Sailors recall inferno battle aboard USS Bonhomme Richard

Sailors describe out-of-control fire aboard Navy ship
Sailors describe out-of-control fire aboard N... 01:41

Last Updated Aug 11, 2020 7:27 PM EDT

A group of naval sailors fought a ferocious battle in July with an unexpected enemy when fire raced through their ship while it was docked in San Diego. The fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard was a spectacular catastrophe, but to the ship's crew, it was personal.

"I got emotional. I did cry," remembered Lieutenant Junior Grade Bernardo Tinoco, a supply officer aboard the vessel.

"This isn't just a ship. This is a home," he said.

USS Bonhomme Richard fire
Smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on Sunday, July 12, 2020, in San Diego. Denis Poroy / AP

The first efforts to control the fire were directed by Petty Officer Second Class Jeffrey Garvin — until he was ordered off the ship. Garvin said he had to be hospitalized for smoke inhalation but that he returned straight from the hospital a couple of hours later.

"I came back to see if the rest of my shipmates needed help," he recalled.

By that night, the fire was out of control. Petty Officer Hayley Craig's team tried to fight their way on board. "There was so much scaffolding and debris and everything falling down on the way up that we couldn't make it up in there that first night," said Craig.

When asked to describe what it was like when he finally got on board, Craig responded, "Unbelievable. It's completely unrecognizable."

As far as when the sailors believe they had the fire under control, they all say the same thing.

"The second that we, Bonhomme Richard sailors, decided this is our ship and we're not giving it up. That's when I knew," said Tinoco.

The Navy now has to decide whether the ship is worth repairing. For the crew, there's only one right answer.

"Our ship's motto is 'I have not yet begun to fight,'" said Garvin. "We want to be the ones that never give up the ship."

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.