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Mayport remembers sailors killed on USS Stark

37 crew members died when ship struck by Iraqi missiles in May 1987

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of family, friends and sailors gathered at Naval Station Mayport Tuesday morning for a remembrance of this day 29 years ago when 37 men lost their lives when two Iraqi missiles struck the USS Stark.

"There's a bunch of young men that should be here that aren't. That's why we're here: for them and their families," said James Pair, a former USS Stark crew member. "It's been an emotional roller coaster for me for a long time, and it's day-to-day."

Bernard Martin was a gunner's mate on the USS Stark while it was on patrol in the Arabian Gulf on May 17, 1987, when the missiles struck. Despite the severe damage, deaths and injuries, the ship’s crew saved the ship. 

Marin said he rotated off shift an hour before the ship was hit.

"Courage is the ability to push forward, even when scared to death," Martin said. "These guys exhibited courage, the best of self-sacrifice and the love for one another."

Martin said the man who took his place on the next shift, Daniel Homicki, was killed in the attack.

"I had tremendous survivor's guilt afterwards," Martin said.

He's not alone in working for healing amid guilt.

"As a chief, you always feel like it's your duty to take care of your crew members," said Larence Barrow, a retired chief petty officer. "When you lose so many men like that, you always harbor a guilt of 'What could I have done better? What could I have done different?"

During Tuesday's ceremony one of the wives of a fallen crew member donated a stern plate, one of the only pieces salvaged from the USS Stark. She wanted something to remember those 37 crew members who lost their lives."

"My husband was my everything. He was my king," said Earnestine Foster said of her husband, Senior Chief Petty Officer Vernon Foster. "He was a loving father and a provider and we miss him dearly."

Foster says it's been difficult for her and her family with five children, who were very young when her husband was killed.

"They don't know a whole lot about their father, no more than what I and other people have told them," Foster said. "His memories will always be in my heart."

The sailors said they will continue to keep alive the memories of the 37 crew members who died that fateful day and gather annually to honor these heroes.

The ship was decommissioned at Mayport in 1999. On Aug. 1, 1997, Naval Station Mayport established a memorial park and dedicated the USS Stark monument.