Ozarks sailor was blown overboard by jet exhaust during Vietnam War, retired officer says

U.S. Navy Airman Apprentice Barry Eugene Peterman, a sailor from Springfield, died off the coast of Vietnam in 1965.

According to a News-Leader article from Nov. 13, 1965, Peterman was reported missing and eventually declared dead after falling overboard the USS Enterprise VIII, an aircraft carrier. A search and rescue party was sent after Peterman, but his body was never recovered.

U.S. Navy Airman Apprentice Barry Eugene Peterman. Peterman died after he was blown overboard by a jet exhaust off the coast of Vietnam in 1965.
U.S. Navy Airman Apprentice Barry Eugene Peterman. Peterman died after he was blown overboard by a jet exhaust off the coast of Vietnam in 1965.

A telegram was sent to Peterman’s mother informing her of his death on Nov. 10, 1965. The Navy also erected a memorial marker for Peterman at Springfield National Cemetery. The News-Leader could not establish contact with Peterman's remaining relatives.

But a witness to Peterman’s accident says the Airman apprentice wasn’t clumsy, and he did not just fall of the side of the ship. The 19-year-old sailor was actually blown overboard by the exhaust from a jet taking off.

The clarification comes from retired Navy Command Master Chief Jonathan Davis of California, who saw Peterman go off the back of the ship on the evening of Nov. 8, 1965.

“I’ve always told people about Barry, because Barry was the very first sailor that worked for me that got killed,” Davis said.

According to Davis, Peterman was carrying ordinance equipment across the flight deck near the back of the ship at the time of the accident. Davis was standing about 10 feet away when a jet taxied in front of Peterman before takeoff. The two made eye contact, and then, Peterman was gone.

“Barry’s looking at me, and I’m looking at him, and he’s gone,” Davis said. “Right off the back of the ship. They said the same exhaust that pushes that jet 1,000 miles an hour is what hit Barry.”

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A history of the USS Enterprise VIII is available through the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships Index on the Naval History and Heritage Command website. The ship history confirms Davis’ story about Peterman.

“Tragedy struck the ship the next day, when Airman Apprentice Barry E. Peterman was blown overboard from the flight deck by a jet exhaust during night landings,” the website says.

Davis said he and Peterman worked closely aboard the Enterprise. They ate together, slept in the same compartments, and went out on the town together. He said Peterman was well-liked by his counterparts aboard the Enterprise, most of whom were also in their teenage years. Davis remembers Peterman as the young sailor who did not show fear even in the face of death.

“He was a damn brave sailor. I think he knew he was going to die. And then I did, too,” Davis said. “If I had it in my power at the time and stuff, I’d give him the biggest damn medal I could for bravery.”

By that measure, maybe Davis deserves a big medal, as well. According to the official history of the USS Enterprise, Davis was also blown overboard. His accident happened July 20, 1964.

“But luckily for me, I made it,” Davis said. “I got picked up later by a helicopter. It’s a tough life up there on the flight deck. We never went up on any cruise without losing somebody.”

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Barry Peterman blown overboard by jet exhaust during Vietnam War