Thirty Five Years Ago Today, Wayne Richard ‘Rick’ Weaver and 36 of His Shipmates Lost Their Lives in USS Stark Attack

| May 17, 2022

Friday was the 32nd anniversary of the attack on the USS Stark. The USS Stark incident occurred during the Iran–Iraq War on May 17, 1987, when an Iraqi jet aircraft fired missiles at the American frigate USS Stark. Thirty-seven United States Navy personnel were killed, including Clarion County native Wayne Richard Weaver. Submitted by Dave Cyphert.CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Thirty Five years ago today, Navy ET3 Wayne Richard “Rick” Weaver, a 1983 graduate of Clarion-Limestone High School, and 36 of his shipmates on the USS Stark died after an Iraqi bombing of their ship.

(Photo above by Dave Cyphert)

Weaver, the son of Patty and Richard Weaver, was born in Brookville on April 7, 1965. Spending his entire life in northwestern Pennsylvania, Rick had the usual interests like hunting and fishing, cars, and being with his friends.

He was also a starter on the high school basketball team.

bootcamp“My first memory of Rick was in the school’s cafeteria (at C-L),” recalled friend Dave Cyphert. He always had a big smile on his face and never had bad words about anyone….and that laugh…I can still hear his laugh to this day.”

In the fall of 1982 Weaver (pictured above on right) and Cyphert (pictured on left) talked about enlisting in the Navy.

“Six months or so before our senior year ended, we both made the decision to enlist, and we had already made our separate visits to Pittsburgh for our physicals and processing,” said Cyphert. “As it turned out, we were both very excited about discovering we were scheduled to leave for basic training on the same day, and to the same recruit training command in Orlando, Florida. So, on January 2, 1984, Rick and I traveled to his Dad’s home in Pittsburgh. The next day, we flew to Orlando for the start of our Navy journey together.”

“Rick and I were literally inseparable over the next six months; he was like a brother I never had. We went through eight weeks of being bunkmates in our division during basic training, going through rigorous physical training, and inspections together in order to pass successfully. Rick’s training toward being an electronics technician and mine as an electronics warfare technician were completed a couple weeks apart. Late in May of 1984, we parted ways when he was sent to additional schooling in Great Lakes, Illinois.”

Weaver completed Electronics Technician “A” school early in 1985. Then, he reported to his duty station in Jacksonville, Florida, aboard the USS Stark, a Perry class guided missile frigate.

Retelling of the USS Stark story

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Bradley Peniston, a reporter for Navy Times, recalled the tragedy on his http://navybook.com site in an article entitled “USS Stark, On Fire.”

In giving permission to exploreClarion.com to use his reporting, he said he is “always glad to see the story of the USS Stark retold.”

Just before sundown on 17 May, an Iraqi pilot in an F-1 Mirage jet headed down the Gulf, scanning his instruments for oil tankers.

In the darkened combat information center of the U.S. Navy guided missile frigate USS Stark (FFG 31), an operations specialist noted the Mirage’s blip on his screen: track number 2202, range two hundred miles, headed inbound. The jet was pointed past the ship, four miles off the port beam. The sailor passed the word to his skipper.

At two minutes after 9 p.m., the Mirage locked its Cyrano-IV fire-control radar onto the Stark. The frigate’s instruments lit up in warning. A sailor asked permission to send a standard “back off” message to the Iraqi pilot. “No, wait,” came the reply.

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At 9:05, the Mirage banked left, toward the warship. At just over 22 miles’ distance, the pilot launched his first Exocet, a sea skimming, ship-killing missile. The weapon leveled out a dozen feet above the waves, accelerated to nearly the speed of sound, and turned on its radar-homing seeker. Twenty seconds later, another Exocet dropped from a wing and lit off toward the Stark.

The first missile punched through the hull near the port bridge wing, eight feet above the waterline. It bored a flaming hole through berthing spaces, the post office, and the ship’s store, spewing rocket propellant along its path. Burning at 3,500 degrees, the weapon ground to a halt in a corner of the chiefs’ quarters, and failed to explode. The second missile, which hit five feet farther forward, detonated as designed. The fire burned for almost a day, incinerating the crew’s quarters, the radar room, and the combat information center.

About one-quarter of the crew was incapacitated in the attack. Twenty-nine were killed immediately; eight more died later.

Questions Surrounding Attack

An article in the May 2017 issue of VFW Magazine points to questions and also suggests that those questions may never be answered. According to the Navy’s official report, the Stark did not fire any ordinance in retaliation of the attack.

Weaver, an Electronics Technician Third Class Petty Officer, earned the Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Medal for Heroism for his acts of bravery and exemplary courageous conduct after the missile attack on the U.S.S. Stark (FFG-31) on May 17, 1987. Even though the two missiles from a foreign aircraft hit the Stark, the crew of the Stark did not receive combat action ribbons for the Stark attack.

“If there is any place [the Navy] would place blame, and they did, it would be in [the ship’s combat information center, or CIC],”  Lt. William Conklin said in the VFW article. “The people in CIC weren’t as prepared as the Navy thought they should have been.”

“There have been some questions about the rules of engagement that have never been declassified,” Conklin said. “I don’t think there is anyone, 30 years later, who can really speak specifically about that. We will never, ever know because all the people involved in that are gone. In some respects, I don’t think it matters. Ultimately, at the end of the day, what I always tell my shipmates is, ‘it really doesn’t matter how we got there, what matters is what we did when we got there.”

Remembering Rick Weaver and the USS Stark

It has been 30 years, but the heroic service of Rick Weaver is still very much alive with his family, Clarion-Limestone, Clarion County, and his old friends.

“Knowing Rick the way I did, none of those heroic acts he performed on the night of May 17, 1987, truly surprised me….that was Rick,” said Cyphert in a previous interview. “I was blessed to have known him for the short time I did, and I was extremely humbled to be asked to escort him home after he arrived back on U.S. soil. Rick was laid to rest in Salem Cemetery in Frogtown, Pennsylvania, just a few miles from where he was raised.”

In 1996, the newly constructed bridge spanning Toby Creek along State Route 1005 in Clarion County was dedicated in Rick’s honor and is now known as the “Wayne Richard Weaver II Memorial Bridge.”

The next time you drive over it remember Rick.

Click here to watch a video tribute compiled by Dave Cyphert

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a republication of a 2017 Explore article by Ron Wilshire.


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