Although the Carrier Battle Group has drastically altered the doctrine of fleet operations in the modern age, four WW2 battleships which had been mothballed were given extensive modernization upgrades and returned to active duty during the Reagan years.

One of these ships was the U.S.S. Iowa.

The chief armament of the Battleships are her sixteen inch guns. Little changed from WW2 days, they are loaded by first ramming, with a pneumatic ram, a mission specific projectile into the bore followed by the propellent. The propellent is bundled in silk bags, with the number of bags determining the total charge in the gun (normally 6). The propellent is rammed in behind the projectile and the breach is closed.

Upon command to fire, the center gun on the number one turret fires, and radar tracks the projectile. A correction is computed and the remaining guns adjust themselves and fire.

On April 19th 1989 was 330 miles northeast of Puerto Rico on a training cruise. At 9:55 A.M. during the loading cycle, the center gun in the number 2 turret exploded with an open breach, sending a blast wave into the turret that killed 47 sailors.

The combination of a close friendship with one of the dead sailors, Clay Hartwig, plus some lead foil and a "Gung Ho" magazine led the Navy to accuse 21 year old Seaman Kendall Truitt (who was married) of having been one half of a failed homosexual love affair with Clay Hartwig, with his jilted lover then committing suicide in the number 2 turret.

The ferocity with which the Navy pursued this line of investigation made it apparent that there was another line of inquiry being hidden. Deliberate press leaks by the Iowa's Executive Officer to the Washington Post painted a picture of an unhappy gay sailor blowing himself and 46 of his fellow seamen into eternity. The story was then picked up by The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The Newport News Daily Press and Times Herald interviewed Truitt, promising him anonymity, then ran his name as page one news anyway.

Meanwhile, the Navy had discovered that the bags of propellent, dating from the Korean war, had been improperly stored for 5 months in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, the point at which the propellent becomes unstable.

The Navy's investigation also showed that the freshman sailor operating the rammer had over-rammed the propellent, 5 bags instead of the expected 6, slamming it into the warhead.

In response to accusations that the propellent was unstable, the Navy decided on a demonstration, and built a "drop test" rig. This was a simulated 16 inch gun barrel, with a ram at the base, that was dropped onto a concrete block to simulate over-ramming. The intention was to drop test the configuration again and again until it was evident that the propellent inside was safe from accidental detonation from over-ramming. Exactly the opposite was proven. On being dropped, the device detonated. The Navy then destroyed the remainder of the Iowa's propellent store and established new rules for the storing of propellent.

Despite this and other facts, the Navy's official report, issued on Thursday, September 7, 1989, concluded that the disaster was caused by a "wrongful intentional act ... most probably committed" by Clay Hartwig.

This is the key point. Even with the correct cause of the explosion in hand, the Navy willfully and falsely accused Clay Hartwig of a deliberate crime, and destroyed Kendall Truitt's life and career as well.

The Navy's Scapegoats

Gerald Posner

The Navy's Scapegoats

   by Gerald Posner, Penthouse, January 1990
   "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.
   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.
   This tape is critical evidence, because it is the most contemporaneous
   statement taken from an eyewitness about the disaster. On the tape,
   Truitt, one of only 11 survivors of an accident that claimed 47
   sailors, describes the confusion surrounding the blast, the efforts he
   made to prevent 124,000 pounds of powder from exploding, and his many
   trips into the turret to find the bodies of his friends.
   As a result of that interview, the Navy knew that Truitt was almost
   single-handedly responsible for averting a much greater catastrophe.
   He was one of the only survivors to have stayed for nearly 15 hours,
   risking his life in the rescue work. And, in fact, within days of the
   accident, the Navy acknowledged his heroic performance.
   But shortly thereafter, Truitt's life became a nightmare. The
   Navy--unable or unwilling to face its own failures--leaked unfounded
   rumors regarding homosexuality and possible complicity in mass murder.
   Irresponsible journalism fueled the flames, giving those stories
   worldwide distribution and credibility. It was a total and complete
   turnaround, based largely on secondhand information and unfounded
   gossip. But before the Navy would admit it was wrong, Truitt and his
   family had their lives shattered. Now, for the first time completely
   and fully, 21-year-old Kendall Truitt tells how a national hero became
   a vilified scapegoat.
   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. 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
   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. 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.
   But he persisted in the stomach-wrenching work. And when he was not
   finding and retrieving bodies, he was returning to the powder flats
   and checking on the progress of the flooding. "I knew I had to keep
   busy. If I stopped for a moment and really thought about what had
   happened, I probably would have broken down. By the time I finished at
   1:00 A.M., I just crashed out. I don't think I've ever been that
   By the time the Navy investigators took Truitt's video statement, they
   knew that by flooding the burning powder flats and magazines, and
   securing the doors and hatches. the 21-year-old sailor had probably
   saved the ship from a complete catastrophe. But Kendall Truitt was
   "just doing [his] job." He recalls, 'At first
   I didn't know anything about what was going on. I just knew we were
   starting to list, and I thought the ship was going down. I knew I had
   to do as much as possible to help. I didn't know what the damage was
   outside the turret. I just did the best I could." To the Navy, the
   modest Truitt was a hero.
   On April 24, a memorial service was held at the Iowa's home port in
   Norfolk, Virginia. President Bush and the international press corps
   gathered there. The Navy also paid tribute to Truitt, asking him to
   say a few words to the media. His wife Carole recalls the day vividly.
   "1 was so proud of Ken. People were coming up to me and saying he had
   saved the ship. A commander came to me and said, 'Mrs. Truitt, I just
   want you to know you have a very brave husband, and you should be very
   proud of him.'"
   Truitt remembers it as a sad but proud day. "1 felt bad because
   friends of mine had died. I felt real bad. But it was also good to
   know that what I had done had been appreciated. The captain of the
   Iowa called Carole and me into his office to congratulate me. He was
   real pleased."
   Following the service, Truitt took some leave and visited his parents
   in Marion, Illinois. He had left Marion two years earlier as a normal
   teenager in a conservative and uneventful corn-farming
   community. The eldest of three sons in a strict Methodist household,
   Truitt was a talented high school athlete. Tall and good-looking, he
   was a sought-after date by the town's girls. But in the spring of
   1989, he returned home as something quite different--a hometown boy
   who had made it big. Truitt fondly recalls his return: "It was really
   something. We were in all the papers up there. I was a hero. I spoke
   on the [Illinois] Senate floor, and they passed a special resolution
   honoring me."
   While the Truitts were celebrating their newfound status in Illinois,
   on May 3, Kathleen Kubicina, the sister of one of the dead seamen, was
   writing a letter to Naval authorities. In it she disclosed that her
   brother, Gunner's Mate Second Class Clayton M. Hartwig, had named
   Kendall Truitt as the sole beneficiary on a $50,000 life insurance
   policy, with double indemnity for accidental death. But Kubicina
   complained that her brother had had a falling-out with Truitt, and had
   decided to remove his name as beneficiary' and instead list his own
   parents. She wanted the Navy's help in changing the policy so her
   parents could collect on the premium.
   To the Naval Investigative Service (N.I.S.), this information provided
   the first suggestion, however remote, that the explosion might be
   anything other than an accident. If true, it raised a possible motive:
   that Truitt may have killed Hartwig for the insurance money, knowing
   that he was about to be eliminated as the policy's beneficiary. The
   Navy was not dissuaded from this suspicion, despite the fact that in
   order to have collected on the policy, Truitt would have had to blow
   up Hartwig and the rest of the turret while somehow escaping injury
   himself, something far from certain in any explosion. Though logic
   argued against such an involvement, the Navy pursued the connection
   with vigor, soon discovering that Hartwig had named his parents as
   beneficiaries for his $50,000 servicemen's group life insurance
   policy. The policy naming Truitt was issued when the Iowa was heading
   for a then dangerous Persian Gulf in September 1987. Even though the
   Navy knew that it was not unusual for a sailor to name a close friend
   as a beneficiary, it acted as though it had unearthed a smoking gun in
   a criminal case. In an action separate from the continuing inquiry
   into the cause of the Iowa explosion, the Navy assigned 150 agents to
   the newly opened criminal investigation.
   The Navy found tidbits of information to support the complex case it
   was trying to construct. Graffiti in some of the men's toilets
   suggested that Truitt and Hartwig were lovers, and other sailors
   taunted them about being gay. The ship's records also showed that in
   early 1987, Truitt and Hartwig had been charged with "dereliction Of
   duty." When they both were supposed to be on night watch, two other
   sailors had spotted them rolling around on the floor. Although the
   light was dim and the sailors had to use flashlights to focus on the
   scene, they were convinced that they had seen two men embracing.
   Hartwig and Truitt were indignant in their defense at the time,
   adamantly declaring that they were merely "horsing around" and
   wrestling. The Navy nonetheless took a stripe away from Hartwig. To
   the N.I.S. investigators, the bathroom graffiti, the teasing by fellow
   shipmates, and the incident on watch were all the evidence needed to
   set the "homosexual lovers" theory in motion.
   In addition, other unrelated facts were put together to make a case
   against the two sailors. Truitt had been arrested in April 1987 for
   possessing a stolen car. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor
   and paid full restitution of more than $4,000. The Navy considered
   this episode evidence of a criminal character flaw in Truitt, even
   though it worked against part of its own theory-since Truitt had
   stolen the car in order to visit his girlfriend in Marion, it was
   difficult to imagine that he had become a practicing homosexual
   following his arrest. But the Navy ignored the contradictions and
   plunged ahead in its rush to find a culprit.
   Truitt had a six-month subscription to Gung Ho, and Hartwig was a
   subscriber to Soldier of Fortune, both paramilitary-adventurer
   magazines. Truitt also owned an out-of-date copy of an Army munitions
   book, while Hartwig had Getting Even: The Complete Book of Dirty
   Tricks, about settling scores with your enemies. Although magazines
   and books like these are not unusual in military households, the Navy
   gave them the sinister interpretation that they proved the two sailors
   were interested in and capable of assembling military devices,
   including explosives. Added to this developing but weakly supported
   scenario was the fact that when Truitt's locker had been searched in
   1987 at the time of his stolen-car arrest, the Navy had discovered a
   grain of gunpowder. A grain from one of the powder charges for the
   Iowa's 16-inch guns is not a typical speck of powder, but resembles a
   roll of 40 stacked quarters. For that reason, many sailors collect
   them as souvenirs for their civilian friends and relatives. But the
   gunpowder grain found in Truitt's locker was given new
   significance--in addition to his having the know-how, "explosives" had
   been found in his possession.
   Two last pieces of hearsay fueled the Navy's case. First were press
   reports that Truitt and Hartwig had taken out joint life insurance
   policies on each other. This disclosure sparked the Navy's interest,
   since it would represent an unusual move. It was also false. There
   hadn't even been a discussion between the two sailors about taking
   such action, but at the time the Navy accepted it as true. Finally,
   the N.I.S. investigators were told 'that after Truitt married in
   December 1988, Hartwig had a falling-out with his friend. The N.IS.
   looked at this development as an indication of Hartwig's anger over
   being spurned as a lover. From the perspective of wild speculation,
   the case was starting to take shape.
   Complicating the matter for Truitt, his ability to remain calm and
   steady under tremendous pressure was now being interpreted to his
   disadvantage. On the 45-minute video taken shortly after the accident,
   Truitt was able to describe horrendous scenes with an almost detached
   coolness. On the occasions I spoke or met with him, he was the Navy
   professional at all times, never appearing especially emotional. This
   coldness could certainly be off-putting But it is not a crime to be
   unsympathetic. The very trait the Navy admired, that allowed Truitt to
   calmly make seven journeys through the ravaged gun turret. was now
   turned around to establish him as a cold-hearted conniver.
   But Truitt himself was not aware that he was the subject of the Navy's
   scattered investigation. On May 15, he turned in a letter to his
   commanding officer requesting a transfer from the Iowa for "emotional
   reasons" Truitt recounts. "1 was walking around in a daze. Nobody went
   through what t did--none of the other survivors did what I did. I
   pulled out bodies, I ID'd bodies, I made seven trips into the turret.
   The bodies were still there, and I was passing my friends time and
   time again. These had been my friends. I wasn't sleeping well or
   eating well. I tried to avoid the turret. And when I did go in there,
   I could see the bodies, just where I found them. I became tired of
   bringing the ship home to my wife and having it be around us all the
   The next day, May 16, without any prior warning, Truitt was called
   into a small enclosed room at N.I.S. headquarters (he describes it as
   a "closet") and grilled by two agents for more than three hours. They
   asked to search his locker on the ship. "1 had nothing to hide, so I
   agreed," Truitt recalls. In his locker they found a lead foil used as
   a cleansing agent between the powder bags. Again, the investigators
   knew that sailors commonly took these foils as souvenirs. Yet the foil
   was added to the growing N.I.S. list of suspicious materials. The
   investigators then asked to search Truitt's house. Again he agreed.
   That afternoon, the N.I.S. officers took Truitt home. This time they
   quizzed Carole Truitt. She is still bitter when she remembers that
   day: "They asked me real personal questions and were very rude and
   abrasive. They asked me things like, 'Were your husband and Clay
   Hartwig friends?' 'Did you like Clay Hartwig?' 'What type of friend
   was Clay Hartwig to your husband?' 'Did you have sex with your husband
   prior to marriage?' 'Did you ever have sex with Clay Hartwig, or with
   Clay Hartwig and your husband at the same time?' 'Do you think Clay
   Hartwig was a homosexual?'"
   The questioning continued for two hours. Then the N.I.S. officers
   started searching the Truitts' home. They rummaged through underwear,
   personal letters, and high school yearbooks, among other private
   items. They look notes the entire time. "I felt so violated by what
   they had done," Carole recalls. "1 cried for an hour after they left.
   It was like I had been raped."
   For the next two days, the Truitts barely functioned, almost in a
   daze. They could not believe that the Navy, after praising Ken as a
   hero only two weeks earlier, was now investigating him for links to
   the accident that almost claimed his own life. But from their
   questions, Truitt knew what they were insinuating. "It was really
   terrible. I could tell they were trying to make Clay and [me] out to
   be homosexuals. That is just a big lie."
   Truitt is the first to admit that he and Hartwig were very close
   friends. The 24-year-old, six-foot-one Hartwig, a devout Seventh-Day
   Adventist, had been in the Navy for nearly three years before Truitt
   met him. He was shy and introverted, a bookworm on Naval history, and
   was often the subject of merciless taunting by his fellow sailors. He
   was different from most of the crew, and as a result, deemed fair game
   for practical jokes and insults. The six-foot-four Truitt decided to
   befriend Hartwig, and he told the other sailors to "knock it off."
   "Clay and I just hit it off from the start," Truitt remembers. "He
   became my best friend on the ship. And when we had port leave, we
   spent the time together. He was very honest, and that was one of the
   reasons he became such a good friend. We really appreciated each
   other. We had a lot of the same interests, like cars, music, and guns,
   and we would stay up late at night and talk to each other. The other
   guys would get on our backs because we wouldn't do illegal things--we
   wouldn't smoke, drink, all that stuff that a lot of the guys liked to
   do. When we got to a port, like when we were in France, we would take
   a tour or something. We liked to learn something about the place we
   were in--the other guys just liked to get trashed. Half the guys can't
   even remember the last time they were in France, they were so trashed.
   So some of the guys disliked us for being separate and not being part
   of the gang--so behind our backs they would say we must be faggots. To
   them, that's what you had to be if you'd rather go to a museum than to
   a bar and get drunk."
   Truitt admits that on his first full cruise on the Iowa, the other
   sailors "really razzed Clay and me." The taunting continued for
   several months. "Then finally the guys let up and sometimes teased us
   to our face," Truitt remembers. "But it didn't really bother me. I
   knew it wasn't true, so I could take it. But it bothered Clay a lot
   more. Sometimes he would joke around and say that if the guys didn't
   stop picking on us, that he was just going to end it all and not be
   around one day. I knew him real well--he was just fooling around and
   trying to be tough. It didn't mean a thing." But the rumors of suicide
   talk worked their way back to N I.S investigators, who later heard it
   from four witnesses. Even though Hartwig's eventual psychological
   profile would contradict a suicidal tendency, the Navy gave the
   locker-room talk credence.
   Truitt also acknowledges that his friendship with Hartwig cooled after
   his December 1988 marriage. The two friends had been discussing a
   joint career in the Drug Enforcement Administration when they got out
   of the Navy. With his marriage, Truitt postponed his plans to enter
   law enforcement, and Hartwig was upset. "Also, it meant I wasn't going
   to be spending all of my free time now with Clay since I had Carole.
   He didn't like it." Hartwig, like many men when their best friend gets
   married, felt abruptly left out of his buddy's new life. In addition,
   he did not like Truitt's new bride. When Truitt asked Hartwig what he
   thought of their new engagement ring, Hartwig stood up and curtly told
   Truitt, "You're fucking crazy, man. This marriage isn't going to last
   two months." Ken Truitt felt that changes were to be expected in such
   a close friendship when one of the friends gets married. "We still
   continued to be real good friends. We spent a lot of time together. So
   it wasn't like all of a sudden we weren't buddies anymore. It was just
   It should not have taken very long for the N.I.S. investigators to
   learn that their major hypothesis was incorrect. There was no evidence
   to support the innuendoes and aspersions that a jilted homosexual
   lover was the motivation for the explosion. Not a single sailor came
   forward to say he knew for a fact that either Hartwig or Truitt was
   gay. (One sailor initially told the N.I.S. that Hartwig had once made
   a "pass" at him, but later recanted it, saying that he had been under
   a great deal of pressure during the long N.I.S. interrogation.)
   Within days of its commencement, the N.I.S. investigation was stymied.
   Making little headway in its newfound conspiracy theory, the Navy
   tried the case in the national media. "Raw intelligence data,"
   otherwise known as unsupported gossip, was leaked to the press.
   On Friday night, May 19, the Iowa's executive officer, Commander
   Morse, telephoned Truitt and warned him that The Washington Post would
   be reporting that he was a homosexual and had contributed to the
   explosion. "1 was furious," Truitt recalls. "1 mean, suddenly they
   were trying to make me into this homosexual, mass murderer, homicidal
   freak." Truitt, still without the benefit of a lawyer, telephoned the
   newspaper and threatened to sue if they printed his name. The
   telephone call was only partly effective. The newspaper decided to run
   the story but mask his identity. At 1:00 A.M. the Newport News Daily
   Press and Times Herald arrived at Truitt's apartment and questioned
   him about the breaking story. According to the Truitts, they also
   promised not to print his name, a representation the newspaper
   disputes. The next day his name was in the paper's article, tied to
   the investigation as a suspect.
   With the encouragement of Commander Morse, the Truitts left Norfolk to
   visit Carole's family in Tampa. On Sunday they saw a copy of a Tampa
   Tribune article implying that Truitt was a homosexual and a possible
   murderer. By this time Newsday, The New York Times, and the Los
   Angeles Times had jumped on the story. The Associated Press and United
   Press International had sent the allegations worldwide. None of the
   reports ever named their "source." Every day for a week, the Truitts
   telephoned Morse or the Iowa's public-affairs officer, and were told
   to extend their stay until everything "cooled down."
   Later that week, the national news media began citing "a special
   relationship" between Truitt and Hartwig, and implying that foul play
   might have caused the accident. These reports contained substantial
   inaccuracies, including assertions that a book entitled How to Get
   Even Without Going to Jail, as well as detonating caps, had been
   discovered in the Truitts' home the day N.I.S. investigators searched
   it. (There was no such book, and nothing remotely resembling a
   detonating cap had been found at the Truitts' home.) Some reports also
   claimed that detonating devices were found in Truitt's locker aboard
   the Iowa. Again they were wrong--the locker contained only the
   cleansing foil common to gunner's mates.
   The reports were devastating to Truitt, since at the time no one knew
   they were incorrect. Carole Truitt was worried. "My husband was going
   to be the most hated man in the country, more than even Charles Manson
   and Ted Bundy. I felt very helpless."
   Truitt did not know where to turn. He knew he wasn't gay. He knew he
   wasn't a mass murderer. Now his friendship with the introverted
   Hartwig was being misconstrued and was destroying him. Carole sought
   help from her father. He remembered a newspaper article about a Miami
   lawyer, Ellis Rubin, a premier trial attorney and a specialist in
   protecting his clients against the intrusion of the news media. The
   Truitts telephoned Rubin, who agreed to meet with them the next day,
   May 25. Once again, Ken and Carole Truitt were subjected to hours of
   questioning. But this time, the interrogator believed them. Rubin took
   their case.
   The following day, May 26, Rubin appeared at a national press
   conference with his clients. It was the first chance the media had to
   grill the Truitts since the scandalous story had broken. Only Rubin's
   frequent interventions saved Truitt from knuckling under to the day's
   pressures. "I couldn't believe how shallow some of the reporters
   were," he recalls. "They kept trying to get me to say that Clay always
   spoke of suicide, or [asked] questions like, 'When was the first time
   you knew Hartwig was gay?' I would say for the tenth time that he
   wasn't gay. Then someone would ask the same question again in a couple
   of minutes. It was unbelievable. Everyone was asking questions like I
   was already guilty of something. It was like I had at-ready been tried
   and convicted."
   Later that night, Tom Brokaw interviewed Truitt via satellite, and
   some of Truitt's denials were broadcast on the nightly newscast. But
   it was too late to help him. The damage was done.
   Truitt was furious. "1 saw this and thought it was bullshit. It's not
   enough that I've been through this entire ordeal, could have been
   killed, picked up pieces of my friends, put them in bags. I'm thinking
   this is unbelievable. I figured that people who didn't know the truth
   were probably going to want to kill me. If this continued, I figured
   they were going to put me in jail for something I didn't do."
   While the Navy continued its investigation, matters worsened for the
   Truitts. Over the Memorial Day holiday, Truitt, whose transfer had
   been granted, returned to the Iowa to collect his goods and say
   good-bye to friends. "It was an emotional visit for me," Truitt says.
   "it was my own way of saying good-bye one last time to the friends I
   had lost." But, according to Truitt, the Navy did not want him on the
   ship. He was eventually given a security escort and allowed to gather
   his personal possessions, but not to have any contact with other
   seamen. Truitt, the hero of several weeks earlier, was now being
   treated with suspicion and contempt. "That was a real slap in the
   face," a bitter Truitt remembers. "I've cried about those fellows who
   died. I've really missed those men. It was terrible to do that to me
   on my own ship."
   Although the Navy categorically denies it, Truitt is convinced that he
   and his family were subjected to mail intercepts and telephone taps
   during the investigation. His father-in-law, who was very outspoken on
   Truitt's behalf, saw a drastic drop-off in his fast-food restaurant
   The only thing that prevented the Truitts from hitting rock bottom was
   the help and support of Ellis Rubin. But Rubin knew the most important
   support his client could receive would be found in the Navy's upcoming
   report, which would supposedly settle once and for all what had
   happened aboard the Iowa. Rubin hoped that the Navy, in the course of
   thousands of tests, would eventually settle on the facts, not on the
   wild speculation that had fueled media interest. By late May, there
   was strong evidence the Navy might have found the probable cause of
   the accident. Investigators were shocked to discover that the powder
   charges aboard the Iowa on the day of the disaster had been improperly
   stored for five of the hottest months of 1988 on uncooled barges on
   Virginia's York River. The stabilizers used to make the powder charges
   safe begin decomposing at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. At 100 degrees, the
   powder decomposes at a fast rate. At 110 degrees, it destabilizes at a
   dangerous clip. During the time the Navy was storing the powder on the
   river barges, there were 43 days when the temperature reached 90
   degrees or higher. Moreover, the temperature inside the
   aluminum-covered barges was often 25 degrees hotter than outdoors.
   The powder charges used aboard ships such as the Iowa have caused
   problems in the past. All of the powder used on the Navy's four World
   War II battleships was manufactured either during that war or the
   Korean conflict. When the battleships were reactivated in the 1980s,
   many of the charges were deemed unstable and destroyed. The Navy
   monitors the remaining powder to detect dangerous losses of the
   crucial stabilizer. But unable to offer an explanation, the Navy
   bypassed the overcooked powder that found its way onto the Iowa.
   Moreover, investigators discovered that the powder in the ill-fated
   center gun had been rammed in more than 22 inches farther than normal.
   Thus instead of some space existing between the first powder bag and
   the 2,700-pound projectile, the powder had been slammed into the metal
   warhead. The sailor responsible for the manual ramming device was on
   his first gun assignment. In addition, unknown to the Iowa's captain,
   the ship's master chief petty officer had ordered experimental powder
   loads for that morning's practice shooting. Instead of the normal six
   bags, the center gun was filled with only five for its first shot. To
   many experts, the possibility that an untrained rammer had shoved the
   experimental load of unstable powder into the warhead, causing the
   explosion, was the likely answer.
   But Rubin's hope that the Navy's investigation would produce
   definitive results was dashed on Thursday, September 7, 1989. On that
   day the Navy released its report of more than 1,000 pages in which it
   concluded that the disaster was caused by a "wrongful intentional act
   ... most probably committed" by Clay Hartwig. Separate from the N.I.S.
   investigation, the Navy had interviewed 82 witnesses, employed more
   than 50 explosives experts from all of the armed forces and the FBI.,
   conducted more than 20,000 technical tests, and spent more than $4
   million in taxpayers' money.
   The report made no mention of the more scandalous allegations that had
   been widely disseminated in the press sullying Truitt's reputation.
   The Navy condemned the shoddy handling of the powder during the
   scorching summer months. But it dismissed the idea that unstable
   powder had caused the accident, although scientists contended that
   even if the remaining powder tested stable, this finding did not rule
   out defective powder as the explosion's cause. Temperatures in a
   sealed barge vary, rendering only some of the charges dangerous.
   Although the Navy destroyed all of the Iowa's remaining charges, and
   banned the storage of powder on unventilated barges, in the end it
   ignored the weight of the evidence. The Navy also ignored the
   inexperience of the rammer, as well as that of the sailors responsible
   for the primer and for hoisting powder.
   Instead, the Navy placed the blame on a dead sailor, using evidence so
   weak that it would have never garnered an indictment in a civilian
   court. Microscopic particles found in the gun were subjected to F.B.I.
   tests. They proved "inconclusive." But even so, the Navy decided the
   particles belonged to a detonating device.
   The Navy never even attempted to explain why, seconds before the
   explosion, one of the sailors in the confined center gun room
   announced: "We've got a little problem here--tell them we're not ready
   yet." Why? What problem? With an admiral visiting the Iowa that day,
   there was great pressure on the seamen to perform well. Had a miscue
   appeared at the last moment? The Navy never found out. If Clayton
   Hartwig was trying to place an explosive device between the powder
   bags, as the Navy charges, would a sailor announce that there was a
   "little problem," or would he have sounded an emergency alert?
   Under close analysis, the case against Hartwig falls apart. The Navy
   could never explain how Hartwig could have premeditated such a complex
   action, since he was not even on the job list for the fatal
   exercise--he was only a last-minute replacement. Are we to believe
   that he was desperately suicidal but was waiting for his next
   assignment to the turret to take his life, rather than doing so
   beforehand? Hartwig's psychological profile doesn't fit that of either
   a suicidal individual or a mass murderer. Independent psychiatrists
   who analyzed his background found no signs of psychosis, paranoia, or
   clinical depression. Instead, the therapists concluded that Hartwig
   was content with his job, anticipating his next assignment in a
   security role in London, and that the great weight of the evidence ran
   counter to suicide. The Navy ignored these findings.
   Kendall Truitt is embittered over the report: "They owe me an apology
   at the very least. Their leaks have really left the public with a lot
   of doubts about me, and none of it is true or fair."
   Ellis Rubin worries that there may be. a more devious reason for the
   report's conclusions. "It certainly is a lot better for the Navy if it
   looks like this accident took place because some deranged sailor
   caused it. If they have to acknowledge the problems with these World
   War II ships, the aging powder, and the danger involved, they would
   raise real concerns about the safety aboard the other battleships. But
   by failing to confront these issues head-on, they may be endangering
   the lives of other innocent young sailors."
   Although the Navy feels no need to apologize to Truitt, Navy officials
   have "unofficially" told reporters that the accusations against him
   were wrong. But justice is not served by such a quiet correction. At
   the very least, the Navy should restore Truitt's reputation with the
   same aggressiveness with which it impugned his honor. The clock should
   be turned back to April 24, when in the presence of President Bush,
   Truitt was hailed as a hero.
   Copyright 1990 by Gerald Posner

The Gays and Lesbians Comment.

  GLAAD Asks Navy Apology for USS Iowa Slur
       LOS ANGELES, CA -- October 18, 1991 --
       The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation believes the United
       States Navy owes the gay and lesbian community an apology for
       slurs issued during the early stages of the Navy's investigation
       of the explosion aboard the USS Iowa, which claimed the lives of
       47 sailors in April 1989.
       In May 1989, "unnamed sources" within the Naval Investigative
       Services (NIS) leaked to NBC correspondent Fred Francis claims
       that there was evidence of a murder/ suicide involving a
       "homosexual relationship" between Gunner's Mate Clayton Hartwig
       (who was killed in the blast) and Gunner's Mate Kendall Truitt
       (who survived). In June, Francis reported that Navy investigators
       were "convinced" that Hartwig was a "troubled homosexual" who was
       suicidal because other sailors had rejected his advances. In both
       cases the national media picked up the story, with attribution to
       NBC. In October 1989, the Navy claimed that the blast was "most
       probably" intentionally caused by Hartwig.
       Yesterday, the Navy announced that over a year of tests and
       analysis by the Navy and independent scientists had led to the
       conclusion that the blast may have been an accident after all and
       not sabotage. The Navy also announced that it had issued an
       apology to Hartwig's family. GLAAD/LA Executive Director Richard
       Jennings called on the Navy "to apologize to the gay and lesbian
       citizens of this country," explaining that the Navy's original
       "theory" as to the cause of the blast was "an insulting and
       insidious attempt to buttress the Navy's policy of prejudice with
       a yarn concocted wholly out of myths and stereotypes, with
       absolutely no basis in fact."
       According to Jennings, the NIS has long been criticized by civil
       rights groups for its tactics in probes of suspected gays and
       lesbians. Moreover, a New York Times story in July 1989 revealed
       that, contrary to the NBC story, a psychological profile of
       Hartwig assembled by the FBI did not prove homosexuality, but
       suggested a tendency to form dependent relationships with his male
       friends. The Times also reported that Congressional officials said
       they were told by the Navy in private briefings that investigators
       did not believe Hartwig was homosexual. On September 4, 1989,
       Seaman David Smith recanted testimony that Hartwig had made sexual
       advances toward him, saying that Navy investigators questioned him
       in sessions lasting up to 12 hours and threatened to charge him
       with 47 counts of murder and as an accessory to murder if he did
       not cooperate.
       In October 1989, GLAAD issued a press release questioning the
       Navy's motives in leaking its preliminary theory, and pointing out
       the Navy's vested interest in suggesting that a "troubled
       homosexual" was behind the blast. According to GLAAD/NY Media
       Chair Stephen Miller, "Several court cases were then being
       litigated involving gay men and lesbians fighting discharge from
       the Navy, and the Navy was attempting to defend its discriminatory
       discharge policy by claiming that gays were a disruptive influence
       to proper military functioning."
       GLAAD/USA is a diverse organization with chapters nationwide
       devoted to promoting fair and accurate portrayals of lesbians and
       gay men, and to discouraging stereotypes and misinformation. GLAAD
       pursues this goal by organizing grass-roots response to public
       expressions of bigotry and working with the media to improve
       coverage of issues that concern gays and lesbians.

Back To The Top.

Back To The Crash Page.

Back To The TWA Page.

Mail to:

drupal statistics