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CIO David Canfield: What IOWA Means To Her ’89 Crew

What IOWA Means To Her 1989 Crew

Reflections from CIO David Canfield

Remembering And Returning


As a nineteen-year-old, Battleship IOWA Vice President and Chief Information/Technology Officer David Canfield experienced the worst day in the ship’s history. He’s given us permission to share a personal blog he wrote in 2011 to describe his perspective of the April 19, 1989 explosion of Turret 2, as well as a second reflection on what it was like to return to the ship years later as a member of the team that saved her.

Running Aft – A Lesson In Duty

It is early morning, on April 19, 1989. I am a 19 year old Engineman 3rd class in the United States Navy. I have just come off watch in the Forward Auxiliary Machinery Room (FWD AMR). Today, I am officially “short” – that is I have 90 days left until I am off active duty (my end of Active Obligated Service, or EAOS as it was called, was to be July 19, 1989).

I stop by the steam and heat shop, across from dental on the starboard side of the ship just aft of Turret Two, to see Rod Rottman, who is rotating out at the same time I am. We are not great friends, merely acquaintances, but we came aboard at the same time, and we are leaving at the same time and I decide to swing by and shoot the breeze a little.

Among other things, I talk about the strange change to the Watch Quarter and Station Bill — it has to be some kind of error. I’ve been assigned to General Quarters in After Steering. I’m not even fully qualified down there, and I should be in 1AMR (or so I think).

Oh well, in 90 days it won’t matter anyway.

We’re shooting early today — showing off for someone no doubt I think as Rottman and I chat. Then, at 0955, all hell breaks loose.

There is a sound as if we fired, but something does not feel right. This sound is followed by the General Quarters Alarm, and smoke in the ventilation. As someone on the 1MC begins yelling orders and saying something about an explosion in Turret Two, I run toward my new General Quarters Station — all the way aft, about as far from the turret as I can get…


The next minutes or hours were a blur to me (I have no concept of time in my memories of this). I sat in after steering, listening to the 1MC and as much traffic on the various communications systems as I could get — aft steering has lots of comms as it is functionally an alternate bridge.

I sat, and I listened, and I did nothing, for there was nothing that I could do. It was the most helpless I have ever felt in my entire life. I had trained to be on a damage control party. I had trained to run the engineering plant (or parts of it anyway) under the most difficult of casualties, I had trained to help. But here I sat, and listened, and waited.

I cannot express in words what that time of helplessly waiting was like, and then the shipwide muster, with 47 names called over and over and over and over for what seemed like an eternity.

“The following personnel report to the personnel office…”

And you knew they couldn’t. I didn’t know them all, but I ran boats and knew most of the guys from 2nd division.

Helpless, and all the way aft. and unable to do a damn thing.

Finally a call for “stretcher bearers” was made, and I was able to get out of aft steering. To do something. To clear out a refer deck.

But before I could even do that, the Chief was asking if I could get to FWD and help start the plant. (We needed the distilling plant, because the water is used by the boilers, as well as for personnel, and medical…)

So I went forward. There at least I knew what I was about — I had some skill. I was actually pretty well known as an expert on that plant, and maybe that is why they sent me down, or maybe they just needed a warm body who could get the distilling plant back under control (the space had been abandoned when it filled with smoke, being below and just aft of turret two).

So there I was in FWD, making water, just like I did every watch. I didn’t fight fires, I didn’t haul my shipmates to the refer deck, I didn’t do damage control. I ran aft.

Oh, I tried to help — I wanted to help, and I did a little at the refer deck — before going to FWD, but primarily I sat in Aft Steering, and then I went forward to make fresh water.

When crews were asked for to clean the turret, I volunteered, and I worked a little in 3 pump room when we were dewatering, but mostly I ran the distilling plant — and made fresh water.

I have thought a lot about that. I have friends of mine who were first responders — they fought fires, and others who worked in the wardroom with the bodies of our shipmates. Me, I ran aft.

And today, I grieve with a strange kind of survivor’s guilt. I didn’t just survive the Turret Two explosion — I survived the unique hell that people like Mac, a close friend and one of the first into the turret, went through. Not that my memory is not still seared by what I did see when I went in to the powder flats to “clean up” after the fires were out, that and the smell — there was plenty of horror to go around that day… But I was shielded from a lot of the trauma that other survivors dealt with.

It is a hard thing to get through our heads when we are not on the front lines, but a ship, a family, a company, a community is often served as well by those who are working quietly in the background. I don’t say that as justification because I ran to After Steering when my ship blew up — I would have done anything to have been in a position to “help” that day. It is because I was duty bound to run away from the conflagration that I began to notice other things: meals were cooked and served for the exhausted firefighters and the rest of the crew. The ship continued to move under her own power. Flight deck crews responded to incoming helos. The lights stayed on, and yes, we had fresh water to cook, drink, and bathe with as well as to feed the boilers so we could continue steaming.

22 years have passed. I have since retired as a Chief Petty Officer, no small accomplishment. I went on from IOWA to serve 11 years with the Special Warfare Combat Craft community, also with Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare, and finally to be an instructor for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center. I served with honor, and I did everything that I was called on to do…

Even when I was called to run aft.


It is difficult to describe my emotions when I stepped aboard the ship after almost 22 years. The ship had no ballast or liquid load, so she was riding high in the water, and the accommodation ladder was quite steep. The camera and other gear in my backpack was heavy, and as I climbed the ladder I began to feel my heart beating faster.

I realized after a moment, that I was breathing hard — almost hyperventilating — not from excursion, but for some other reason. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was very emotional, but I was trying to remain “professional” After all, I had been brought on this trip to be a guide, and to lend some of my technical experience and knowledge regarding some of the engineering systems, not to be a tourist, or other “visitor.”

My head cleared the edge of the ship… I looked across the main deck, now at eye level.

“Wow, the teak needs holystoning in a bad way” I thought, then I stepped aboard.

I was grinning from ear to ear. Here it was, just as I remembered it. I had a hard time seeing the paint as it appeared, but rather I was seeing it as I remembered.

The rest of the crew graciously busied themselves anywhere but near me. My eyes filled with tears. So many memories. I just stood for a few moments and let them wash over me, like waves crashing on the beach. I removed my hard-hat and fished out my IOWA cover… Not one of the new ones from the association’s store, but the old greasy battered and folded cover that I never wear any more for fear of loosing it. I smoothed out the bill of the cap (now almost completely free of support after so many years of being crammed into the pocket of my dungarees, and then from sitting for decades in my closet) and I placed it on my head. There — somehow that was better. Much better.

While the MARAD crew was unlocking the main entry, and explaining a bit about the dehumidifying systems, I slowly strolled across the deck. Forward starboard, around Turret One, and then back aft on the port side to the main entry (the main deck door just aft of the wardroom, port side).

As I stepped inside, the smell of the ship greeted me. Not an offensive odor by any means — she smells the same. That odd mixture of paint, fuel oil, lube oil, nicotine, grease, wax, and old paper… it smelled “right.” Again, the memories washed over me.

I have been aboard a number of “mothballed” ships in my life, but none that seemed so alive as IOWA. She did not feel lifeless the way other decommissioned ships feel. The D/H units were humming, and there was lighting throughout the ship — that helped. But more than that, this ship was not dead — she was still very much alive. Granted, she was in desperate need for some TLC, but she was alive. Her spirit was still there.

My first day aboard was filled with tracing electrical circuits, and guiding the PBC engineers to various main spaces etc. It was a busy day, and left little time to contemplate. I shared many stories with the work crew as we passed spots or equipment where the memories began to wash over me again.

I felt the years peel away — I was 17 again, and this was my home.

I came home after the first day tired, but basically happy. The crew I was working with had, throughout the day, found things to do other than to question me or be around me when the emotions were too great for me to handle, and I was grateful.

Nobody mentioned April 19. But the questions hung in the air — unasked, but palpable in their absence. I could not avoid that day in my memories, and soon it would be time.

The following day started a bit rough. I had shared the previous day with my wife and kids (and all my Facebook friends and shipmates), I felt good. I was excited about being able to take more pictures and go aboard again, but then I couldn’t sleep. My dreams were filled with good times, and bad times from the ship. My emotions were outwardly calm, but I was fraying a bit around the edges.

As I drove in (90 minutes) from home to the MARAD facility, my stomach was churning – maybe something I ate the night before, maybe something else. It was hard to tell.

I knew that today was the day. I had not seen the inside of T-2 since April 1989, and I would see it again today.

After busying myself on board for the first couple hours of the day, I was asked by one of the electricians if he could look at one of the turrets. We were in Anchor Windlass, and Turret One is just a little aft. I lead the way to a vertical ladder which lead to the powder magazine between Turrets 1 and 2. Since the ship was under D/H many hatches were sealed, and this was the only way into the turret. Down to the magazine, into the powder flat, and up from there.

I was not a gunner’s mate, and given that what little memory I had of the few times I was in the turrets was clouded by time, it took a few moments, and a few wrong turns to get the crew to all of the various places they were interested in seeing. We finally ended up in the T-1 gun room. Then, it was back down the way we came, taking pictures and notes along the way.

After some time we were back in the powder flat of T-1 I and could see the barbette of Turret Two through the open armored doors of the magazine.

It was time.

Safety regulations require that you move about the ship in teams of no less than two people. She’s a big ship, and it would be hard to search if someone went missing because they fell or were visited by some other misfortune. Because of this, my “safety” partner started through the magazine with me.

When I asked him to wait outside the turret he gave me a strange look, but then he began to understand what I was going to do. He made no objection, just nodded and asked when he should come looking for me. I indicated that if I was not out in 30 minutes, or if he heard me scream he could come in, but not before.

I stepped into the powder flats. There was no light. Just my flashlight. The last time I had been there it was dark also.

My breath was ragged even before I began the vertical climb up the hand holds to the shell deck. I placed my flashlight in my mouth and began climbing. Memories and emotions were not gently washing over me now, they were slamming into me like tidal waves. I climbed to the lower shell deck and found my way around to the other ladder to the upper shell deck. Then in to the machinery space in the middle, and up past the training motors and under center gun.

I was breathing fast, and I had started to cry. Not hard, not sobbing, but slowly and uncontrollably the tears slid down my face. I climbed the vertical ladder under the loading tray for center gun. Finally I stepped into the gun room. It was dark. The only light came from my flashlight.

“It has to be here,” I thought.

I had never seen it, but I knew it was there.

My flashlight played along the bulkheads until I saw it. A plaque. Simple, but poignant. and a wreath (I had not expected that).

I moved to the plaque. I was shaking with emotion.

I gathered my wits, and then out loud I read each name.

As the echo of each name faded I said a silent prayer for my shipmate and his family, struggling to remember each face and something about each one. This was hard for some — I was a snipe, and there were some of the 47 I had only known in passing. For others the memories were now cascading over me — almost drowning me.

When I finished reading each name I switched off my flashlight, sank to the deck in the pitch black — and sobbed like a child. There, in the dark, I sat until I had cried myself out. The waves were receding now. Not out of sight, but so that I was no longer submerged.

I switched my light on, and began my climb down. I paused at each deck — thinking about who worked where (as much as I could remember, or knew). I slowly worked myself back down to the powder flats.

It felt like I had carried the emotions of all of my shipmates up the turret, but as I descended I felt lighter. It feels good to cry sometimes, and I felt better. I had come to pay my respects. It was the right thing to do, and I am glad I did.

God Bless the IOWA 47. You will never be forgotten.

NOTE: The opinions expressed in David’s writings are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Pacific Battleship Center, Battleship IOWA Museum, or the National Museum of the Surface Navy.

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