Gerald Farrier grew up in Batesville, Arkansas, and joined the U.S. Navy as a teen. He had risen steadily as an aviation boatswain’s mate and, at the age of 31, was a chief petty officer on the USS Forrestal (CV-59), in charge of Repair Eight, the highly-trained team of sailors who would respond to plane crashes, fires, or other emergencies on the carrier’s flight deck. He was responsible not only for multi-million-dollar aircraft but for the lives of his shipmates as well.
On 29 July 1967, just five days after her arrival on Yankee Station, the Forrestal was preparing for a strike against targets in North Vietnam. The deck was loaded with aircraft, fully fueled and armed. Strapped into an A-4 Skyhawk was a young lieutenant, John McCain—a future senator and presidential candidate.