CHENEY, Kan. (KSNW) — When you step into the home of Bruce Mooberry, you’re immediately surrounded by military memorabilia. From shiny medals to pristine pictures covering the walls, and from a vintage bottle of wine given at a veterans’ reunion to a Lego set of an aircraft carrier he and his grandson built, Mooberry’s home in and of itself is a tribute to all things veteran.
Mooberry himself has an extensive military family background: his father was a naval aviator during WWII and the Korean War, while his father-in-law served in the European Theatre during WWII. In 1967, Mooberry himself would find himself on a helicopter on his way to his first duty station after enlisting in the Navy.
“They flew me in on a helicopter over in Vietnam. It was out at sea, and they brought me onboard ship, and I was lost, as big as that ship was,” Mooberry said with a hearty laugh. “I drew probably one of the best duty stations you could draw: the USS Enterprise.”
With 6,000 sailors and roughly 50 aircraft resting atop her flight deck, the USS Enterprise was actually the eighth ship in U.S. Naval history to bear that name. During Vietnam, the ship sailed across the South China Sea. Mooberry says flight operations would last 24/7 while the ship lay in wait off the coast of North Vietnam.
“You couldn’t see land, but at night, if you went up on the O-12 level, you could see bombs flashing,” Mooberry said.
On the ship, Mooberry would serve as a pipefitter tending to a maze the size of four football fields.
“Mainly to keep the main drain system and the firefighting, fire/water system running, and to make sure the pumps were running,” Mooberry said.
On the morning of January 14, 1969, the USS Enterprise was conducting flight operations off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. At 8:18 a.m. that day, an exhaust from a machine used to start aircraft on deck blew right into a nearby rocket.
“I was just headed back to the chow line, about 7 o’clock in the morning, and then about 8 o’clock is when it hit,” Mooberry said. “The spider rockets overheated, and it blew up and shot a plane up front, and then, it was just kinda like dominos. They all started going off.”
Within seconds, Mooberry and the rest of the crew jumped into action.
“We saw a lot of smoke, you know, but I was down on the second deck, and the whole of O-3 level is where the fire started, what blew up, so that’s four decks above us, so, I just you know, smelled smoke, and saw a little bit of smoke,” Mooberry said. “Saw a lot of injured guys come through our, our place going to sick bay and hangar bay.”
The entire crew successfully put out the fire in four hours.
“It took all the personnel, all the personnel aboard the ship, to get that fire out,” Mooberry said. “Everyone, whether you were air wing, whether you were ship’s company, took us all to put the fire out.”
The explosion and resulting fire injured more than 300 sailors and killed 28 more.
“The ones that were killed were up on the flight deck, or the ones sleeping right below on the O-3 level when the bombs blew up,” Mooberry said. “It blew holes, you know, the size of a, oh, you couldn’t drive a car in ’em, but a big hole, two big holes, three big holes, I guess total in the flight deck.”
Mooberry served for four years on the ship.
Today, he’s a member of the USS Enterprise Association and is in charge of organizing yearly reunions to honor the more than a quarter of a million sailors who served aboard the longest-serving combat ship.
“I’ve been to 14 reunions,” Mooberry said. “We were the flagship when we were over in Vietnam, and to serve on a ship like that, is something that a lot of people, sailors dream about, but I was one of the lucky ones that got to do it. So, I was really fascinated with it.”
Mooberry would serve for 20 more years in the U.S. Army Reserves, received the Citizen Soldier Award twice, and would lead his firefighting team in the Reserves to a championship victory in the 1980s.
As for the USS Enterprise, the ship was decommissioned in 2017 and is currently docked in Chesapeake Bay.
A ninth and final USS Enterprise is expected to go into service in 2028.
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.