The above photos are both of the U.S.S. Stark (FFG-31). The photo on the left was taken on May 17, 1987- as she gave way a bit after absorbing two Exocet missiles fired from an Iraqi Mirage jet. The "accidental" strike from a pilot who later claimed he thought the Stark was an Iranian oil tanker took the lives of 37 young men. It remains to this day the last time an enemy projectile has hit a U.S. Navy ship. The photo on the right shows the Stark's crew manning the rails as she arrived back in Mayport, FL on August 5th.
I'll never forget 24 years ago today, for this was the day before I entered the Navy. On May 17th, 1987, I was spending my last day of freedom getting ready to head to the processing station. My recruiter, a good man that the Lord called home a few years back, drove me to Montgomery where I spent the night before the madness was to begin.
Gregg Allman's "I'm No Angel" was the last song I heard on the radio, "The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman" was the last TV show I watched (and now I can't imagine why). My world view was a bit different that last pre-Navy, pre-Stark attack day.
I went through processing and was on my way...here, ironically. There was a bit of news buzz about something, but I was worried about getting my head shaved- not "some ship thing". But it didn't take long to hit and sink in. A little bit of an artist, I was one of a couple of guys in C-137 chosen to paint our company's flag- the guidon we'd carry for the remainder of our training- and nothing deserved honor more than our 37 shipmates that lost their lives that day.
I was a bit proud of our flag creation, but prouder seeing the tribute to our fallen mates bouncing alongside Old Glory. Many used "Remember the Stark!" as motivation towards an end- that they, too, would one day serve on a Navy vessel in defense of our homeland. Not quite sure if "Remember the Stark!" is a good thing to use in motivating folks to do push-ups and jumping jacks- but if it works, it works.
My world view is a lot different today than it was in my basic training days as well- but I'm sure some things remain and hold true. Some things I've carried with me and will never forget- some good, some great, some crazy. The meaning of togetherness when 300-400 guys waited in breezeways for a fireworks display and broke into an impromptu version of The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling". The guy kicked out for saluting squirrels. The Stark, FFG-31.
"Americans today know the price of freedom in this uneasy world"- President Ronald Reagan, Jacksonville U.S.S. Stark (FFG-31) memorial service, May 22, 1987
May you rest in peace, shipmates- your watch is over. May God bless and keep the families of the Stark's fallen, may He bless those who lost their shipmates, and may He forever keep the memory of the Stark in my mind.