Donnie was a Plane Captain working the night shift aboard the USS Saratoga. We were close friends. We worked the same shift as Plane Captains of the A4D Skyhawk attached to VA 36. We slept in the same berthing area, we played polka in the same games. We hit the beach together. This was our last cruise as both of us would be discharged before the next cruise. Donnie is in my thoughts often and especially today as we honor veterans.
Donnie was killed on the flight deck one miserable night. It was late in the cruise, there was a storm close by. The sea was such that the Sara was bouncing more than usual. The flights are on a schedule, you launch a group and then immediately recover the previous launch. The fuel loads in the planes require precision. That night it was so dark that you could not see the outline of your hand against the night sky. My plane was in normal maintenance on the hangar deck. I would go up on the flight deck during recovery and help with the servicing of the recovered planes, and then return to the hangar deck to be with my plane if it needed to be moved. The last launch was running late. The deck was heaving more than usual. The returning planes were circling the ship, many in trouble with low fuel. The decision was made to scrap the launch and pull the planes forward to prepare to recover the planes aloft. Donnie was with his plane on the aft catapults. The Air Boss apparently gave permission to a plane from VF 31 to land. The plane came in and landed on the planes on the aft cats. I was standing in the hangar looking out at the sea when I saw a massive ball of flame and heard the crash. The ship immediately went to general quarters. My GQ station was my plane. A number of burning planes were pushed over the side into the sea. I was standing near the elevator when they brought Donnie down on the stretcher. I did not realize that he had already died, he looked so peaceful. Apparently the wheel of the landing plane hit him and he died instantly. Donnie died serving his country. There was not a declared war, we were just part of the normal show of force in the Mediterranean as part of the "chess" game played during the "Cold War". His name is not on any wall. Donnie, I think of you often, and especially today.
A board of inquiry was held and although the Air Boss tried to blame the enlisted radioman, the audio tapes proved he had given permission to the plane to land. He was relieved of his duties and left the ship soon after. Two other flight deck workers were killed that night.