The following is blog post about the 20th Anniversary of Operation Fiery Vigil in the Philippines
By Former U.S. Air Force Broadcast Journalist Rusty Barfield
Every year I mark this day on my calendar. It was the day Mount Pinatubo erupted and changed the lives of thousands of people. 20 years ago this month I boarded USS Midway at Subic Bay in the Philippines for a three-day journey. Weeks before I had witnessed first hand the mighty Mt. Pinatubo eruption destroy thousands of lives and untold millions in property. I had survived the largest volcanic eruption in more than 500 years on planet earth.
It’s funny what sticks in ones head after all those years. For me, it was the day I left Subic Bay for Cebu with a little help from some special friends. I boarded USS Midway with thousands of “refugees” from Clark and Subic Bay. For the next three days USS Midway was my home.
The moment I stepped into the hanger deck sailors were there to help me find my berthing. A couple of the Navy Journalist on board showed me the galley and even made me a part of their shop for my short stay. I never met the sailor who gave up his bunk for me. Wish I had. I don’t even know where the sailors slept during the three-day journey to Cebu.
Once I got my sea legs under me (yes, I was on a carrier but I was Air Force you know) I started exploring around the legendary carrier. Yes, I was in awe how big the ship was but what really impressed me was the crew.
After two weeks getting chased around by volcanic ash, USS Midway was paradise on water. A shower, haircut and a hot meal made all the difference in the world. I still can’t believe the size of the pots and pans they were using in the galley. The sailors treated me as a guest in their home.
The sailors believed in their mission, they believed in their purpose and most of all they believed in one another. Just before I was airlifted off the ship by helicopter one of the Navy Journalist turned to me and said “see you around Shipmate”. That has always stuck with me. So on this day, the 15th of June, I think of Mt. Pinatubo and the wrath the volcano left behind, but even more so, I think of my Shipmates on board USS Midway who helped me recover, who helped me see humanity in the wake of a disaster and who helped me experience the spirit of USS Midway.
I dedicate this blog to the thousands of sailors on board USS Midway in June of 1991. This forum allows me to say something I have been waiting 20 years to say: THANKS SHIPMATE!