my footprints in the blood of my shipmates. I had to pass through a series of water tight hatches to get to my duty station and as I passed through each and they were sealed behind me, I remembered my premonition and was convinced it was coming true and I would never come out of that engine room. Obviously I survived that conflagration, but there were almost 400 casualties.

Since I survived what I thought would kill me, I determined to do something with my life as a payback for the over 58,000 who didn’t survive Vietnam. I decided to become an educator and teach young people to be responsible since the whole accident was caused by the mistake of one young sailor. While I worked and especially now that I am retired, I do a lot of volunteer work to do my part to live a worthwhile life.

As a post script, after the fire, we put into Pearl Harbor for three months of repairs.  Then we were sent back to the Tonkin Gulf.  When we returned to the States in August, as we went under the Golden Gate bridge, the elation of being back home and having survived was amazing.  Some people on the bridge held signs welcoming us home.  Some dropped glass jars of urine and bags of feces on the flight deck where so many died.  WELCOME HOME!!!