Turret #2

A personal story by James Buzka


I was on the IOWA on April 19, 1989.  I remember when the explosion took place in turret two, as a matter of fact it is something I will never forget!

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I was in Turret #1 that morning.  We were in pretty good spirits as we manned our gunnery stations.  Our gun was manned by: GMG3 Cline(Gun Captain), BM3 Scott Youngs (Powder Hoist Operator), SN Shultz (Projectile Hoist Operator) and myself as the gun's Rammerman.  

Our gun (left gun-turret one) experienced a hangfire and were standing by for further instructions when we heard the explosion.  At first we did not know what it was, then Capt. Moosally came over the 1MC and informed the entire crew.

Everyone else on the ship went to general quarters, that's when we knew something was seriously wrong. We started to smell smoke in our turret and were given the option to stay in the turret or exit. I chose to exit the turret.

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When I emerged onto the main deck I was in shock at what I saw.  The deck on the port side as well as the bulkhead just below the O-1 level were completely charred. This is where the quarterdeck would be on the port side while in port.

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I was immediately sent to the starboard side and put on a hose team just outside the wardroom and Captain's quarters.  I don't remember exactly how long I was on the hose team but it seemed like forever.  When we were secured, they were asking for volunteers to enter the damaged turret to help remove the bodies and hopefully find living.  I volunteered.

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We entered Turret #2 from the main deck where the hatch had been blown off its hinges.  The combined stench of burnt hydraulic fluid and flesh was immediate and sticks with me to this day.  In the gun house the damage was vast.  The center gun compartment seemed to be, by far,  in the worst condition.  As we went about the gruesome business of collecting bodies, a Senior Chief {flown over from the USS Coral Sea to help with the incident} instructed us to be sure that the body bags had most of a body inside.

After performing our duty in the Gun House, we proceeded down to where the primerman would sit (below the rammerman seat).  I found the body of a sailor named GEDEON.   It was strange because it seemed as though time had stopped inside the turret, but his watch was still running.  I then secured the horse collar around his torso so he could be lifted above to the gun room.  As he was being lifted,   I remember someone asking his name.  I replied, "GEDEON."   Someone spelled back to me G-I-D-E-O-N, and I screamed back, "G-E-D-E-O-N!!"   It seemed important to me that it was correct.

We then proceeded down to the projectile decks.  The bodies in this area were surreal.   They reminded me of the pictures of ancient bodies from the city of Pompeii.  The look on their faces was one of complete surprise.

Of the bodies located there, SN Everhart,  comes to mind because he and I mess-cranked together in the ward room.  Although we did not become great friends, anyone who has mess cranked understands the unbreakable bond that forms when performing that duty.  At the time there was no way I could let these feelings affect me - there was a job to do and I had to 'maintain'.

We then proceeded into the deepest part of the turret - the powder decks.   This area was flooded soon after the explosion in order to prevent detonation.   We waded through the murky water providing light with battle lanterns as we hoped to find survivors, but found only lifeless bodies.

I don't remember exactly how long I had been inside the turret, it seemed like days.  When I finally did emerge, I headed for my berthing area to be with my friends. 

On my way there the gravity of the situation started to sink in.  As I walked by the Deck Department office, Chief Bingham (our DCPO) asked me if we found anyone alive.  I mustered only enough strength to say, "No."  I watched him break down as he walked away.

The response that I witnessed was not unusual and I needed to find my closest friends as soon as possible.  After gathering in the berthing we decided to go to the mess decks to eat.  We thought this would at least distract our minds from what we were trying to fend off.  I sat with Tim Coffey, Joe Iazzetta, Scott Youngs and a few others from our division. 

The messdecks of IOWA were usually a place full of conversion and joviality.  I think everybody on the messdecks was there to find a piece of that escapism.  As we sat down to eat, we we heard the names of our deceased shipmates being read over the 1MC.  It was then that I began to match the names being read to the names on the shirts I'd seen only an hour earlier inside the turret. 

As the names were spoken, the usual conversion and joking went away.   It was replaced with an eerie silence.  I noticed the faces of those around me and each one looked like they were facing the same thing I was - reality.   My friends and I suddenly lost our appetite. 

We went to the foc'sle to sit and talk in the same place where we normally gather to pass the time at sea.  After all, this was 'our' spot and it was special because it represented to us a symbol of unity and closeness.  Somehow I thought that sitting around with my friends while the clear Caribbean water passed by would calm my nerves. 

As the ship cut through the clear water we began to share our thoughts, our fears, our sorrows, and the horror we had witnessed that day.  I now realize that as we sat in our spot recounting the day's events, we were also silently sharing our joy to be alive.

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I am very proud to have served onboard the IOWA, and will never forget the 47 shipmates we lost on that day.  May God bless them and their families and keep them close.

By James Buzka

This story is 1999-2006 to the Veteran's Association of the USS IOWA(BB-61) - All rights Reserved.  Any further reprint of it in part or whole is not authorized unless by direct permission of the story's author or web-master.