USS Stark remembrance ceremony returns to Mayport for 1st time since pandemic

Tuesday, May 17, marks 35 years since Iraqi missiles killed 37 sailors

Tuesday, May 17, marks 35 years since two Iraqi missiles struck the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf, killing 37 sailors aboard. Naval Station Mayport held its annual remembrance ceremony to honor those who lost their lives that day.

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. – Tuesday, May 17, marks 35 years since two Iraqi missiles struck the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf, killing 37 sailors aboard. Naval Station Mayport held its annual remembrance ceremony to honor those who lost their lives that day.

Every year, the names of all 37 sailors are read aloud, followed by the chime of a bell -- a solemn reminder of their sacrifice.

On Tuesday, the survivors and sailors’ families returned to Mayport for the remembrance ceremony for the first time in two years. For the last couple of years, the ceremony was held in other locations because of the pandemic.

“Remembering our fallen brothers is very important to us,” said retired Navy Senior Chief Mark Wasnock.

Countless people were impacted by the attack 35 years ago -- their lives forever changed.

“It changed my life. I could be one of them,” said Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Malcolm Murray, who survived the attack.

Every survivor has a story.

“I also, too, wish I could take the place of one of them. I was in the berthing department with seconds left to get out. I sometimes feel I got cheated. It’s been 35 years, a lot of up and down,” said Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Pete Weber, who survived the attack.

Organizers said Tuesday’s ceremony had the biggest turnout. Among those to speak was Vernon Foster II. His father was killed in the attack when he was just 2 years old.

“He was a great man. He brought a lot of light to the world. He lifted the people that was around him -- his other shipmates, his friends, his family,” he said. “Having these men here, having his shipmates here, sharing their stories, sharing those experiences on what my dad meant to them -- it’s encouraging to me.”

While that day is one of tragedy, it is also one of incredible courage. The brave crew managed to save the ship.

“We brought it home. We brought it home,” Weber said. “And it got repaired and it went back again with a new crew who is just as much a part of our family as anybody else.”

Peter Wynkoop organized the event. He served aboard the USS Stark as commanding officer in the years after the attack.

“It makes me pleased that we did it. It means so much to the families that it’s worth doing. Remembering the crew, getting to know their families over the years, I feel like I almost know these guys,” Wynkoop said.

FROM THE VAULT: Press play below for our 1987 special on the USS Stark

The USS Stark was off the Saudi Arabian coast near the Iran-Iraq war exclusion boundary when it was hit by two Iraqi missiles. Only one detonated, but the other started a fire. The initial explosion and fire killed 29 sailors, including two lost at sea. Eight would later die from their injuries. Thanks to the crew’s heroic efforts that day, they saved the ship.

Iraq was considered an ally at the time of the attack. Saddam Hussein said the pilot involved mistook the USS Stark for an Iranian tanker -- and apologized for the event.

The USS Stark was attacked on a Sunday. At the end of that week, President Ronald Reagan delivered a nationally televised eulogy at Mayport honoring the 37 who died.

At last year’s ceremony, News4JAX met Gary Clinefelter, whose son Brian was killed in the attack.

“It still seems like yesterday,” Clinefelter said at the time. “Every morning I get up, I go through the same things. The loss.”

For Wynkoop, the service is also about teaching future generations.

“I think our children don’t know enough about their past, their history, and it’s good to show them both,” Wynkoop said. “And we brought high school kids, Junior ROTC units, to the service to witness what’s happened in recent history.”

With this year’s return to Mayport, Wynkoop said, in a way, it was like a reunion.

As a family, they take the time to heal together -- honoring their service and never forgetting their sacrifice.


About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.