Monday marks 32 years since USS Iowa explosion that killed 47 sailors


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Monday marks 32 years since the explosion on the USS Iowa battleship (BB-61), which remains one of the Navy’s worst losses of life during peacetime.

47 sailors were killed when a gun turret on the battleship exploded on April 19, 1989, off Puerto Rico. Each year, there are ceremonies to remember those who died.

The victims were honored Monday during a commemoration at Naval Station Norfolk.

Veterans were glad to be able to gather this year to honor the 47 lost on the Iowa 32 years ago. Many said they needed this healing.

“It was hard to comprehend what happened and why it happened,” said Dale Harrington.

Harrington makes it his mission to come to the USS Iowa commemorative ceremony every year. He said his role that day makes him emotional when he thinks about it.

“I was responsible for processing and sending out all the casualty messages to the families and to the relatives,” he explained.

32 years ago, that process was a lot different.

“We had to find out who the 47 were and the only way that was done was by announcing the names of missing people that did not show up at their duty place,” he said.

As they rang the bell and called out every name, he said it still feels unreal.

“I remember that day vividly and I acknowledge the sacrifice the 47 made. And it’s an emotional experience, even after 32 years it seems like yesterday that we struggled through that,” he said.

But through that struggle, others say coming to the ceremony each year can be therapeutic.

“They come here and they’re lonely, they’re hurting, and they see one of their friends that they served with, and within a half an hour, they are probably laughing for the first time in 20 years — a heartfelt laugh. That’s healing, that’s where the healing begins,” said John Shultz.

Harrington said it is as important as ever to honor those lives and show up every year.

“We are all getting older, and I think that might have something to do with it because we love to tell our story,” he added.

The Navy initially claimed the explosion was a result of a suicidal attack by a ship petty officer, and a second congressional investigation found it was likely caused by guns being over-rammed with powder. After reopening the investigation, the Navy concluded that the cause could not be determined.

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