Tuesday, May 19, 2009

USS Stark Shipmates Remembered at Mayport

Focus on Defense
News from Naval Station Mayport.

Focus on Defense:

MAYPORT, Fla., May 19, 2009 -- Naval Station Mayport hosted a held a ceremony May 17 to honor the loss of 37 Sailors killed aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Stark (FFG 31) 22 years ago.

On May 17, 1987, while on patrol in the Persian Gulf, senseless tragedy struck in the night when two Iraqi missiles slammed into the sides of Stark. Despite the severe damage inflicted, the heroic efforts of Stark's crew saved the ship by fighting the fire through the night and into the next day.

"I just got off watch in the auxiliary room and was watching the Clint Eastwood movie, "Hang 'Em High," said then-Engineman 2nd Class Mark Selk, who was aboard Stark. "Just when Clint Eastwood dropped from the gallows with a noose around his neck, I heard this tremendous bang and the ship rocked violently." Selk said that within seconds, fire and smoke engulfed the ship. "When I heard over the ship's 1MC, 'incoming port side,' I knew we didn't hit another ship and this was no accident. Our training kicked in."

Several of the ship's crew and former commanding officers were present to tell their stories. One recount was a story of forgiveness. Barbara Kiser, who lost her husband Senior Chief Steve Kiser, attends the ceremony every year, and clutched a small reminder that has big meaning for her.

"I went to Bahrain for a memorial they had for families on the ship's fantail several days after the incident," said Kiser. "We took a boat out to the ship and I went into the berthing area where he was killed and it was completely dark except for the beam of my flashlight."

There was nothing but ashes and twisted metal everywhere. With my free hand I felt in the dark around his bed and there underneath his burnt mattress and in the ashes was his Bible."

A wreath-laying ceremony, 37 strikes of a bell and a 21-gun salute honored the Sailors who lost their lives.

"Their valorous selfless sacrifice and courage in the face of adversity will never be forgotten," said guest speaker Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and Commander 4th Fleet. "Let's hope their courage is found in every generation to come."

Stark was decommissioned at Mayport in 1999. To preserve the tradition once the ship was retired, the Naval Order of the United States, North Florida Commandery, assumed sponsorship for the memorial service. Mayport's Memorial Park was established Aug. 1, 1987, with the dedication of the Stark monument.

(Report by By Bill Austin.)

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