By Paige Gnann
The Mirror editor
Crowds gathered at Naval Station Mayport Memorial Park on May 17 to remember the fallen crewmembers of USS Stark 30 years after the ship was attacked while on routine patrol in the Arabian Gulf.
Thirty-seven Sailors were killed after two Iraqi missiles struck the Mayport-based ship on May 17, 1987. The families of those Sailors, along with their Stark shipmates, were joined by active duty Sailors from around Mayport, local Veterans group and others wishing to pay their respects to the fallen.
Guest speaker for the event was Rear Adm. John B. Mustin, Deputy Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
"It was incredibly humbling to be asked to come out and share this day with you," Mustin said. "I am pleased to be here ... and see so many Stark alumni this morning. It's a great tribute to the men who were on board that fateful night."
"We gather today to pay honor and respect to 37 fallen shipmates, 37 loved ones, 37 who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Although it's now been 30 years since that fateful night, they will remain in our collective memories forever. But please make no mistake, those aren't hollow words spoken just for this day. The Stark tragedy is one at-sea scenario that remains in the back of my mind ever single day. As the deputy commander of Surface Forces, I have the great pleasure of working with and representing Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, who is our Navy SWO boss, togehter ultimately responsible for developing the warfighting tactics, recruiting and growing Sailor talents and providing the tools and training necessary to accomplish our Navy's mission of winning at sea," he continued. "That singular focus shapes our every conversation, every decision and expenditure of every precious dollar that is within our disposal.... With every fiber of my being and to the best of my ability, I and the other 57,000 members of our extended surface force community work tirelessly to prevent us from every having to inform 37 families at once that their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters or childrens lives were taken too soon by acts of nefarious forces," he said. "Rest assured that while much was lost in the darkness of that night 30 years ago, the Stark's crews toughness was monumental and it has contributed significantly for force wide tactics doctrine and our warfighting training discipline for the three decades following."
USS Stark was decommissioned at Mayport in 1999. In order to preserve the tradition once the ship was retired, the Naval Order of the United States, North Florida Commandery, assumed sponsorship for the memorial service.
Mayport's Memorial Park was established Aug. 1, 1987, with the dedication of the Stark monument.