U.S.S. Forrestal, First U.S. Supercarrier, Sold For One Penny


The USS Forrestal, the first “supercarrier” in the U.S. fleet, launched in 1954 and one of the many assets used during the Vietnam War, has been sold for a penny some 20 years after being decommissioned:

The U.S. Navy turned over the 1,067-foot behemoth to a Texas company, All Star Metals, to be dismantled, scrapped and recycled, giving the firm the sum of one penny for its trouble, Navy officials announced. It’s an inauspicious fate for a ship with a colorful — and tragic — history. It’s perhaps best known for a 1967 incident in which stray voltage triggered an accidental explosion that struck a plane on the flight deck whose cockpit was occupied by a young John McCain. A chain reaction of blasts and fires ultimately killed 134 men and injured more than 300.

But its rich past and nearly four decades of service are not enough to spare it. The Navy tried to donate the historic ship for use as a memorial or a museum, but no “viable applications” were received.

“It’s something that the Navy is caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Ken Killmeyer, historian for the USS Forrestal Association and a survivor of the 1967 incident. “They have to have these vessels no matter how big or small they are, and they use them as you would your car until they’re no longer financially viable. So, they decommission them.”

The company plans to tow the aircraft carrier from its current location at the Navy’s inactive ship facility in Philadelphia to its facility in Brownsville, Texas. All Star Metals gets the proceeds and a penny but now must pay for moving and dismantling the ship, according to a Navy press release.

Named for James Forrestal, the former Navy secretary and the first U.S. Secretary of Defense, the carrier was lauded as the “biggest ship ever built” by Popular Science, which detailed it in its August 1954 issue. More than 16,000 engineers, draftsmen and builders worked on the ship, which took an estimated $217 million — nearly $2 billion in today’s dollars — to build. Readers were amazed to learn that the ship featured enough air-conditioning equipment to cool New York City’s Empire State Building two-and-a-half times over. It launched on Dec. 11, 1954.

“Her 3,500 crewmen will use nearly twice as much water as the eight big boilers that feed her main turbines,” Popular Science reported. “To supply both needs, her water tanks must store nearly 400,000 gallons.”

As noted, though, the ship is perhaps best remembered for the near disaster that occurred on is flight deck some 46 year ago:

The July 29, 1967, incident occurred while the ship was in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. Stray voltage triggered a rocket to launch from an F-4 Phantom on the flight deck, ultimately striking an armed A-4 Skyhawk piloted by then-Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III, who would later spend five years as a POW, serve in the U.S. Senate and run for president. A chain reaction of fires and explosions ensued, causing a day-long fire aboard the ship’s deck, which was packed with planes. In addition to the deaths and injuries, 21 aircraft were damaged. The incident prompted changes within the Navy to damage control and disaster response training, as most of the sailors who were trained as firefighters were reportedly killed during the initial blast, forcing the remaining crew to improvise its rescue efforts.

After seven months of repairs, the ship later returned to sea for more than two decades before ultimately being decommissioned in 1993. It was stationed in Newport, R.I., until 2010, when it was moved to Philadelphia’s Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, where more than 20 decommissioned naval vessels are reportedly being stored for possible foreign sale transfer, donation or artificial reefing.

Those who served on the Forrestal are disappointed that it couldn’t be turned into a museum but, in all honest, it’s simply not practical for that to happen with every decommissioned ship out there.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    I would have paid more than that. Could have been a hell of a house boat.

  2. SenyorDave says:

    @michael reynolds: You then would have had the enjoyment of watching some billionaire try to one-up-you by building a bigger houseboat.

  3. Liberal Capitalist says:


    I think it would have made a hell of a second amendment statement!

    And, I don’t think that many would disagree with your first amendment right to say anything damned well want!

    Of course… a ship like that, and your current hairstyle… you may have to change your name:

    Lex Luthor.


  4. john personna says:

    One penny plus a credible claim that they’ll follow safety and waste guidelines.

    The thing probably has literal tons of asbestos on board, etc.

  5. john personna says:

    BTW, you heard this one, right?

    After spending $297 million on an Iraq-era plan to develop a craft that could hover over an area as long as three weeks, the Pentagon quietly sold it for $301,000 to its maker.

    I bet Michael could have bought that one too … only guy on the block with a war-blimp.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I get the parade of rich-boy yachts right below me some days. Already had to watch Larry Ellison and his toy going by during the America’s Cup. Apparently for as little as two cents (plus a rather sizable fuel bill, I’m afraid) I could have blown them all out of the water and then parked the thing in Sausalito.

  7. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “I would have paid more than that. Could have been a hell of a house boat. ”

    Imagine the utilities…………………….

  8. merl says:

    I saw the USS Forestal fire film a few times in the Navy. You can see Crash McCain run away and then board the evac helo to a different ship.

  9. Ernieyeball says:

    I heard that JK Rowling is worth 1 Billion $$$$$ from writing books for kids! Can Reynolds be far behind?

  10. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As someone who grew up on a houseboat and served on 3 different carriers that is indeed intriguing!

    I figured we’d need probably 5 of these just to light the think up at night. As for propulsion two words.. tug boats. It’s not like I’m gonna water ski behind it right?

    But what to do with that gigantic flight deck? I’d say sod it all with grass and turn it into a campground.