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Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It Paperback – Bargain Price, July 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

In midsummer 1967, the United States aircraft carrier Forrestal, stationed off Vietnam, lost 134 men to fires and ensuing explosions after an errant missile from one of its own planes ruptured a fuel tank on a nearby jet. Gregory A. Freeman's Sailors to the End is a starkly illuminating account of the disaster which, like so many maritime tragedies, was perfectly preventable. Although a faulty detonation switch (similar to a surge suppressor) caused the rocket to fire, the crippling, deadly conflagrations were caused by exploding ordnance--"ancient ... thin-skinned" bombs of World War II vintage. The Navy never admitted its guilt in the matter, a point Freeman makes very clear. He has a knack for balancing instructive overviews with telling details (for example, each link in the ship's anchor chain weighed 360 pounds). Freeman does not shy from the grotesque detail, and many scenes, especially in the sick bay, are harrowing to read. The sad tale of the men of the Forrestal is a model of narrative clarity and honest reporting. --H. O'Billovich --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The tragic events that occurred on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in July 1967, while the ship's crew was preparing for an air strike against North Vietnam, ranks high with other naval disasters at sea. Told through personal narratives of 12 eyewitness sailors, the book shows how through a series of accidents misfire from a Phantom aircraft's Zuni rocket struck another aircraft on the flight deck, piloted by (later Senator) John McCain. The misfired rocket set off a series of explosions, some from 1000-pound vintage World War II bombs already loaded on jets on the flight deck. The ensuing series of cataclysmic events caused a bloody carnage and loss of 134 men. Freeman (Lay This Body Down) doesn't spare the gruesome details. McCain, a combat pilot and POW during the Vietnam War, was caught in the middle of exploding aircraft and walls of jet fuel fireballs. Sailors were trapped below decks or thrown overboard by each succeeding explosion as deadly shrapnel hissed across the deck. Despite the damage and loss of life, the aircraft carrier did not sink. This thorough, absorbing account is recommended for large public libraries and Vietnam War collections. Gerald Costa, Brooklyn P.L., NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060936908
  • ASIN: B000C4SPPQ
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,342,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory A. Freeman is an award-winning writer with more than 25 years experience in journalism and narrative nonfiction. Known for writing books that make a true story read like a gripping, fast paced novel, Freeman is quickly becoming one of the most respected and successful authors in the field of narrative nonfiction.

Freeman's books are scrupulously researched and entirely factual, yet they read more like novels because he weaves the "stranger than fiction" personal stories of his subjects into a compelling narrative. Each project requires intensive research - getting to know the subjects personally and probing for previously undisclosed documents. Freeman also explores the subject matter himself, whether that means flying onto the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea or gaining access to the most restricted parts of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison. But the most important parts of the books are the often intensely personal, emotional interviews with the men and women who were there. Their personal stories make up the heart of Freeman's work, the part that most connects with the reader.

In addition to his books, Freeman writes for a wide range of magazines and other publications, including Reader's Digest, Rolling Stone, American History, and World War II.

Freeman has won more than a dozen awards for his writing, including the coveted Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists - twice in five years. He attended the University of Georgia in Athens and began his writing career there, working for newspapers while studying journalism and political science.

After receiving his degree, he went on to work for The Associated Press in Atlanta and then spent several years as executive editor of a publishing company. He then became a freelance writer, editor, and author.

Known for writing narrative nonfiction that makes a true story read like a gripping, fast paced novel, Freeman's latest work is The Gathering Wind: Hurricane Sandy, the Sailing Ship Bounty, and a Courageous Rescue at Sea, released October 29, 2013, by New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Books. This book tells the story of the tall sailing Bounty, which was lost off the coast of North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Answering many of the questions prompted by that terrible loss, The Gathering Wind is a compelling drama about the crew, the Coast Guard rescuers, and the investigations that followed.

Freeman's earlier book The Last Mission of the Wham Bam Boys tells the story of a World War II bomber crew that is shot down over Germany and then lynched by local townspeople, leading to the first war crimes trial after the conflict ended. Kirkus Reviews called it "A chilling tale" and "a riveting narrative."

Freeman also published Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk in September 2009, also with Palgrave Macmillan. Troubled Water tells a little known story of a race riot on the carrier Kitty Hawk in 1972, focusing on the two senior officers who will determine whether this already tragic episode ends peacefully or spirals down into one of the darkest moments in Navy history. Just prior to that, Freeman co-authored a book with Col. Larry C. James, the U.S. Army psychologist who was sent to stop the abuse at the notorious military prison in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Evil at Abu Ghraib, released in August 2008, tells the harrowing tale of a man struggling to be both a military officer and a medical professional, while also revealing previously unknown details about the prison scandal and how the system was improved.

James Bradley, bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, and The Imperial Cruise praises Freeman as a talented author whose books provide an important service to the country. Bradley says of Freeman's latest, Troubled Water: "Gregory Freeman has dug out the true hidden story of the first mutiny in the history of the U.S. Navy. You'll enjoy this high-seas thriller."

Freeman won wide acclaim for The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, published in 2007 by New American Library. This popular book tells the fascinating but previously unknown story of Operation Halyard, a super secret and ultra risky rescue mission to save downed American airmen in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. Malcolm McConnell, #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of American Soldier, says of The Forgotten 500: "Freeman chronicles [the story] with a master's touch for detail. Although this book reads like a fast paced novel, it is based on scores of probing interviews and meticulous archival research." Gregg Olsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Deep Dark, says The Forgotten 500 is "a literary and journalistic achievement of the highest order, a book that illuminates, thrills and reminds us that heroes sometimes do live among us. It will take your breath away."

Before that, Freeman saw great success with Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It, originally published in July 2002 by William Morrow. In Sailors to the End, Freeman tells the story of the young men aboard an aircraft carrier in 1967, following their life-and-death struggles through an accidental fire that threatens to destroy the world's most powerful ship. Sailors to the End was enthusiastically embraced by the military community and general interest readers alike. One reviewer said, "The book grabs readers and leaves them emotionally exhausted. In particular, the description of the death of sailor James Blaskis in a remote and inaccessible part of the ship cannot leave a reader unmoved." A Kirkus Reviews writer called Sailors to the End "a compassionate account of a dramatic incident in modern naval history, told with cinematic immediacy and narrative skill." Senator John McCain, who was injured in the fire, endorsed the book and called it "a riveting account" that honors the men who died.

In Lay This Body Down: The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves, Freeman paints a vivid picture of a plantation run with slave labor 56 years after the Civil War. Melissa Fay Greene, author of The Temple Bombing and Praying for Sheetrock, called Lay This Body Down a "magnificently well-written book." Library Journal's Robert C. Jones wrote that "this moving narrative account is arguably the most complete history of this event available."

See the author's web site at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
When the USS _Forrestal_ was put into service in 1955, she was the biggest aircraft carrier in the world, able to carry twice as much fuel and weapons as the carriers that had preceded her, and the first one designed specifically for launching jet aircraft. When reassigned in 1967 to join ships already supporting the war in Vietnam, she had never seen a day of combat. Captain John Beling had assumed command of the ship the year before, an assignment that was the pinnacle for any naval aviator. For four days the _Forrestal_ joined in adding to the bombing missions over Vietnam. And then a horrible accident happened, which is now getting its first sufficient book length description. _Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It_ (William Morrow) by Gregory A. Freeman, a clear, three-part account of a disastrous fire at sea: what preceded it, the fire itself, and the aftermath. It is a dramatic and riveting account which at some points may have you in tears.
Freeman carefully explains how safety measures were overridden, causing a rocket from one on-deck fighter to be fired into another. More importantly, he shows how the Navy was using long-outdated bombs left over from before WWII in order to make it seem as if the administration had enough bombs to fight the Vietnam War. Not only were the bombs outdated, but they became touchy and more unsafe as the years passed. Beling knew of the problem, and insisted that he needed better bombs; but he had a job to do, and the old ones were the only ones he was going to get to do it. Newer bombs could stand a lot of heat, and the old ones could not. Much sooner than anyone expected, one of the bombs blew up, a thousand pounds of explosive impacting at zero range.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on August 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The tragic fire aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Forrestal, which claimed the lives of 134 U.S. servicemen and horribly wounded many more, was very much overshadowed by The Vietnam War, which the ship was then fighting. At a time when there were more casualties each week in the ground war and America's cities were erupting into racial and anti-war violence, the disaster quickly faded from the news. Now, author Gergory A Freeman has done a terrific service to both the victims and survivors with his fair, well-balanced and highly readable account.
Give Freeman credit right off the bat for not attempting to cash in on the celebrity interest potential of then-navy pilot John McCain's narrow escape by unjustly playing up McCain's involvement. In Freeman's story, McCain is just one more survivor, and one who made it out with only minor injuries. The real story is one of a preventable trajedy, and Freeman does not shy away from the laying the blame for the disaster where it belongs, on the political leadership of the time and on the navy bureaucracy.
Freeman's account of the fire itself and resulting ordinance explosions as seen through the eyes of the survivors is absolute riveting. He strikes just the right tone, relaying the horrible events without sensationalizing them. The book's title come from a particularly poignant moment in which three trapped sailors uncomplainingly performed a final vital duty for their shipmates even as they knew they were about to die. Theirs is just one of the many incredible stories that Freeman has unearthed.
Overall, "Sailors to the End" is an expertly written work of military history that should appeal to both military buffs as well as to general readers.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By C. Ryan on July 12, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This narrative recounts the causes and consequences of the disastrous flight deck fire that engulfed USS Forrestal (then-CVA 58) in the Tonkin Gulf at the end of July 1967. When the smoke cleared 134 sailors were killed - often in the most agonizing manner imaginable - and more than 100 more were seriously burned or otherwise injured. The explanation of the how the fire started (technically from equipment failure, but the failure would never have occurred if plane handling crews had not deviated from safety regulations) and got out of control (obsolete ordnance exploded on the flight deck in less than one-and-a-half minutes, before the initial fire could be contained). To me that is the best part of the book.

The tales of the fire from the perspective of several young "citizen sailors" and the carriers experienced CO and wizened Engineering/Damage Control officer offer a heart wrenching view of the conditions faced by those fighting the inferno. Although some of the sailors exhibit "attitude problems" (as did I as a citizen sailor in the same era) they fight bravely with inadequate equipment and (according to the author) little fire line leadership (Freeman says lots of the equipment and the best trained firefighters were lost in the explosions at the beginning of the fire). The courage, tenacity and eventual success of the citizen sailors in saving the ship belies the snide, condescending remarks Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recently made comparing the U.S.'s current military to supposedly inferior draft-era servicemen (the sailors, while not draftees per se were also not, by 2003 standards, "professionals").
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