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Ceremony to commemorate lives lost on the USS Nimitz

By CJ HADDAD - | May 24, 2024

A Memorial Day tradition now in its fifth year, a special tribute to those that served on the USS Nimitz will take place at a Cape Coral museum dedicated to preserving history and assisting local veterans.

The Brotherhood of Heroes Military Museum & Library on Saturday will host an open-to-the-public event honoring those who perished on the ship as well as veterans who were on board the day the vessel saw a flight deck fire that took the lives of 14 sailors and injured 49.

The memorial takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with local dignitaries present and a ship bell to be rung for each of the 14 who perished.

Cape veteran and business owner Chris Cammarota is a major organizer of the event, and was aboard the USS Nimitz the day of incident 42 years ago.

“The ceremony is to pay tribute to the events on May 26, 1981, when an accident on board the U.S.S. Nimitz took the lives of 14 men,” Cammarota said. “One of the men that died, my best friend at the time, was Dennis Driscol from Birmingham, New Jersey.”

On that day in ’81, a Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler crashed on the flight deck of the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier named after World War II Pacific fleet commander Chester W. Nimitz. The crash, which occurred right off the coast of Jacksonville, and subsequent explosions and fire either destroyed or damaged 19 other aircrafts. The fire was fed by the steady flow of fuel from the punctured tank of a just-refueled aircraft. When the fire was believed to be out and orders were given to start the cleanup, a “sparrow” missile warhead detonated, killing two and injuring seven while rekindling the fire. It left a 12-inch by 24-inch wide by 3-inch-deep depression in the flight deck. Two other warheads detonated after the first explosion.

Driscol, one of the two dozen who died that day, was a member of his and others attendees’ division, Cammarota said.

“We were called ‘purple shirts’ and fueled everything,” Cammarota said. “He ended up being the first killed, because he didn’t know what hit him.”

Various U.S.S. Nimitz veterans will be in attendance to pay homage to their failed comrades. Cammarota will read each of the 14 names, while a veteran rings the ship’s bell.

One of the largest warships in the world, the “super carrier” U.S.S. Nimitz is a multi-mission, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and part of Carrier Strike Group Eleven.

There is a 12-foot replica of the ship and memorial to Driscol inside the museum, which will be open for tours following the ceremony.

Cammarota said Memorial Day isn’t quite about barbecues and cookouts, or discounts at stores.

“It’s for the men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “Without these people, we wouldn’t have a country. None of us would have the freedoms we enjoy every day.”

Cammarota said he enjoys having the youth come out and learn about the importance of history.

The Brotherhood Heroes Resource Center and Museum is at 4522 Del Prado Blvd. Parking is located behind the building. Refreshments will follow the ceremony.

For more information, visit www.thebrotherhoodofheroes.com.