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Mayport marks 30th anniversary of USS Stark strike

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A bell at Mayport's Memorial Park rang 37 times Wednesday, once for each sailor who died 30 years ago when two Iraqi missiles struck the guided missile frigate USS Stark.

Survivors, families and friends attended a somber ceremony to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"That's why I'm here today," USS Stark survivor Peter Weber said. "They were unselfish in what they did. Many of them saved lives before they gave up their own."

The Stark was in the middle of a six-month patrol in the Arabian Gulf when it was struck on May 17, 1987, by two Exocet missiles fired by Iraqi fighter jets.

"It was just a big loud bang. I didn't know what was going on. There was a lot of smoke and water, and then the fire started," survivor Richard Jacobs said.

"The smoke was so thick, you either jumped overboard or you put a wet towel over your face just to be able to breathe," Weber said. "For this situation, you couldn't go by the book. We basically threw it overboard and came up with our own ways of tackling the fires."

FROM THE VAULT: Channel 4 May 1987 special report
IMAGES: Service honors lives lost on the USS Stark

After the fire was out, the crew made temporary repairs to a 10-by-15-hole in the ship's port side to keep it from sinking. The ship was repaired at a Mississippi shipyard and returned to service, then decommissioned at Mayport in 1999.

"She was a good ship. She kept me alive," Weber said.

Naval Station Mayport holds ceremonies at the USS Stark Memorial every year to remember the fallen and help the survivors heal.