Today, twenty-nine years ago, forty seven young men lost their lives while serving in the #2 gun mount on the USS Iowa (BB61). While sailing in the Caribbean, the ship was performing gunnery practice by firing her 16 inch guns. These are huge guns and firing one can send reverberations thought-out the ship. There are three of these bad boys in each turret, and there are two turrets on the bow (front) of the ship. When a full broadside (all the turrets for and aft aimed to port or to starboard) the ship moves sideways in the water and anyone standing outside can be killed by the concussions. Each powder magazine weighs over 600 pounds and fires a 1200 pound projectile over 26 miles with pin-point accuracy.
This morning (9:58 a.m.) turret #2 fired its first salvo and was immediately followed by a secondary explosion that killed the 47 young men.
One of the men was FCSA (Fire Controlman Seaman Apprentice) Richard J. Lewis, the brother of a friend of mine. Amy doesn’t talk about it much, but she and her family are deeply affected by the incident.
As much as I sometimes enjoyed and sometimes hated my service in the Navy, I am proud that I served. But the Navy also has a way of being self-serving and devious. The initial story was that a petty office deliberately set off the explosion because of a homosexual relationship gone wrong. The families (including Amy’s mother) fought this lie and won. FCSA Lewis wasn’t one of the people involved in the relationship, though. The Navy came back and apologized and stated that they don’t know what really caused the explosion, but investigations speculated that after firing the first shot there was a blowback of fire that ignited the powder bag being loaded for the next shot. Normally this should not happen, but malfunctions do happen, but the real reason may never be known.
What is known is that the lives of 47 men were snuffed out in an instant and the lives of 47 families were changed forever, not to mention the crew who had to recover the bodies of their friends. Every man and woman who has served in the service knows that they may have to lay down their lives for their country. Some do it in battle, some do it in sickbay from an illness or organ failure, or from an accident, but to die from an error or accident that wasn’t of your own making is horrible. This is one of the strongest feelings anyone serving has, that his fellow mates might die because of his/her error or not doing their job the way they were trained to do. That reason alone was enough for me not to believe the initial reports of a love gone wrong. I have never believed it and many of my fellow veterans haven’t either.
But like the 74 men who went down on my ship in 1969, these 47 deserve to be remembered, too. They were the cream of the crop of the late 80’s and they deserve to be remembered. So, Amy, I remember!
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