Jacksonville Remembers Iraqi Attack On 'Mayport Ship' That Killed 37 Sailors

May 18, 2017

Survivors of the Iraqi missile attack on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf arrive for the memorial service at Mayport Naval Station on the 30th Anniversary of the deadly engagement.
Credit Cyd Hoskinson / WJCT Public Broadcasting

Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville hosted a ceremony Wednesday marking the 30th anniversary of the attack on the USS Stark that killed 37 sailors.

Mayport's commanding officer Captain David Yoder welcomed a large crowd to Memorial Park, which was created shortly after the attack.

“Stark was a Mayport ship and we will forever be the caretakers of their legacy,” he said. “We will forever hold the honor of remembering the sailors who died, the sailors who saved that ship and the families who hold their memories so close to their hearts.”

The USS Stark was patrolling the Persian Gulf when it was hit by two missiles fired by an Iraqi jet. Richard Jacobs was a Navy data systems technician third class aboard the Stark when the missiles struck.  

“You know when it first happened, I didn’t know because it was just like a big, loud bang," he said. "Did we run aground? Did we hit another ship? Because there was a lot of smoke and water but that was about it. And when the second one hit, I was on deck above where that one hit, and that’s when all the fires started.”

Jacobs was one of the lucky ones.

“In my division alone,” he said, “we had 13 guys and we lost six out of 13 because they were in the berthing. I was one of the few who got out of the common systems berthing alive.”

Navy officials later said no ship as badly damaged as the USS Stark had ever remained afloat.

After a review of the attack and its aftermath, the Navy made a number of changes in ship design as well as firefighting and damage control equipment and protocols to improve the survivability of both crews and vessels.

Mayport holds a service every year to honor the crew of the USS Stark, which was decommissioned in 1999.

Contact reporter Cyd Hoskinson at choskinson@wjct.org, 904-358-6351 and on Twitter @cydwjctnews