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'You Hurt Inside for People You Don't Know' : Chaplains Hasten to Comfort Sailors' Families

May 19, 1987|Associated Press

MAYPORT NAVAL STATION, Fla. — Chaplains rushed to comfort families Monday at the home base of the Stark as word spread of the missile attack on the ship in the Persian Gulf that killed at least 28 sailors.

"Everybody feels like they've received an unexpected punch in the stomach," said Chaplain Bill Perry, who visited the families of several Stark crewmen overnight and talked to sailors at the base. "We hurt for them because they're part of the Navy community."

Perry and about 18 other chaplains at the base planned to visit throughout the day with some of the 85 families of the ship's crewmen in the Jacksonville area. He also urged families to meet with each other.

No Answers Yet

"Everybody is asking the questions we don't have the answers to yet," Perry said. "The right words to say would be, 'He's OK,' and you can't say that yet. . . . We're all growing impatient."

Monday night, the Defense Department released the names of five crew members killed in the attack on the Stark but others were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Perry, a chaplain for 18 years, said: "You hurt inside for people you don't know. You hurt for them. You hurt with them and you keep them in your prayers." He spoke at a news conference on this north Florida base on the Atlantic coast.

"That leaning shoulder-to-shoulder is really strong," he said, adding that about a dozen families held an all-night prayer vigil in the base chapel.

"The basic thrust of what we are looking at in Mayport is support of the families," agreed base commander Capt. John Mitchell. "We're encouraging the family members to get together with other family members of the crew."

Mitchell said a team of 10 doctors, psychologists and other professionals was flying to Mayport from Portsmouth, Va., to help families deal with the crisis.

A bright note surfaced Monday, however, when the wife of one Stark crewman gave birth to a healthy girl in Jacksonville, said a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, which sent a message with the news to the ship.

"There's always some hope, I think," said Sue Ferguson, director of service to military families and veterans at the Jacksonville Red Cross. She said another crewman's wife is also ready to deliver.

Relatives elsewhere also awaited details on the attack.

'A Long Night'

"It was just a long night. Just lying awake and not knowing. It's just a long wait and see," said Bob Quick of Fenton Township, Mich., near Flint. His 20-year-old son Kelly is an electronics technician aboard the Stark.

In Spotsylvania, Va., Nancy Bareford said she was relieved when she got a telephone call at her home at 1 a.m. Monday from the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, although she learned that her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lawrence N. Bareford, had been wounded. "The government doesn't notify you over the phone when your son is dead," she said.

She said she was told that her son was in satisfactory condition with burns but that she was unable to get any additional information on his injuries or where he is being hospitalized.

"It's a lot of confusion, I'm sure," she said. "But I'll be by the phone all day waiting."

Bareford said she spoke to her son last Monday on the phone.

"I never asked him if he was in any danger because there's no war," she said. "The United States is not at war. That's why I couldn't believe this."

In Lyndonville, Vt., Lucille Nelson, the mother of seaman Paul Robert Brown, said she learned of the bombing while watching television early Monday morning.

She was told when she called a toll-free information number that if she had not heard anything from military officials within an hour, her son probably was not harmed in the blast.

"I have a lot of faith," Nelson said. "It could be a lot worse. I am keeping a completely positive attitude."

In Hoopeston, Ill., Ron Longest, the father of Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Longest, said he has not had any word yet from the Navy. He noted that one of his 22-year-old son's duties was to fight fires aboard ship.

Can Only Pray

"I really don't know what to do right now, just pray that my son is OK. He's my only child; he's all that I've got. He just has to be all right."

Mayport is home to 35 ships, including the aircraft carriers Forrestal and Saratoga, which participated in the April, 1986, bombing of Libya. The naval station also has an air base, which is home to four helicopter squadrons manned by 40 crew members.

About 18,000 naval personnel work on the palm tree-lined base, which with Jacksonville Naval Air Station and Cecil Field Naval Air Station employ a total of 39,000 people.

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