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Last Iowa Sailors Honored for Bravery

January 5, 1990

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ Twelve sailors and a Marine were honored Thursday for their bravery in fighting a fire that raged aboard the battleship USS Iowa following an explosion that killed 47 sailors last year.

The men were the last of 43 servicemen to be honored for their actions in the April 1989 disaster.

Capt. Fred P. Moosally, commander of the battleship, presented the awards aboard the ship with the 16-inch guns of ill-fated turret No. 2 looming in the background.

″I have said before hundreds of heroes were born on the morning of April 19 ... the actions of this crew made it possible for us to recover from this tragedy. All did the jobs they were trained to do despite the darkness, the heavy smoke and heat, and saved our ship,″ he said.

The explosion inside turret No. 2 killed 47 sailors manning the three 16- inch guns and those in the decks below handling projectiles and powder. The explosion occurred as the turret was preparing to fire its guns.

On the starboard bridge wing was Marine Capt. John A. Brush, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. Brush, then a lieutenant, was relaying the firing orders for the turret when the blast shook the ship.

Brush rushed down the gangways to the turret. Rescuers were unable to get to the main hatch because of the turret’s position. Instead, a smaller, nearly inaccessible hatch was forced open.

The Marine immediately began hoisting firefighters up into the turret.

″There was a lot of smoke and heat coming out. The turret was still blazing. We were just trying to get people into the turret,″ he said.

For his actions, Brush was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Nine sailors also received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, including Gunner’s Mate John M. Mullahy Jr. of Randolph, Mass. Mullahy was one of 11 sailors stationed in the turret’s magazine who survived the explosion.

According to his citation, Mullahy went into the lowest section of the turret to activate the turret’s sprinkler system to prevent a secondary explosion. Mullahy then carried one of his shipmates to safety before returning to the turret to remove burning powder bags from the dark and water- filled space.

Two others received the Navy Commendation Medal.

The 13th man, Chief Warrant Officer Samuel McGovern, 40, of Beaumont, Texas, received the Meritorious Service Medal for directing the firefighters and leading the damage control operations for 32 continuous hours. It was the highest of the 43 awards given to Iowa servicemen.

A Navy investigation of the explosion said it was ″most likely″ was caused by sabatoge by a disgruntled gunner’s mate who died in the explosion.

Families of some of the Iowa victims and members of Congress have challenged the validity of the Navy’s report.

Moosally also unveiled a bronze plaque dedicated to the men who died in the explosion. The plaque will be mounted on the side of turret No. 2.

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