I almost married four times, but got cold feet with the first three.  I married the fourth one and she later wished I had kept a perfect record.  That marriage produced a son who I am very proud of, and I would be hard pressed to write this letter without his help. While I’m giving statistics let me share a few more.  My father gave me advice three times that I remember, and although only one of those has any bearing on this letter, I am in a talking mood. The first was surprisingly astute.

         I graduated high school on my seventeenth birthday.  It was nice of the Brothers at St. Leonard’s to let me go through the ceremony even though I had failed two of my classes.  The empty diploma case they handed me was my payment for tormenting their teachers for four years.  It was a fair trade. St. Leonard’s didn’t offer night classes so I had to retake those courses at a public school, and unfortunately, I failed Spanish II again.  I decided to give up, but my father offered another solution which I thought incredible, but he convinced me to try.  I pleaded my case to someone in the school office and then offered him a case of his favorite booze for helping me.  Two weeks later I was a high school graduate and someone had a case of very expensive scotch.

I was once engaged to a girl whose name I would have surely forgotten by now if it didn’t happen to rhyme so well with “cherry vanilla.”  I was sure I had acted hastily and brought this to my father, after all, he had given me good advice in the past.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: I think I made a mistake.
Him: No you didn’t.
Me: I didn’t?
Him: Did you get married?
Me: No.
Him: Then you didn’t make a mistake.
Me: But, how do I get out of this?
Him: Before I married your mother, I almost married someone else. We took a train to Philadelphia (from New York), but when we got there I realized I had made a mistake.
Me: So, what did you do?
Him: I left her in Philadelphia.
Me: (Incredulously) So, your advice to me is to leave her in Philadelphia?
Him: Something like that.

Rockaway Beach         For those of you who know what happened after that, you now know the part I never told you.  And for those of you who don’t know what happened… she jumped in the ocean!  It’s true.  It was spring and the Atlantic at Rockaway Beach was cold and rough.  If it hadn’t been for my life guard training I don’t think we would have made it out that day.  I can remember walking back to my car soaking wet, freezing, with my lungs full of salt water thinking, “Maybe I should have left her in Philadelphia!”

         After (sort of) graduating from high school I spent the next two years working for my father in construction.  Once during that time when work was slow he told me to look for something else to bring in some money.  I couldn’t find anything so I took a job as a numbers runner, but then my father found work and I had a difficult time getting out of my commitment to the “Sopranos.”  I had trouble with them again and when things started to get ugly I decided it was time for a change of scenery, a different “war zone” if you will.

         I told my father I was going to join the Marines, which I had always planned on doing, but the war in Viet Nam was escalating and he convinced me to enlist in the Navy.  This was the third piece of advice from him, and although it was probably the right choice, I am sure there were times when he must have wondered if he had guided me in the right direction.

         I left Brooklyn on a train destined for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and eleven weeks of boot camp.  I did well on my entrance exams and was guaranteed a technical school.  My lifelong friend, Joe Stile, was in naval aviation and suggested I should also go that way.  The only aviation school open at that time was for Aviation Ordnanceman.  To tell the truth, like a guy who won’t ask directions, I chose it without even knowing what the word “ordnance” meant.  The next nine months were spent in Jacksonville, Florida learning about the weapons and weapon systems used on jet aircraft.  We learned about everything from the side arms the pilots carried to the bombs, rockets, missiles, and nuclear weapons they could deliver.

         I remember one of our instructors told us to look around, because at the end of our tour of duty at least one of us would be dead.  He was right.  Working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, even in peace time.

         After nearly one year of training I was assigned to VA-106, which was a squadron of A4 “Skyhawk” attack aircraft.  We were part of a group of squadrons that comprised Carrier Airwing 17, which was assigned to the aircraft carrier      USS Forrestal CVA-59.  We boarded the Forrestal at Norfolk, Virginia and set sail to join the Pacific Fleet.

         Instead of working with my squadron, I was assigned temporary duty working in the ship’s galley.  My chief sent me there and kept someone with less seniority to work with the ordnance night crew.  I protested to no avail.

         On the morning of July 29, 1967 we were on “Yankee Station,” that is to say, in North Tonkin Gulf flying bombing missions over North Viet Nam.  I was working nights in the galley and for some reason when we finished work that morning they decided to change our sleeping arrangements.  I had to trade bunks with someone I knew who was also from New York, but we were too tired to move our gear from locker to locker and decided to do it when we woke up.

         After I had been sleeping awhile the 1-MC (ship’s intercom) rang out, “Fire, fire, fire on the flight deck.  All hands on deck.”  And shortly after, “General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations,” and I slept through both.  A friend woke me, and as I hit the deck the first explosion occurred. It doesn’t sound like the movies.  On a steel ship when a 1,000 pound bomb explodes you feel it through your whole body.

         We were five decks below the flight deck, but the bombs blew holes through the two inch thick steel flight deck as wide as fifteen feet.  I heard someone at one end of the compartment saying, “Help me fight these fires.”  I saw the guy I had exchanged bunks with and his foot was bleeding badly.  He was saying, “Am I hit, am I hit,” and someone helped him get to sick bay as smoke started to fill the compartment.  I came through this and more without a scratch, but my squadron’s ordnance night crew was not so lucky.  They were sleeping just below the flight deck and all were lost.  134 men died that day onboard the USS Forrestal CVA-59.

         There is a reason why I am revealing all this after so many years, and it is not for me.  Frankly, I would be quite content to quietly spend my days doing woodwork in my shop.  There is a point to this letter which I will now come to, and it is for you I write, hoping if you have not already found what I have, that you will find it.

         “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.
I do not conceal your love and your truth
from the great assembly.”
Psalm 40: 10

         Like Job, we will not receive answers to why.  God is sovereign and doesn’t owe us any explanations.  I don’t know why I was sent to work in the galley and someone else took my place.  Or why I changed bunks just hours before the fire. Or why when someone walks away from a disaster and others don’t, they feel guilty for living.

         It is embarrassing that for so many years I never thanked God for saving me; saving me even when I was doing my best to thwart his plans for me. In case you never realized it, that’s what sin is.  It’s when we choose to do things our way and not God’s.  It’s that defiance, that desire to be our own god, just like the first man Adam, that causes so much pain in the world.
         I had never known peace until I broke and gave my life to the Lord.  What I gave up is not missed.  What I received is immeasurable, to walk with the Lord every day, and to know with certainty that I have been given the gift of eternal life.  That is the “Good News” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

         The other side of the coin is not pleasant to hear, but must also be told.  A gift cannot be worked for or it is no longer a gift.  If you refuse this free gift and rely on your own good life to enter heaven, your labor may be in vain.  God sent his Son to pay your sin debt, and to refuse the Son is to refuse the gift.  No matter how sincere or worthy someone’s efforts may be, if they reject God’s plan in favor of their own, they are in rebellion to God.

         I know people don’t like to hear this, especially in this age of relativism, where all truths are considered of equal value.  But what I have just said is not my truth, my opinion, or my interpretation of the Bible.  God has clearly spoken.  I hope you will consider the following Scriptures:

         “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
Galatians 5: 4

         “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'”
John 6: 28-29

         “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2: 8-9

         “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
1 John 5: 10-13

         If you have not already accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, we hope you will give yourself the best Christmas present of your life.




                    Bob Rani                                                                                              Mike & Sheri Rani

4 Responses to USS FORRESTAL, CVA-59

  1. Gary R Tester says:

    Thank you, Bob for being a good friend to my Father (AFCM Earl Tester USN Ret) & the Blessings he received from God. With your persistence in helping him to come back to Christ after the Fire. May God Bless you and your family for many years to come. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!! Gary T

  2. John E Carpenter says:

    Great work, Bob!!! Obviously, God sent his 2 angels (Mike&Sheri) to give you a helping hand—-and YOU were smart enough to let them!!! Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!!! JohnC.

    • borne2x says:

      John, I’m three years late, but finally getting the hang of this website. So, I apologize for the long delay in saying thank you for your kind words. Merry Christmas, past, present, and future.

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