A Shouted Alarm, A Fiery Blast

The Stark hardly knew what hit her

As is often true in the Persian Gulf, the seas were placid, and the sailors standing watch aboard the U.S.S. Stark could see an endless display of stars in the clear evening sky. The sleek vessel, 445 ft. long and 45 ft. at the beam, slipped quietly through the water at a mere four knots. Under the subdued lights of the combat information center inside the warship's superstructure, sonar operators watched their blue-green screens and listened with headphones for the pinging sounds that would indicate the presence of underwater mines.

For the 221 officers and enlisted men on the Stark, the...