NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A small bell rang 47 times Tuesday to honor the 47 lives lost when a turret exploded on the USS Iowa 33 years ago.

Marking the first in-person return since 2019, the commemoration started as a way to never forget the lives lost. Since then, it’s become a space for sailors and loved ones to heal, not as strangers, but as one blended family.

The explosion of Turret Two — ruled an accident after two separate investigations — remains one of the worst losses of life during peacetime in U.S. Navy history.

The ceremony was held at Iowa Point at Naval Station Norfolk, an area dedicated to the servicemembers who lost their lives during the training accident in 1989.

Phillip Harrison worked in Turret Two for almost three years and was moved to another ship just months before the accident.

“That first initial shock that my shipmates, something happened to my shipmates. Then the reports came out it was Turret Two, and my heart just dropped,” he said.

Harrison later discovered he lost a close friend on the Iowa that day.

Paula Schwarz lost her brother, Peter Bopp, in the explosion — just two days before his birthday.

“I remember that when he left that Sunday, the last thing I did was grab him and hug him and say, ‘I love you kiddo.’ And that always comes to mind. He was a great guy,” she said.

But among the solemn reminders of the ultimate sacrifice were also signs of healing and love.

“There’s always good that comes out of bad. And this is the good that came out of the bad,” said Schwarz.

Now, they’re all a family linked not by blood, but by tragedy, loss and healing.

“I feel blessed. I love seeing my Iowa family. I lost a brother but I gained so many. I gained a lot of sisters too,” she said.

Harrison says he worked on many ships during his time with the Navy, and that the Iowa always stands out as the closest knit crew he’s ever worked with.

He says for anyone who couldn’t make it out today, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

“For the shipmates that couldn’t make it here, we’re here. If you need us, you need to talk. A lot of guys are suffering from PTSD and they’re suffering from survivor’s remorse and stuff, we just want to let them know that we’re here,” he said.

For anyone else at home, he wants to remind them to never forget the Iowa 47.