John McCain wasn’t to blame for a deadly 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier — but that smear has been circulating at least since McCain ran for president in 2008.
The smear resurfaced on the tragedy’s 50th anniversary in 2017, and again after McCain’s August 2018 death from from brain cancer.
It’s not clear where the John McCain-USS Forrestal rumor started, but it’s been widely circulated in forwarded emails and disinformation blogs. The gist of these emails is that McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years during the Vietnam War, was a “hotshot” pilot who crashed planes and sparked a blaze, all because he was showing off.
In 2015, shortly after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said that John McCain was not a hero, the idea that McCain was responsible for the USS Forrestal fire was advanced by LewRockwell.com under the headline, “Trump is Correct, John McCain is NOT A Hero.” The post’s author claims that McCain accidentally started the deadly fire by doing a “wet start” of his plane’s engine, and that the Navy subsequently covered it up:
When a pilot wants to be a wise ass or show off, this type of engine start creates a large startling flame and lots of surprise noise from the rear of a jet engine on start up–this was no accident. This and the large subsequent electrical surge and apparent (incorrect and against policy) weapon arming (by the pilot) caused the launching of a powerful Zuni rocket across the carrier’s deck hitting other parked planes (photo below) that were packing 1,000 high-explosive pound bombs. The subsequent massive explosions, fire and destruction went several decks below and nearly sunk this major 82,000 ton U.S. aircraft carrier.
This post and earlier forwarded emails do not even attempt to provide proof that might back any of these assertions. They simply advance a narrative that runs contrary to all available accounts. An official report on the USS Forrestal fire filed in 1969 concluded that it was caused by an Mk-32 “Zuni” rocket misfire. The rocket, which was attached to an F-4B Phantom II, launched after “sufficient electrical current” was supplied from an external power source. The rocket hit a nearby plane, triggering a series of explosions and fire that eventually destroyed the air carrier and killed many sailors who had been trapped on board.
An excerpt from a 1969 report outlined the sequence of events that led to the USS Forrestal fire.
John McCain narrowly escaped from the fire and wrote about the experience in his book “Faith of My Fathers.” He also told the Arizona Republic in 2007 that the disaster was one of the biggest events of his life, saying:
To be honest with you, the Forrestal fire seems to be a more impactful date I remember more than that of when I was shot down.
Given that there’s nothing in the way of proof or hard evidence to contradict the official version of events that led to the USS Forrestal fire that killed 134 sailors and plenty of evidence supporting it, we’re calling claims that McCain was to blame Fiction.