January 22, 1945 (Norwalk, CT) – July 29, 1967; 22 years old
Last local address: 8 France Street, Norwalk
Enlisted on September 6, 1963; Aviation Structural Mechanic (Safety Equipment)
Tour Start Date: July 25, 1967 (killed 4 days later)
Service number: 7722825
7TH FLEET, USS FORRESTAL (CV-59), CVW-17, SQUADRON VF-74
Casualty Location: Aboard the USS Forrestal
In July 1967, Forrestal departed Norfolk for duty in waters off Vietnam. Forrestal arrived on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin on 25 July and immediately began combat operations. The first four days were routine; the fifth day, 29 July, was not. In the Gulf of Tonkin on 29 July, Forrestal had been launching aircraft from her flight deck. For four days, the planes of Attack Carrier Air Wing 17 flew about 150 missions against targets in North Vietnam from the ship. On 29 July 1967, during preparation for another strike, a Zuni rocket misfired, knocking off an external tank on another aircraft. Fuel from the leaking tank caught fire, creating a serious conflagration that burned for hours, killing 134, injuring 161, destroying 21 aircraft and costing the Navy $72 million.
From The Norwalk Hour August 3, 1967
A FATHER WAITS FOR WORD OF HIS SON
His father sits at the kitchen table His hands hold a crumpled letter written on U.S. Navy stationary. His red and swollen eyes stare into middle distance. Across the table from him sits a priest. A wall telephone rings and the man leaps up, jarring the gable. There is a brief period of silence and then he speaks. “No, no news yet,” he says. “Thank you for calling.” He hangs up the phone and returns to the table. “One of Mario’s friends,” he says. He seems to be speaking to no one. Silence once again setting over the room. The man is Mario Charles Crugnola of 8 France Street and he is waiting to find out if his only son, Mario Jr. is alive or dead. Mario Jr., an Aviation Structural Mechanic Second Class in the U.S. Navy, is among some seven sailors reported missing as a result of an explosion and fire that ripped apart the supercarrier USS Forrestal, off the coast of Vietnam on Saturday. Three other area families have been through Mr. Crugnola’s ordeal. Navymen David W. Robins, husband of Mrs. Barbara Smith Robinson of 20 Elmwood Avenue, and Stephen M. Lynch Jr., nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Keneally of 4 Barry Lane, Westport, were able to contact their families early today after the carrier limped into Subic Bay in the Philippines for extensive repairs. Lynch said he was unhurt in the disaster, the worst for the Navy since World War II, but Robinson reported shrapnel wounds in both arms. Another area sailor, William Reed, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot Reed of Knollwood Road, Ridgefield, a hospital corpsman is also reported as safe it was learned this morning. But Mr. Crugnola still has received no official word on his son. There is a phrase used in the Navy to describe men whose tours of duty are almost completed. They are “short-timers.” The term brings Mario to mind. On the day of the fire Mario had “36 days and a wake up” to go. But there is real confusion about Mario’s location on the morning of the disaster. “You know, I was almost ready to throw this letter away two weeks ago,” said Mr. Crugnola this morning, clutching a letter written by his son in the first part of July. “Now it’s all I have to hang on to.” The letter, sent home from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when the Forrestal was in port there, says Mario expected to be separated from the ship in the Philippines before reaching Vietnam. He was a “short-timer” and was expecting transfer back to the U.S. for separation from the service. He listed transfer date off the ship as July 17, 12 days before the explosion and fire which claimed 129 lives. At present, the Navy is unable to account for the sailor. If he had been on the ship when the fire broke out, he would probably have been working in the ship’s metal shop near the hangar deck where the fire raged uncontrolled for hours. On Monday a Navy chaplain from the Third Naval District Headquarters in New York City visited the Crugnola home at 8 France Street to console the sailor’s father. (Mrs. Crugnola passed away in 1966). He was a greeted by a slight figure, past middle age, holding onto the vital letter as if it was the last thing of real value in the universe. The chaplain learned of the contents of the letter and Mario’s expectation of being transferred off the ship before reaching Vietnam. This morning his name was removed from the list of dead and placed under the category of those still missing. But hope is fading fast for this short-timer who planned to return to Norwalk and take a job in which he could utilize the training he received in the three aviation specialist schools he attended. Mario has not contacted home, as his friends would have expected him to do, and with each passing hour, the chance of his being off the ship when the fire occurred diminishes. Mario was born and grew up in Norwalk. He attended local schools, played baseball in the Brien McMahon Babe Ruth League, and attended the J.M. Wright Technical School in Stamford where he studied carpentry. Enlisting in the Navy in 1963, he expected to be home from the Pacific on September 5. His last, and fateful, letter home told of a weekend liberty period in Rio de Janeiro. He was passing along a road outside the city when he met a girl and her father stopped on the roadside with a broken car. He stopped, talked to the two for a couple of hours, fixed the car, and exchanged addresses with the girl. He promised to write to her shortly. A mass for the safety of the sailor will be celebrated Friday at 7:30 a.m.in St. Phillip’s Chapel.
From The Norwalk Hour August 7, 1967
VIGIL IS OVER; FATHER LEARNS NAVYMAN DEAD
A seven-day ordeal of waiting ended Sunday morning for Mario Charles Crugnola of 8 France Street when he learned that his son, Mario Jr., a U.S. Navy aviation structural mechanic, was killed in the explosion and fire that ripped across the flight deck of the supercarrier USS Forrestal on July 20, killing 132 sailors. The 22-year-old sailor becomes the eighth resident of the city to be killed as a direct result of the conflict in Vietnam, and the fifth victim this year. He is the first Navyman from Norwalk lost. For a full week, Navy Department officials searched to locate the seaman after Mr. Crugnola had informed them that his son had expected to be transferred to the Philippines a week before the disaster occurred. In the first hours following the disaster, Mario Jr., a second-class Petty Officer normally assigned to work on the hangar deck of the carrier, was reported killed in the fire, but when news reached Mr. Crugnola in Norwalk, he informed the Navy chaplain in New York City that he did not believe his son was even aboard the ship when the fire broke out. Mario’s name was then placed on the list of sailors missing in the disaster and Navy Department official spent the following week tracing transfers from the ship to the Philippines. Meanwhile Mr. Crugnola waited at home for the news. The news came Sunday morning when the Navy chaplain telephoned Mr. Crugnola to inform him that his son was definitely aboard the ship when the fire occurred. Although the sailor’s body has not been located, he has been officially listed as killed in the fire. Plans for memorial services for Mario, a life-long resident of Norwalk and a graduate of the J.M. Wright Technical School in Stamford, will be announced shortly.
From the Norwalk Hour August 10, 1967
The body of Mario C. Crugnola Jr., 22, U.S. Navy second class petty officer, structural mechanic, son of Mario C. Crugnola of 8 France Street, a victim of the Forrestal disaster, has been found with positive identification made by Navy officials. He was the son also of the late Mrs. Louella Green Crugnola, who died in January 1966. In addition to his father, he is survived by two sisters, Mrs. Robert (Margaret) Marhoffer of Wilton, and Miss Katherine Crugnola of Norwalk. Funeral arrangements will be announced by the Magner Funeral Home, 12 Mott Avenue.
Mario Crugnola Jr. is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Norwalk; Section E1, Grave 1030. Photo by webmaster.