A USS Iowa crewman who was in the gun turret that exploded and killed 47 sailors says he was waiting for its massive 16-inch guns to fire, but the blast he heard "didn't sound right."
After the explosion, Kendall L. Truitt recalled Monday, he and 10 others in the bottom of the turret tried to radio sailors on the five upper decks but none answered."We knew that something was drastically wrong," said the gunner's mate third class, who is from Tampa, Fla.
He said he then ordered the gunpowder magazine secured and the area evacuated.
The quick actions of the 11 and other Iowa crewmen were critical in preventing an even bigger tragedy aboard the World War II-era battleship, Capt. Fred P. Moosally said.
"I can't say enough about the hundreds of heroes who fought the fire and saved the ship," Moosally said. "God gave birth to 500 heroes."
The two spoke at a news conference several hours after a memorial service for the victims at the Norfolk Naval Air Station, the Iowa's home port.
About 6,000 mourners heard President Bush praise "the men behind the guns."
"They came to the Navy as strangers, served the Navy as shipmates and friends, and left the Navy as brothers in eternity," Bush said. Afterward, he and his wife, Barbara, consoled victims' families.
Navy officials have refused to speculate on the cause of Wednesday's blast that occurred during a gunnery exercise off Puerto Rico. Officials said they had no idea when an investigation would be completed.
"There was a tremendous amount of damage done, and of course lives were lost so it will be a very thorough investigation," Lt. Cmdr. Steve Burnett, a spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, said Tuesday.
"There are lots of theories floating around," Moosally said. "Unfortunately, all the witnesses are dead."
Officials also said they haven't finished assessing the damage to the turret.
Moosally refused to give a definite answer to questions about whether the turret could be repaired. He said the battleship could operate without it if necessary.
The Iowa has three turrets, each with three 16-inch guns.
The captain said there were no indications of any problems with the guns before the blast.
The No. 1 turret had already fired its rounds, Moosally said, while in the second turret, the practice projectiles and five 110-pound bags of powder had been loaded into the right and left guns.
Moosally said a projectile was loaded into the center gun, and the crew was loading powder behind it when the explosion occurred.