USS Forrestal, lead ship of a class of 56,000 ton aircraft carriers, was built at Newport News, Virginia. Commissioned in October 1955 as the U.S. Navy’s first carrier of entirely post-World War II design, she was conceived as an operational platform for large, high-performance aircraft. After shakedown in early 1956 and a trip to the eastern Atlantic during the Suez crisis later in the year, Forrestal began the first of her many Mediterranean cruises in January 1957. She operated in the North Atlantic in September and October of that year and again cruised to the eastern Atlantic during the 1958 Lebanon crisis.
From 1958 to 1966, Forrestal deployed to the Mediterranean six more times. Closer to home, she also conducted aircraft trials, operated in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and was refitted with new aviation and command and control systems. In June 1967, the big carrier began her only Pacific Ocean cruise, to provide additional airpower to the Vietnam war effort. This was cut short when, on 29 July she suffered a huge fire that began among aircraft on her flight deck and spread into her hangar. After her crew, showing (in the words of her embarked flag officer) "far more acts of sheer heroism than I could count" had extinguished the blaze, the ship was left badly damaged. More than 130 of Forrestal’s men lost their lives, 26 aircraft were destroyed and over thirty damaged. From this tragic incident, the Navy learned firefighting lessons that are still fresh more than three decades later.
Forrestal was repaired in time to begin her eighth Mediterranean tour in mid-1968. She returned regularly over the next twenty-three years, operating with that sea’s Sixth Fleet for a career total of twenty separate deployments. During that period, Forrestal also was reclassified as CV-59 (in 1975), served as host ship for United States Bicentennial celebrations at New York City in July 1976, and underwent a massive Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) overhaul in 1983-85. Her Mediterranean visits included participation in Tunisian flood relief efforts in 1973, in the confrontation with Libya in 1981 and in protecting Iraq’s Kurdish population in 1991. In 1982 and again in 1988, the carrier operated in the Indian Ocean. She was on "standby" duty in the Atlantic during the 1990-1991 Kuwait war.
Following her 1991 deployment, Forrestal received a new mission, to serve as the Navy’s training carrier. She was redesignated AVT-59 in February 1992 and spent much of that year on training service out of Pensacola, Florida. In September, she entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to begin a major overhaul. However, her long service was cut short by the post-Cold War contraction of the Nation’s military power. USS Forrestal was decommissioned in September 1993 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register.