A quick farewell to the USS Forrestal, after its symbolic link to the Brazilian military coup and a part of John McCain's eventful biography.
SAO PAULO — The singular symbol of the United States' support of the 1964 coup in Brazil, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59), is about to be scrapped. In October, the U.S. Navy paid $0.01 to the company All Star Metals to dismantle it, an operation that will take 18 months.
The Forrestal was the biggest "supercarrier" in the world, and the first to support jet aircraft, when it was christened in 1954. Ten years later, on March 31, it still owned that title when it was sent to support the military upheaval against Brazilian President João Goulart, which wound up installing 21 years of military rule.
This month, it will be towed from Philadelphia to Brownsville, Texas, where 150 workers will transform the 325-meter-long ship into scrap metal for recycling.
The carrier had been already decommissioned in 1993. The Navy was prepared to donate it so it could be transformed into a museum, but nobody showed any interest. In 2003, the Forrestal, named after former Secretary of the Navy and the first U.S. Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, was removed from donation hold and designated to be sent to the junkyard. Only last year did the Navy secure an agreement.
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Fire aboard the USS Forrestal on July 29, 1967 off Vietnam — Photo: PH2 Mason, USN
A McCain link
According to the company that will take care of scrapping it, the price tag of $0.01 corresponds to the estimated proceeds that will be obtained from the sale of the recycled scrap metal.
With a capacity of 3,500 crew members, the Forrestal was part of the fleet sent to Brazil in 1964 — which included six destroyers, one helicopter carrier and four oil tankers. The operation was called "Brother Sam."
In his book The Shamed Dictatorship, Elio Gaspari explains that the fleet, approved by American President Lyndon Johnson, was headed towards Santos, a town in the region of São Paulo: "The American government was ready to intervene openly in the Brazilian crisis in case a civil war had broken out."
As João Goulart resigned promptly — almost without opposing any resistance — the fleet turned back before reaching Brazilian waters. The U.S."s involvement was not revealed until the 1970s by journalist Marcos Sá Corrêa, after he found documents on the issue in President Johnson's library.
In the United States however, USS Forrestal is more famous for a fire that killed 134 men in 1967 in Vietnam. One of the survivors was none other than future U.S. Senator and presidential candidate John McCain.
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40th memorial anniversary of the USS Forrestal fire in 2007 — Photo: U.S. Navy/David Danals