Two Navy veterans severely burnt saving 80 lives from a fire on a ship more than 50 years ago are finally to be honoured.
Lieutenant Pat O’Mathuna, 86, and Stoker William Mynes, 73, fought a boiler room blaze on the LÉ Cliona on May 29, 1962, after a depth charge exploded prematurely during a training exercise.
The force of the blast lifted the corvette ship several feet out of the water in seas off Cork and ruptured oil lines sparking the lethal fire below deck.
They are to be honoured at a ceremony in the Navy headquarters in Haulbowline with Scrolls of Commendation while a plaque will be erected recognising the crew’s efforts in getting the boat 20km safely to shore.
“The most important thing is that plaque,” Mr Mynes said. “It was never going to be a medal but I’m happy with the scrolls. We are delighted.”
After a review of the incident was ordered in the last year, the pair will be honoured alongside Mossie Egan, chief engine room artificer, and chief petty officer Stoker Gerry O’Callaghan, whose family will receive his posthumous honour.
A large group of media including an RTÉ film crew and Irish Examiner reporters were on board the LÉ Cliona when the training turned into a full-scale emergency south of Daunt Rock, near Kinsale.
With virtually no protection, Mr Mynes, 19 at the time, ordered two younger stokers to evacuate while he went into the confined room to cut off oil supplies, suffering burns on his arms, hands, and face for his bravery. The ship’s second-in-command, Mr O Mathuna, left the bridge and joined Mr Mynes below deck and fought the fire for 40 minutes.
The men were not eligible for Distinguished Service Medals because they were not recommended for an honour by their senior officers within four years of the incident. Mr Mynes said: “It’s a recognition. It’s just something the chiefs did not do in those days. The chiefs then did not think of anything like that. They were just a club of their own. All they were interested then was if they were in a golf club. It has changed a lot.”
The fire was described in a subsequent investigation as “intense in the extreme” and was so severe that SOS alerts were sent out and picked up in Britain.
Mr Mynes later worked as a postman in Dublin and got £300 and a commendation from An Post for stopping a thief from stealing the mail. “I got more from for giving a fella a couple of clatters,” he recalled.
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