For actions on December 26, 1969
Gallant Ship Award Citation:
On December 26, 1969, while en route to Yokohama, Japan, in the North Pacific Ocean, the Greek ship KHIAN STAR responded to an SOS from the American SS BADGER STATE, stating their cargo of bombs had broken loose and the ship was breaking up. The KHIAN STAR altered course and proceeded at the best possible speed, bucking tremendous seas and high, cold winds. In the interim there was an explosion and fire on the BADGER STATE and her Master ordered the ship abandoned. Thirty-five crew members entered a lifeboat which, in the heavy seas, drifted aft. As the lifeboat approached the hole in the ship’s hull, a 2,000 pound bomb rolled out and capsized the boat, killing several of the crew. Fearing the whole ship would explode as a result of the fire the remainder of the crew went over the side. The Master of the KHIAN STAR with great skill and considerable risk, due to the possibility of a major explosion, boldly maneuvered alongside the survivors pulling them safely aboard.
The courage, resoucefulness, expert seamanship and teamwork of her Master, officers and crew in successfully completing an extraordinary rescue operation under extremely hazardous circumstances have caused the name of the KHIAN STAR to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship by the United State of America.
The Greek-flagged ship Khian Star was a two-deck cargo vessel built in 1969 by Ishikawajima Harima, part of a class of ships that the company named the “Freedom” type.
While en route from Portland, Oregon to Yokohama, Japan, Khian Star received an SOS from SS Badger State, an American-flagged cargo ship carrying ammunition to Vietnam. Badger Statetransmitted a distress signal after some of the 2,000-pound bombs it was transporting broke loose in bad weather and began rolling around the cargo holds and piercing parts of the hull, which created the risk of exploding. Khian Star immediately steamed toward the ship, but as they neared the scene, one of the bombs detonated, causing a fire. Fearing the fire would reach the other ammunition, Badger State’s master ordered his crew of 40 to abandon ship into the heavy seas. Thirty-five men were able to successfully board a lifeboat, but in an incredible and tragic piece of timing, a 2,000-pound bomb rolled out of a hole in the ship’s hull and capsized their lifeboat, throwing the men into the turbulent cold water. Meanwhile, the captain and four remaining crewmembers jumped from the doomed ship.
Without regard for their own safety, the crew of Khian Star maneuvered in close to the burning ship to pull survivors from the water. As 30 to 40-foot seas pounded Khian Star, preventing its crew from launching their lifeboats, they instead used the ship’s rail lines, ladders, and nets to rescue the men from the water. Through their heroic efforts, and the captain’s deft maneuvering of the ship, Khian Star’s crew pulled 14 men to safety. Despite the danger posed by the still-smoldering ammunition onboard Badger State, Khian Star remained on scene and continued to search for survivors until their dwindling fuel supply forced them to leave the next afternoon.
Tragically, 26 of Badger State’s crew perished in the disaster. The ship continued to burn and settle by the stern, before finally sinking on January 5, 1970.
Badger State was a World War II-era C-2 type cargo ship built by North Carolina Shipbuilding in 1944 under the name USS Starlight (AP-175). The U.S. Navy operated the vessel through a bareboat charter with the U.S. Maritime Commission as a troop transport in the Pacific Theater. After the war, Starlight went into the Maritime Administration’s Reserve Fleet at James River in Virginia, and changed ownership several times before States Marine Lines purchased the ship in 1959 and renamed it Badger State.