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Back to the Bennington

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Back to the Bennington: Tales in the Wake
  • by Richard A. Clark
    • Merriam Press Naval History
    • First eBook Edition 2020
    • 68 photos/illustrations/documents
This is the author's memoir of his service on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington, during a Mediterranean cruise, 1953-54. Includes much of the history of the ship during this period with additional information from crew mates and other sources.

  • Dedication
  • Preface
  • A Prelude to Action
    Fitting In—A Piece of the Apple—South, Then North—Savages on the Horizon—Quonset and Points Beyond
  • Winds of the Arctic
    Setting a Routine—Necessary Camaraderie—A Fateful Day
  • Miracle to Remember
    Submarine Redfin, A Risky Rendezvous—Providential Intervention—Epilogue on Navy Log—Off Iceland, A Restless Sea—News from Afar
  • At Home in Every Port MissionCompleted
    No April in Portugal—Thoughts of Home—Seasoned, but Wary—Male Mail—The Surprise—Relieved and Westward—Last Words Voices of the Crew
    V-2 Division—Other Voices
    • Part One: The Med and Thirsty Tourists—Bored Aboard—Strait to Istanbul and the “Six Lads”—A Shattered Pipe Dream—A Hat in the Golden Horn
    • Part Two: Busy Benn—Aged in Athens …and “Ouzo Good!”—Back to Work—Forced Landing? —Morale Boosters—The Chaplains’ Challenge
    • Part Three: Chianti, Panini…e Ciao Time!—Along the Riviera—Time Off for Good Behavior?—Horsin’ Around the Riviera—Flawed French and Survival Language—Ashore in Marseilles! Le Moment de Vérité
    • Part Four: Dying to See Naples—Work Before Play—Calm in Korea? — La Spezia, Porthole to the Past—Good (and Bad) Will Toward Men—Those Lazy Days of Winter—Brawl in the Boat
    • Part Five: Monday, it must be France—C’est Si Bon—A Reason to Shiver—Sailors on the Slopes—Working Toward Barcelona—Stain in Spain—Old Navy—Mariners’ Code and Behavior—Fun on No Funds—Seasoning at Sea
  • Role of Carriers; Infrastructure Supporting Carrier Deployment
    Launch—Catapult—Barricade—Arresting Wire Systems—Landing Guidance
  • USS Bennington Historical Notes
    Born of War—Mothballs and Middies—A Grim Day at Sea—Still Not a Has-Benn—Silhouette on the Horizon
  • Appendix A: Epilogue—The Savage Incident Remembered
  • Appendix B: The USS Bennington Association, Inc.
  • Appendix C: General Sources
  • Appendix D: Acknowledgments
  • Appendix E: The USS Bennington in Film
Review by Dan Barnett, Chico Enterprise-Record, Chico, California, 15 January 2012: "I approached the gangway of the slumbering attack carrier, adjusted my cumbersome olive-drab sea bag, and trudged upward to salute the colors." Richard Clark, who had just turned 21, was now aboard CVA-20, the U.S.S. Bennington. It was June 17, 1953 at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn. Clark's two year stint would turn into quite a ride.

Quoting from his letters home as well as historical sources and the official Big Benn newspaper, the Jet Blast, Clark presents a series of vignettes focused on the carrier's "Mediterranean cruise" in 1953-1954. "Back to the Bennington: Tales in the Wake" ($18.95 in paperback from Merriam Press) contains dozens of black and white photographs, many from the author. There are also reminiscences from other crew members and an overview of Bennington history.

Clark will talk about his service aboard the Bennington on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Butte County Public Library, 1820 Mitchell Ave. in Oroville. Also presenting is Ralph Clark, (no relation), the current national vice-president of the Bennington Association who also served on Big Benn (1962-1964). The public is invited.

Commissioned in 1944, the Bennington served in World War II, the Cold War and Vietnam (see and only in 1994 was sold for scrap. When Richard Clark joined the crew, the carrier was on its way to

the Arctic Circle to participate with NATO forces in "Operation Mariner" exercises. Then it was on to Europe for something of a goodwill tour. For the crew (Big Benn was designed for 3400) it meant only two words: "Shore leave."

Clark worked on the arresting gear crew, responsible for the cables that approaching jets had to hook onto in order to land. Sometimes pilots didn't even get a chance. "We lost a jet and a pilot yesterday," he wrote at the end of 1953. "For some reason the plane crashed while he was circling the carrier. They never did find him."

A boiler explosion took eleven lives months before Clark joined the Bennington, and soon after his tour with the carrier ended, early in 1954, a horrendous fire broke out below decks, killing 103. "It was one of the Navy's worst peacetime tragedies."

Those who gather to honor their ship will never forget.

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