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Stark Home Base Anxiously Awaits Word

May 18, 1987

MAYPORT NAVAL STATION, Fla. (AP) _ Chaplains rushed to comfort families today at the home base of the USS Stark as word spread of the missile attack on the ship in the Persian Gulf that killed at least 28 sailors.

″Everybody feels like they’ve received an unexpected punch in the stomach,″ said Chaplain Bill Perry, who visited the families of several Stark crewmen overnight and talked to sailors at the base. ″We hurt for them because they’re part of the Navy community.″

Perry and 18 or so other chaplains at the base planned to visit throughout the day with some of the 85 families of the ship’s crewmen in the Jacksonville area. He also urged families to meet with each other.

″Everybody is asking the questions we don’t have the answers to yet,″ said Perry. ″The right words to say would be, ‘He’s OK,’ and you can’t say that yet ... We’re all growing impatient.″

The Navy had not disclosed the names of the sailors killed or wounded in the attack, which occurred while the Stark was on a routine patrol. But a Spotsylvania, Va., woman said she received a phone call early today from the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain telling her that her son was among the injured.

Nancy Bareford said her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lawrence M. Bareford, was in satisfactory condition with burns.

″You hurt inside for people you don’t know. You hurt for them. You hurt with them and you keep them in your prayers,″ Perry, a chaplain for 18 years, said at a news conference on this North Florida base on the Atlantic coast.

″That leaning shoulder-to-shoulder is really strong,″ he said, adding that about a dozen families held an all-night prayer vigil in the base chapel.

″The basic thrust of what we are looking at in Mayport is support of the families,″ agreed base commander Capt. John Mitchell. ″We’re encouraging the family members to get together with other family members of the crew.″

Mitchell said a team of 10 doctors, psychologists and other professionals was flying to Mayport from Portsmouth, Va., to help families deal with the crisis.

A bright note surfaced today, however, when the wife of one Stark crewman gave birth to a healthy girl in Jacksonville, said a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, which sent a message with the news to the ship.

″There’s always some hope, I think,″ said Sue Ferguson, director of service to military families and veterans at the Jacksonville Red Cross. She said another crewman’s wife is also ready to deliver.

The Stark was carrying an anti-submarine helicopter detachment, HSL-32, based in Virginia at the Norfolk Naval Air Station, said Chief Journalist Phil Wilkinson, a Navy spokesman in Norfolk. Seventeen sailors in the unit were aboard the ship but there was no word if any of them were hurt or killed, he said.

Relatives elsewhere also awaited details on the attack.

″It was just a long night. Just lying awake and not knowing. It’s just a long wait and see,″ said Bob Quick of Fenton Township, Mich., near Flint. His 20-year-old son Kelly is an electronics technician aboard the Stark.

Mrs. Bareford said she was relieved when she got a telephone call at her home at 1 a.m. today from the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain. ″The government doesn’t notify you over the phone when your son is dead,″ she said.

Mrs. Bareford said she was unable to get any additional information on her son’s injuries or where he is being hospitalized.

″It’s a lot of confusion, I’m sure,″ she said. ″But I’ll be by the phone all day waiting.″

Mrs. Bareford said she spoke to her son last Monday on the phone.

″I never asked him if he was in any danger because there’s no war,″ she said. ″The United States is not at war. That’s why I couldn’t believe this.″

In Lyndonville, Vt., Lucille Nelson, the mother of seaman Paul Robert Brown, said she learned of the bombing while watching television early this morning.

She was told when she called a toll-free information number that if she had not heard anything from military officials within an hour, her son probably was not harmed in the blast.

″I have a lot of faith,″ Mrs. Nelson said. ″It could be a lot worse. I am keeping a completely positive attitude.″

In Hoopeston, Ill., Ron Longest, the father of Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Longest, said he has not had any word yet from the Navy. He noted that one of his 22-year-old son’s duties was to fight fires aboard ship.

″I really don’t know what to do right now, just pray that my son is OK. He’s my only child; he’s all that I’ve got. He just has to be all right.″

Mayport is home to 35 ships, including the aircraft carriers USS Forrestal and USS Saratoga, which participated in te April 1986 bombing of Libya. The naval station also has an airbase, which is home to four helicopter squadrons manned by 40 crew members.

About 18,000 naval personnel work on the palm tree-lined base, which with Jacksonville Naval Air Station and Cecil Field Naval Air Station employ a total of 39,000 people.

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