‘It changed our lives forever, and it’s made us who we are’

Pictured, far right: Kevin Reynolds, husband of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds– Friday’s keynote speaker during the USS Iowa memorial ceremony– bowing his head during a moment of silence

Onboard the USS Battleship Iowa last Friday– the site of a deadly turret explosion three decades prior– the pain of losing loved ones was still visibly apparent on the faces of attendees.
With tears and quivering voices, USS Iowa organizers hosted a memorial ceremony recognizing the 47 victims of the ship’s April 19, 1989, No. 2 gun turret explosion.
Many onboard the ship this past Friday, which was the 30th anniversary of the incident, were present during the explosion. To them, the 47 victims represent close friends, family and people who lost their lives prematurely.
Mike Meldrum, who had been a boiler technician on the Battleship Iowa for five years, said April 19, 1989, was the day “I became a man.”
“Everybody that was here, […] we all grew up that day,” he said. “It changed our lives forever, and it’s made us who we are.”

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
A wreath decorated in honor of the 47 individuals who died three decades prior in a turret explosion onboard the USS Iowa
Retired Chief Procurement Officer David Canfield, who has attended 10-year and 20-year ceremonies in the past, has been struggling with not only the loss of life, but with his emotions, he said.
“For the past seven years, I’ve kind of been the guy in charge out here for this ceremony, and it seems like with each big anniversary I’ve learned something new about myself,” he said. “Maybe it’s perspective gained by time. Maybe it’s just involvement on the ship. […] And at this milestone, I’ve come to the conclusion that for far too long I have been mourning the dead rather than celebrating their lives. I have allowed the memory of one morning in April to kill my friends and my shipmates over and over and over in my mind.”
He added: “And I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s time that we begin to celebrate their lives. Not remembering their deaths, but remembering liberty […] and working together, sharing hopes and dreams, sea stories, games of spades– […] which I lost a lot of money on. I think my shipmates would have wanted that.”
Those who perished in the explosion were mostly sailors who were in their 20s. During the ceremony, the names of the 47 victims were read outloud to the public, as a bell sounded after each name in celebration of the person’s life.
Investigations by the U.S. Navy and the Government Accountability Office and Sandia National Laboratories led to inconclusive reports as to how the explosion occurred. Many findings claim the incident as an accident, while others disputed if there is more to the story.
The explosion occurred in the center gun room of the battleship, severely damaging the gun itself and the crewmen in the vicinity of the equipment.
Although there may be more questions than answers, last Friday’s commemoration, which included a rendition of Taps and the honorary firing of rifles, was meant to serve as a celebration of life, according to event organizers.
The keynote speaker from Friday’s event, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was onboard the battleship for her first time, said visitors from all over the nation travel to the Iowa State Capitol to visit a large-scale model of the USS Iowa, which is enclosed in a glass case.
Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was the keynote speaker during the Battleship Iowa Turret II Memorial Ceremony April 19 onboard the battleship.
“Schoolchildren, sailors, Iowans of all ages and out-of-state visitors come to see the massive replica, often taking their pictures in front of it and sharing stories,” Reynolds said. “The USS Iowa model in Des Moines provides a precious link between America’s heartland and the brave patriots who selflessly defend it. […] The invisible scars left by the tragedy in Turret II are something that you have quietly carried for three decades. I have no words to remove your grief or address the deep scars that the passing of your shipmates left behind. Only you can know the strength that it took to return to this deck. However, your presence here today represents another step forward to finding peace.”
Thomas Workman, who was a BM3 workman on the first division, wrote a poem the night after the explosion and shared it with the public.
Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Thomas Workman, who was a BM3 workman on the first division during the 1989 USS Iowa turret explosion, wrote a poem the night after the incident and shared it with the public last Friday.
“It started as a normal day,” he read. “As a shift meant more under way. The guns were ready in the decks all clear. When all of a sudden grower fear. We all joined together [as one] as we sit around with this big giant gun. The smokeless IBM filled the air as the ship of men took the stairs. Then they went filled with fear knowing the end was very close near. We all lost mates and friends too, so I leave the same to you. Families and friends that they once knew should always remember the boys in blue. So that leaves one thing to say: May the Lord bless them in his own way.”
Canfield admitted there was a time when he wasn’t ready for laughter, when the tragedy only conjured emotions of sadness.
Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
The United States Marines led a ceremony commemorating the 47 lives that were lost April 19, 1989, in a turret explosion onboard the USS Iowa.
“When I went to the 20-year memorial, I remember seeing a tent full of chairs, full of people, and a lot of those people were younger than 20,” he said. “There were smiles and hugs and a lot of laughter. And at first I was really offended. This was supposed to be a somber time, and I wasn’t ready for laughter. But then it dawned on me. This is ritual. It’s something these people did year after year after year. It was my first time there, my second time there. But this was a ritual for them, and ritual is not bad. It’s a commemoration.
“[…] They say that we have the memory of our friends ingrained within us. That we pass that memory onto our families, to our children and to their children. There’s a time for ceremony. There’s a time for ritual. And there’s even a time for tears. […] Seriously, guys. How many of our shipmates were solemn people? We need to talk to each other. We need to remember the times that we had together. We need to remember the positive times, the good times. We can shed tears. But we need to also know it’s OK to laugh. We need that too.”

1 comment
  1. I was just going back growing up in Long Beach and working the OILFIELDS in Signal Hill and noticed the name Canfield ? Strange as it is I went to high school at Poly and knew a kid named Bobby Canfield with a lot of other kids from Long Beach relating to this story ? Myself growing up by Ocean Blvd. Behind a Navy locker club not far from the Pike and across the street from the old jungle ? You folks probably know those folks and old Curleys bar where we cashed our checks on Friday by Wardlow and Cherry ? Those burns still there we built with shovels around that old pumping unit still pumping ? I remember Signal Hill and the old Navy base can’t forget it ? My first Aircraft carrier was the Bennington who was docker at the Navy base under going repairs for it’s catapult system explosion as well ? So in memory of WWII and the Navy I dedicate the movie starring Chalton Heston and those electronic bomb release malfunctions our planes had over the battle of Midway ? In this ulagy of the Iowa and the Mighty Mo ? Where we signed the surrender from further hostilities from Japan ? Myself one of my units on military.com US COAST GUARD LONG BEACH and the recent Mercy Hospital Ship which just had that train operator jump track running the barracades near Terminal Island with these words from Chalton Heston in Midway ? Question his sons fiance asked in an internment camp asking him WHAT MAKES JAPANESE AMERICANS SO DIFFERENT THAN THE GERMAN AMERICANS and Heaton’s reply PEARL HARBOR ? SLOW HAND SALUTE THE NAVY WAY….DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP ?

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