Here are home movies taken during the 1966
WestPac cruise aboard the USS Oriskany by Scott Duennes. He was an ADJ-2
attached to Helicopter Sq. HC-1.
recall the first time I was assigned to the flight deck as the ship took
up Dixie Station off South Vietnam for landing a chopper at NIGHT. No
moon, pitch black ...thank God the old salt leading the way, PO 1st
Class, Jack Conklin,...telling
me to grab on to the back of his belt and go where he goes..and suddenly
the chopper is right over our heads and we are using the wands to guide
his landing. Never got used to night ops on the flight deck!"
|Scott's story continues:
"My memories of October 26,1966 FIRE ON THE USS ORISKANY-"
"That morning I was on the flight deck just forward of #1 Elevator with two members of our deck crew preparing to launch Helo 51.....call sign Angel -51 that would be launched and assume Angel position off the Starboard side for the morning launch. The deck was loaded with planes that were loaded with bombs schedule for a morning launch with targets over North Vietnam. Wearing head and ear protection, I did not hear the explosion but saw thick white smoke pouring out of the forward starboard side well below the flight deck. I signaled the Helo pilot to hold position as I ran to the edge of the flight deck. "
"At first I couldn't see much because of the intense smoke....then the flames became visible and at the same time the AIR BOSS gave the command to shut down all aircraft and he continued to scream that command. I gave the signal to cut engines/power to our Helo but the pilot Lt. Commander Barck kept shaking his head..... Negative! Negative! And he gave me the signal to Pull Chocks......(away from the landing gear wheels). So caught in the middle between the Air Boss and my C.O. ......I signal the crew to pull chocks and get clear."
"Before I could give the green flag to launch, sailors and officers were emerging from the side of the ship and trying desperately to get up on the flight deck. I had to push and shove people to the deck so the helo could have a chance to launch especially as the ship was being turned out of the wind hoping to push the smoke Aft. The helo was able to launch. (found out later that the CO and pilot was thinking that they would be more of a help if they were in the air and ready to rescue anyone who ended up in the water. I think the number was 5 or 6 people picked up that morning......some chose to jump over the side rather than burn to death. I believe he dropped some folks off on the FDR or Constellation."
"I maintained my position on the flight deck as sailors dragged fire hoses across the deck and directed people escaping to the flight deck from both side of the forward section of the ship. I directed the landing of a helo from the"Connie" that flew in doctors, corpsmen and Chaplins from the other ships. Stretchers handled by 4 young men moved as fast as they could bring victims of the fire to a location passed the island."
"I had the thought that this was "SERIOUS SHIT"......but a ship this big certainly wouldn't sink! I'm sure I wasn't the only one. "
"About 4 hours after the fire started I made my way down to the hanger deck where our helicopters were parked and our Maintenance space was located on the port side of the hanger bay just aft of the #1 elevator. Everything was pretty much destroyed and both of our two remaining helos were melted down to a pile less than 2/3 feet high. They were shoved off the ship thru the open door on the port side just below the Angle Deck topside. "
"Everyone and everybody did what they could to start cleaning up the sections of the hanger bay. Bodies were still being carried thru the hanger bay to someplace aft. We started to get unconfirmed reports of who was missing. Hours later we heard that we lost 5 of our 8 helo pilots. No enlisted men."
"No one seemed to be able to absorb and react to the reality of that news. I just remember feeling guilty for not feeling anything. Numbness would be a good word. Traumatic Shock would be another. Two of the surviving pilots were in the helo we launch from the flight deck, the other was in a space which he was able to escape from. "
"I don't have much memory of our two day sail into Subic Bay......remember being on the flight deck watching the transfer of the deceased from the ship onto the pier of Cubi Pt. NAS into the back of a C-130 transport plane. To make matters worst for me......my older brother Terry Duennes, a navy photographer was on the dock......not knowing if I was in one of the body bags being lowered off the ship. I could see him but had no means to communicate with him as all the crew were to remain on board until the transfer of all the deceased was completed. We finally connected once I explained my situation to the OOD and I was granted permission to go ashore early."
"I don't recall much about the sail back home except for joining most of the ships crew on the flight deck for a memorial service for all that lost their lives in the Fire and especially a Burial At Sea Ceremony for Lt. Cmr. Omar Ford. Over the next 50 plus years....everytime I hear "TAPS" .....it takes me back to that day."
"It was nice to see a lot of people and even a small Navy band playing to welcome us home. I Reported back to NAS Ream Field, and booked a flight home to Cincinnati. I wanted to get home but I did not have the opportunity to attend any of the services for the men we lost. The lack of closure stayed with me for a very long time. It helped to finally visit the Vietnam Wall in D.C. back in the early 90's and I attended theReunion of he Crew and AirWing on 40th Anniv. of the Fire On The USS Oriskany in San Diego 2006. Mostly officers of the ship's company and a few Airedales such as myself. "
Scott's video is dedicated to the pilots of HC-1 that didn't make it home, 5 out of the 8 pilots of his squadron. They were:
Ensign James Kern
LT John Hammond
LTjg Josh Blakely
LT Jim Walsh
LT Charles Woodley