PASCAGOULA, Miss. (NNS) -- On May 17, 1987, 37 sailors died and 21 were wounded when the USS Stark (FFG 31) was struck by two Iraqi missiles while on patrol in the Persian Gulf.
For Pete Christman, Supervisor of Shipbuilding (SUPSHIP) Gulf Coast production controller, the act of remembrance is much more personal.
Then a Radioman 2nd Class Petty Officer, Christman was with the ship on a six-month deployment during the Iran-Iraq War. As part of a seven-ship complement, he and his fellow sailors were charged with safeguarding the Persian Gulf’s merchant shipping with the Navy’s Middle East Force in Manama, Bahrain.
On the morning of the attack, the USS Stark was sailing through the Persian Gulf’s war-free zone during a two-day exercise. That evening, as the majority of the 222 sailors were asleep or relaxing, the worst happened just after 9 p.m.
The ship’s crew noted that an Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1 jet was passing much nearer to the ship than normal. Though the pilot was queried twice for identification, no response was received. Minutes later, the pilot released two Exocet air-to-ground missiles at what he believed to be an Iranian oil tanker.
The first missile struck the ship’s forward port side, just above the waterline. Though it did not detonate, it left a flaming path of rocket fuel and severed the firefighting water lines to the forward part of the ship. Only about 25 second later, the second missile followed an almost identical path and detonated, the fuel from the first missile feeding the flames.
Because of the quick action of the sailors onboard that fateful night, the ship did not sink and many lives were saved. With the assistance of firefighting crews from nearby sister ships, the crew battled the fire over the next 24 hours. After the flames were extinguished, USS Waddell (DDG 24) and USS Conynghamn (DDG 17) escorted USS Stark to the Manama port in Bahrain the next day.
“After the initial repairs needed to make the journey, I sailed back from Bahrain as one of the 100 crewmembers that volunteered to say onboard,” Christman said.
The ship was repaired at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula for 15 months.
“While the ship was here for repair, I met my future wife. Once the ship was repaired here at Ingalls, I sailed back to the homeport, finished my US Naval service, got married and came to work at SUPSHIP,” Christman said. I’ve been here at SUPSHIP for 31 years.”
After repairs, the USS Stark conducted missions for another eleven years before being decommissioned in 1999 and scrapped in 2006.
“Yes, they were heroes,” said President Ronald Reagan at a memorial held just days after the attack. In a further statement to the press, Reagan said “The hazards to our men and women in uniform in the defense of freedom can never be understated. The officers and crew of the U.S.S. Stark deserve our highest admiration and appreciation.”