A Glimpse of Hell : The Explosion on the U. S. S. Iowa & Its Cover-Up

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9780393047141: A Glimpse of Hell : The Explosion on the U. S. S. Iowa & Its Cover-Up

Early one April morning in 1989, during a routine training exercise in the Caribbean, the center gun in Turret Two of the recommissioned battleship USS Iowa blew up. A batched investigation of the forty-seven fatalities began mere hours after the deadly explosion. Captain Fred Moosally, an Annapolis football star who had recently taken command of the Iowa, declined an offer of assistance from a professional accident team aboard a nearby aircraft carrier. Matters worsened when the investigation began on land. An investigative panel was led by a rear admiral whose handling of a sister ship to the Iowa had come under critical review. A technical team managed to lose key evidence - two 2,700-pound projectiles, in a locked storage facility - while conducting tests that proved nothing but the team's own incompetence. Squads from the Naval Investigative Service tried to twist testimony from grieving relatives of the slaughtered crew members. The concerted effort to pin blame for the Iowa explosion on Seaman Hartwig, supposedly acting to revenge a thwarted homosexual affair, ultimately destroyed careers up the chain of command of the U.S. Navy.

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Review:

On April 19, 1989, Turret Two aboard the recommissioned battleship USS Iowa exploded, killing 47 men. In A Glimpse of Hell, former naval officer, newspaper reporter, and 60 Minutes producer Charles Thompson has written an authoritative exposé of the United States Navy high command's consistent efforts to manipulate the evidence of that disaster and slander deceased seaman Clayton Hartwig. The Iowa investigation is contextualized by Thompson's startling insights into the moral universe of the navy's masters, a cabal so protective of their own jobs that they prepared press releases indicating that an out-of-control Tomahawk missile launched from the Iowa was actually a part of a federal and military crackdown on an illicit marijuana field in Alabama. Unlike the Tomahawk debacle, the falsehoods embroidered into the investigation of the Turret Two disaster did become public, as naval officials accepted a noticeably botched report from investigators who "lost" two 2,700-pound projectiles and consistently claimed, with no foundation, that Hartwig, killed in the explosion, was a murderous and suicidal psychopath who blew up the turret in revenge for a thwarted homosexual affair. Two years later, they were forced to admit that they had no clear and convincing evidence linking Hartwig to the explosion and apologized to his surviving family members. (The family later initiated a $12 million defamation lawsuit against the U.S. Navy.)

As active duty officers rebuffed his own investigation, Thompson found that many personnel, including captains and admirals, were willing to talk when their careers were no longer on the line. A Glimpse of Hell assiduously follows the Iowa story with a dedication that honors the dead and their families, as one journalist does more to expose the careerism and sexual preoccupations of ranking naval officers--and their consequences--than any government investigative agency. --James Highfill

From Kirkus Reviews:

A thoroughly researched, exhaustively detailed look at the gun-turret explosion aboard the recommissioned battleship USS Iowa by a former naval officer, reporter, and producer of 60 Minutes (for which he produced two segments on this incident). Thompson skillfully reconstructs the conditions and events leading up to the explosion in gun-turret number two, which killed 47 men; he also vividly portrays the various people who played key roles in the explosion and the subsequent investigation. While the technical particulars of the incident and the ships history would take an advanced science degree to master, Thompson manages to convey the salient facts in a clear and accessible light. But its in his account of the navys reaction to the explosion that he particularly excelshe shows an entire bureaucracy in action and depicts such personages as the captain of the Iowa, Fred Moosally, making greater attempts to limit damage to his career than to discover the cause of the accident and prevent possible future loss of life. Thompson takes the navy to task for trying to depict one dead sailor, Clayton Hartwig, as a homosexual, and then pinning a charge of sabotage against him for intentionally causing the explosion to settle a lovers quarrel. Hartwigs parents are central figures in the book, showing the callousness of the navy in its efforts to shift the blame to their son. While Thompson doesnt provide final conclusions for what caused the accidentthe navy couldnt determine a causehe conjectures that improper handling of WWII-era powder was a likely factor. A compelling look at an explosion at sea and the navys botched handling of its investigation by a top-flight journalist. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Charles C. Thompson II
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