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Relatives Tell Forebodings as Iowa Hoists Anchor

June 08, 1989|From Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. — Seven weeks after an explosion in a gun turret killed 47 crewmen, the battleship Iowa left Norfolk Naval Station on Wednesday for a six-month cruise to the Mediterranean Sea.

Many of its 1,500 crewmen, wearing dress whites, lined the rails when the World War II battleship pulled away, and several dozen relatives cried, waved and hugged each other on the pier.

"I don't want him to go out. I don't want him to go to the ship, much less go out," said Lucrecia Hester, wife of Iowa crewman Robert Hester.

Mrs. Hester and other relatives said they are worried that the ship might not be safe since Navy investigators have not determined why the explosion occurred April 19 during a training exercise in the Atlantic Ocean.

"It's scary," said Cherrie Todd, wife of Iowa Seaman Ernest Todd. "You don't know what to expect."

Mrs. Todd said her husband would like to transfer off the battleship. But other crewmen were looking forward to the cruise, relatives said.

Gary Jones came with his wife and two daughters from Knoxville, Tenn., to say goodby to his son David, who is making his first lengthy deployment.

"He's excited. We're excited for him," Gary Jones said.

The damaged No. 2 turret has been cleaned and painted and will be used during the voyage to train crewmen who replaced the dead sailors, said Lt. Cmdr. Brad Goforth, a ship spokesman.

But the 16-inch guns in that turret and the ship's other two turrets will not be fired until the Navy completes its investigation. Speculation on the cause of the blast has centered on faulty gunpowder, inadequate training and a crewman who may have set the blast to commit suicide.

The damaged turret will undergo $13 million in repairs when the ship returns from the Mediterranean.

The ship still can use its 5-inch guns and surface-to-surface missiles, Goforth said.

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