CROCKER, Mo. (KMOV.com) - It's been 50 years since the explosion aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
The explosions and fire killed 28 people and the youngest sailor killed was from Crocker, Missouri.
U.S. Navy Fireman Apprentice Paul Akers, Jr. was 18-years-old when he boarded the USS Enterprise bound toward Vietnam.
Paul’s mother Maria Akers is 91-years-old and still lives in the home Paul left from 50 years ago to join the ship.
“It was the biggest ship in the world, a little farm boy gets to be on a ship like that,” Maria recalled.
Paul left his family farm in Crocker on Christmas morning 1968 because they couldn’t find him a flight and he had to take a bus instead.
Paul had only been on the ship for a couple weeks when January 14, 1969 came around.
That morning, exhaust from a machine caused a Zuni rocket to explode which set off other explosions and fires.
Paul was one of many who stayed and fought the flames.
“Two Navy fellas came and said 'your son is dead' and I said ‘no he’s not dead’,” recalled Maria. “I didn’t believe it.”
Paul was killed that day and is credited with saving many more lives. 28 people died in the fire and 314 others were seriously injured.
50 years to the date in Akers' hometown, Crocker Mayor Glen Smith proclaimed it Paul Akers, Jr. Day in honor of his ultimate sacrifice. Many recall the turnout the funeral decades ago.
“The gymnasium was packed out at the local high school for his funeral,” Smith said.
Paul was honored in front of Navy representatives who are stationed at nearby Fort Leonard Wood.
“I think people like this are great role models, they are probably the role models we should all be looking toward,” said neighboring Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman.
Maria Akers was given the proclamation alongside Paul's siblings and other family members. Maria had six children and five are still living.
“I can be proud,” said Maria. “If he had run from his work place he could have made it, but he stayed put and fought the fire.”