In Memoriam: The USS Constellation Fire

Meredith Wisner 5 years, 9 months ago

Shipworker, December 23, 1960

51 Years ago today a forklift accident aboard the USS Constellation caused 502 gallons of fuel to spill and become ignited by welders working in her decks below. 50 men to lose their lives and at least 330 were injured.  The resulting fire was so intense that support was required from neighboring fire departments--who were already exhausted from the Park Slope plane crash that occured just three days earlier. It took 17 hours to put out the blaze.  The fire remains one of the most tragic events in Brooklyn history.

The heroism displayed on that day was second to none.  On December 23rd 1960, Commandant Schuyler Neilson Pyne published the following address in The Shipworker:

A Message From the Shipyard Commander

The Hope and Faith and Brotherhood of Christmas should be with us all year round.

The hearts of all of us go out this Christmas Day to those of our brothers who perished in action, like soldiers in the battle, in the CONSTELLATION conflagration just a few days ago. To their loved ones, our deepest most heartfelt sympathy in this hour of grief we all share.

Mingled with our sorrow at this time is a great pride – the team that is the New York Naval Shipyard has added another dimension to their attributes – a heroism, bold and efficient, selfless, humane – above and beyond the call of duty. 

Working with us, throughout the tragedy, displaying the highest type of esprit de corps – the New York City Fire Department, Police Department and Hospitals Department and other were living symbols of the Brotherhood of Americans who pitch in to help their neighbors in time of need.

To us as Americans, Christmas has special significance for it is we upon whom the mantle of leadership has fallen to help strengthen the moral fibre of the free world.

S.N. Pyne

The memorial Shipworker issue listed only 49 men as deceased or missing, however by contemporary accounts the loss of life was actually 50 (including each of the missing men).  Paul L. Bua was the 50th victim.  He passed at the hospital on December 29th as a result of the injuries he sustained during the fire.  

The list below restores each of the men's full names and reunites Bua with the rest of his fallen colleagues. Today we hope to honor the memory of each of these men.  Their names say so little about who they were and what their lives might have been, however, we hope it gives a sense of the diversity, character and perhaps even the camaraderie that made up the Yard at this time.  

Deceased (pictured from left to right): Ortello Bello (shop 64), Michael J. Rizzo (Shop 56), Harry Abramson (Shop 17), Harry Libman (Shop 71), Sidney Pernick (Shop 56), Markys Knutsen (Shop 64), Isador B. Rubenstein (Shop 11), Jack Sapienza (Shop 17), Irwin Freiwirth (Shop 56), Joseph S. DeSanctis (Shop 51), Paulino Monge (Shop 56), Alfred D. Whiteside (Shop 17), Alfred D. Dougherty (Shop 11), Francis G. Gigante (Shop 74), Santo J. Lando (Shop 11), Arthur E. Mackey (Shop 11), William Piovano (Shop 26), Santo Angello (Shop 11), Anthony Cacioppo (Shop 64), Lewin N. Costa (Shop 38), Catellus Scott (Shop 56), Bryan Kamatis (Shop 64), Charles W. Miller (Shop 11), Harry Lochowitz (Shop 51), Edward A. Maurus (Shop 38), Lawrence T. Nobel (Shop 64), Scippio W. White (Shop 26), R. Hamilton (Shop 51), Leo G. Damm (Shop 64), Thomas Petrizzo (Shop 56), Juan Santiago (Shop 71), Encarnation S. Sostre (Shop 64), James Giambrone (Shop 17), Jose L. Ortiz (Shop 64), Cosmo Tragni (Shop 51), and David Goldman (Shop 11). Deceased (listed as dead or missing): Anthony Gambaro (Shop 56), Robert A. Stanley (Shop 38), John L. Parente (Shop 17), Eugene H. Philcox (Shop 17), Antonio Milano (Shop 56), Florian C. Surdakowski (Shop 31), Gilbert Browne (Shop 17), Sidney Brennan (Shop 38), Harry J. Fitchett (Shop 72), John Churach (Shop 11), Alfred Forlizzi (Shop 11), Joseph Ventura (Shop 26), John Rossiter (Shop 72).  Deceased (not listed): Paul A. Bua* 

* List of names with corrected spellings taken from the USS Constellation Association website