is one sailors account of the tragedy that struck the
USS Basilone, and took from her seven of her finest.
This must not be taken as a factual account. No, I have
tried as best I can to gather as much factual
information on the explosion, its cause, the people
involved and the outcome as I could. I’ve researched
every possible avenue, without any results.
This leaves me no alternative but to post this in a
personal format, until such time as I can gather the
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that any
errors, falsehoods, omissions, or outright lies found to
be in this account, I take full responsibility for, and
apologize in advance for them. If
there is anyone out there with a better account or with
information you’d like added to this, please do not
hesitate to contact me, I will edit this to include any
and all submissions.
It’s a cold January in ’73.
The USS Basilone DD824 sits Pier side behind the
Destroyer Tender Puget Sound on Pier II. Having recently
returned from the World Cruise of ’72, the Basilone was
readying her self for some major Preventative
Maintenance. >From stem to stern, she was needing work.
BM’s & HT’s were repairing handrails and CO2 bottle
brackets and various other duties. The engineering
spaces were no better off, at this point all four
boilers were overdue for Fireside/Waterside maintenance.
This for you non-engineering rates, means tearing down
the boiler, inside and out and generally cleaning it,
repairing any damages found and putting it back
together. Along with this are all the pumps and
turbines, valves and gages and various other items that
need to be repaired. Usually this takes a good two to
three weeks of non-stop work.
This is with the full compliment of BT’s, at this time
we are several men short, and therefore have to make
longer shifts to get the work done on schedule. Lots of
us are ship bound, meaning our families are not in the
area so those of us who had families here were allowed
to break and go home, the rest of us stayed; some
worked, others slept. It was the 30th of
January, and we had ¾’s of number three boiler done, but
hardly any work done on four. Bravo 1 was slightly
better off than we were and lent us bodies to get number
three buttoned up and Hydro’d. It was a very stressful
time for us BT’s, our Captain had informed us that we
had a training mission and a Burial at Sea Ceremony up
coming and the work had better be done and the ship
ready for steaming by the 5th of Feb.
This shouldn’t have been an issue for us, since we were
nearing the end and finishing up, we thought – No
Problem! But the boiler had its own ideas…and a day and
a half later we couldn’t get the Hydro to hold. You see,
in order to be steam-able, a Modified “M” class boiler
had to be able to hold a design pressure of 615 PSI for
a specific amount of time, number three wasn’t even
close…so we had a problem! It was found that there was
dampness in the area of the hand hole plugs on the
super-heater mud leg, assuming that maybe a couple of
hand plugs were loose, we slugged them down and tried
again. Eventually replacing all the gaskets on all the
plugs. This went on for two days straight, we were
pushing the deadline and time was running out. We didn’t
believe we would make it, and this was a bitter pill for
us to swallow, seeing as how this would be a first, as
far as we knew, that the Basilone would not be able to
fulfill its duty.
The Engineering Officer, LT. Hatch went to inform
Commander Townley, who needless to say was not thrilled,
and made his dis-satisfaction known; furthermore he made
it clear that we would indeed fulfill our obligation,
and as you all know now, in true Basilone determination
and can do attitude, we did.
The Morning of February 5th, 1973 turned out
to be a sunny one, though cold and breezy it was a
beautiful day to get underway. Fires were lit in numbers
1 and 3 boilers at 0600. In Bravo three, our moods were
to say the least, apprehensive, and though no one said
anything the general feeling was one like that of an
expectant father…if you know what that’s like then you
know how we felt.
As the day progressed we all started to feel a little
better and carried on with a standard Saturday watch
duty section. The Senior First Class BT1 Hearrold, made
a swap in watches, he preferred the 4-8, but had the
8-12 so he changed with BT2 Clark, and also swapped out
the Burner man and Check man…which were Mike Zajackowski
(Satch) and Jim Raun instead of myself and Ron Lee, we
were the light off crew. So in a way we got screwed on a
6 hr watch, but it turned out to be a blessing… All day
we steamed that boiler, and at about 1530 we got the
call to light fires in the super-heater and bring it up
to 800 deg. and bring it on line, after the burial
ceremony we were going to go play shoot’em up with other
ships in the area.
This was a non-essential mission and I have to say we
could have bowed out on this, and in my opinion, had we
done so the tragedy might never have happened.
At 1600 or shortly thereafter the 4-8 watch took over
and the 12-4 went for chow…the Ceremony took place and
we were on our way to rendezvous with the other ships.
After finishing chow, I went to compartment to grab some
smokes or something…anyway I wasn’t there long and all
of a sudden the ship shuddered and the lights went
out…within seconds the GQ claxon sounded and we started
heading out to our stations. It couldn’t have been more
than 10 or 15 seconds, we tried to make way up the main
passageway but the steam was already at the aft heads,
which were only around a bulkhead from B&M div.
Compartment. So we headed out the starboard side an
forward toward the outboard hatch’s to our duty
Thing’s get a little fuzzy from here on – I don’t trust
my memory to be exact on the events that occurred from
this point – so I’ll give you what I do remember.
There were four bodies laying outside the B3 hatch,
people were already there and I think I was yelling for
someone to get blankets for the guy’s – they’re skin was
peeling – and it was like 30 degrees or less with the
wind…it didn’t seem very long until Sam Jackson and I
went down the outboard hatch and started securing main
steam stops, fuel oil and feed water valves…BTC Swoyer,
was below having been in the vicinity when the explosion
occurred, I believe he had been in the oil lab…his hands
were beet red and blistering…Someone was telling him to
get to sick bay – but he initially wasn’t having any of
it, finally he relented and left.
I can’t remember exactly who was there…I’m sure that
anyone that was supposed to be there was there, no
doubt…anyway Sam heard yelling above the in-board hatch
and we went up to see what was up, people were trying to
get the door to the gun-shack open – it was either
locked or jammed, once we got it open, we found FTG2
Kelley – FTGSN Thimmer and FTGSA Rogers laying on the
floor…they were beyond any help. The Gun Shack sat
directly above the No.4 boiler, so the steam and heat
made that space a virtual steam oven.
Use whatever imagination you have and you still won’t
come close to what these guy’s looked like…May God Bless
Once we made our way back to Newport, under her own
power I might add, thing’s went sort of screwy – and for
a while we just cleaned up ship-shaped whatever we
could…we were told not to mess with anything until the
BAT from Boston Naval Ship Yard could investigate, so
then we went to Quincy, to the yards…
The Results of the investigations, as far as I remember
was three 2” super heater tube’s had been porous and
thought to have been leaking into the super-heater
firebox, once the super-heater reached 700 degrees. It
was believed that the weak tubes ruptured and the water
flashed to steam causing the boiler to blow out the
super-heater casing – which cause the Steam drum to
dump, sending water and steam out these tubes at a high
velocity. (again, this account is what I can remember,
it may not be entirely correct)
This is as much as I can recall, like I said before, if
there are any of you that have more information or a
different remembrance of events, please let me know.
For BT1 HEARROLD, BTFN RAUN, BTFN ZAJAZCKOWSKI, BTFN
HARDIN, FTG2 KELLEY, FTGSN THIMMER and FTGSA ROGERS.
Tell “Manila” John B when you see him, who you are and
that you're Basilone Sailors