"LOOKING TO ONE SIDE, I saw my division officer wedged between the range finder and a computer. It was the first body I saw. His head was gone, and he had no arms. It was almost as if he was naked. His clothes had been burned off him. He would have been wearing leather boots there, but there were no boots there, just his burned feet. He was contorted a little bit, pushed in there. We had trouble getting him out. We ended up having to pull the computer off him. When they pulled him out of there, on his back you could see a little bit of khaki."

That gruesome scene is what Gunner's Mate Third Class Kendall Truitt described to Naval investigators within days of one of the worst peacetime accidents in the Navy's history — the April 19, 1989, explosion in gun turret No. 2 aboard the U.S.S. Iowa. Until this Penthouse interview, the graphic contents of a 45-minute videotape of Truitt's statement to Navy investigators have never been made public. Truitt walked
through chest-
high liquid that
he dubbed
"dead men's soup,"
a ghastly mixture
of water,
hydraulic fluid, blood, and
body parts.

On the video, Navy investigators were stunned by what Truitt described seeing inside the damaged gun turret.

"In other sections, some of the bodies had been blown apart. After we had pulled the first body out, we were looking around. There, near center gun, there were no bodies to speak of, just pieces. The largest piece was half an arm, maybe a foot. There should have been four people in the gun room itself." Later, Truitt walked through chest-high liquid that he dubbed "dead men's soup," a ghastly mixture of water, hydraulic fluid, blood, and body parts.

... On April 19. 1989, the day of the accident, the U.S.S. Iowa, one of four World War II battleships taken out of moth-balls during the Reagan arms buildup, was 330 miles northeast of Puerto Rico. It was about to commence a day of test firing its guns, the world's largest naval weapons, 16-inch guns that fire 2,700-pound projectiles up to 24 miles.

The blast sent a 3,000-degree fireball through the turret at more than 2,000 feet a second. Truitt and seven other sailors were nearly 60 feet below deck, in a turret's sixth-floor magazine, where more than 50 tons of explosive powder is routinely stored for any firing exercise. The magazine rooms are considered the ship's most dangerous, and are sealed off from the rest of the turret by explosive-proof walls.

Unknown to Truitt and his fellow seamen, the strange sound they heard at 9:55 A.M. was an explosion in the center gun at the top of the turret. The blast instantly killed the sailors in the two adjoining gun rooms and the turret officers' booth. It also sent a giant 3,000-degree fireball mushrooming through the turret's lower chambers at more than 2,000 feet a second.

Sailors on those floors died from either the flames or smoke inhalation. The explosive-proof walls surrounding the magazine rooms housing Truitt and his fellow sailors saved their lives that morning.

Unaware that 47 of their friends were now dead, one of the sailors ventured into the main turret chambers. In the adjoining room, also sealed by explosive-proof walls, were three more survivors, the last in the turret. Beyond their room, the extent of the blast became clear.

Inside the powder flats, a large room with 25-foot ceilings where explosives are stored while being hoisted to the top of the turret, there was cause for major alarm — burning powder bags. The explosion had killed the turret's electrical supply, and the flames now gave the only light. The room was filled with smoke and the strong odor of gas. Calls for other survivors went unanswered. The burning bags could explode at any moment, setting off a chain reaction that could blow the Iowa into small pieces around
the Caribbean.

Then, through the haze, the bodies of three men could be seen frozen upright holding a fire hose. For Truitt and the other survivors, it was time to evacuate.

The burning bags could explode at any moment, setting off a chain reaction that could blow the Iowa into small pieces around the Caribbean. The Navy will not confirm or deny whether the Iowa was armed with nuclear weapons on the day of the explosion, a factor which could have significantly worsened the disaster.

On his way up the narrow metal ladder leading to the deck, Truitt remembers that "there was smoke everywhere. I couldn't breathe. It was suffocating." But Truitt's day was just beginning. He realized that the only way to save the ship was to flood the powder magazines and prevent an explosion.

One of the other sailors had tried to turn on the water valves during the evacuation, but he was new to the ship, and was not certain he had opened the right valves. A mistake could be fatal. The only way to ensure that the flooding was under way was to re-enter the depths of the damaged turret. Truitt ignored the danger and returned to the magazines near the burning powder charges.

"None of the first people arriving with the fire crews knew much about the turret," he recalls. "They didn't even know where the magazines were. So I decided to make the trip, and told them to just watch the hole for me, in case I didn't come back up." While the first rescue teams gathered on deck, the 21-year-old sailor returned to the lowest depths of the gun maze. "It was terrible down there — real hard to breathe and see. I didn't know if I was going to make it."

He cranked the sprinkler valves to their full open position. Then he went to the powder flats to see if it was flooding. There he discovered a new problem. In their haste to evacuate, the sailors had forgotten to secure the doors and hatches — the flooding could endanger the entire ship. Less than ten feet from the burning powder bags, Truitt secured the room's doors and waited until the water came rushing in, before scrambling up the ladder.

Although Truitt had just performed his most heroic and important task, he was determined to stay at the scene and "help as much as possible." Upon returning to the deck, he volunteered for the rescue crew. During the next 12 hours, he made seven trips to discover his friends' bodies and lead the way around the maze of turret No. 2. What he faced in those seven journeys through the gun decks are scenes Truitt will never forget. The graphic descriptions he gave to Navy investigators within days of the accident emphasize the extent to which the scenes are branded in his mind. [The article continues; see "The Navy's Scapegoats" below in Links]

The Navy's Scapegoats: Gerald Posner, Penthouse, Jan 1990
  Complete account of subsequent Iowa witchhunt.  
  Death in the Military: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec 1993  
  Reprint of four-part series on military witchhunts.