USS Iowa Survivors Gather to Remember Sailors Killed in 1989 Blast

A photo taken from the bridge captures the explosion of the No. 2 16-inch gun turret aboard the USS Iowa (BB-61). (U.S. Navy photo)
A photo taken from the bridge captures the explosion of the No. 2 16-inch gun turret aboard the USS Iowa (BB-61). (U.S. Navy photo)

Mavin Hall finds healing in his Batman collection.

It's a small set of about 30 figurines, Batmobile models and other memorabilia, but it's an avenue through which he simultaneously can work through his post-traumatic stress disorder and honor his friend, Ottis Levance Moses.

Hall, a petty officer third class, and Moses met as young sailors aboard the Norfolk-based battleship USS Iowa and bonded over comic books, "Batman" included. Michael Keaton was starring as Gotham City's costumed crime fighter in a movie that summer -- 1989. Hall and Moses naturally planned to see the film.

But Moses wouldn't make it. He was one of 47 sailors killed April 19, 1989, when a gun turret exploded aboard the World War II-era ship during a training exercise off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Sailors who served that horrific day 27 years ago came together Tuesday to remember their fallen comrades in a ceremony at Norfolk Naval Station. They're grayer and paunchier. Some struggle through nightmares and survivor's guilt. Some struggle to attend the annual ceremony at all.

April 19 is the only day that some of those who served then on the Iowa feel comfortable enough to talk about what happened on that date and in the subsequent months as Navy investigators turned the tragedy into a controversial and, ultimately untrue, story of sabotage. They feel they're a family, one bonded by more than just grief, but also a need to bolster themselves and remember their friends -- the ones who would not get to see "Batman" or any of its sequels.

Dan Gramazio, 48, of Chesapeake was below deck when the blast hit. A petty officer second class at the time, Gramazio got out of the Navy in 1990 as a result of injuries he suffered helping to fight the resulting fire. Every year gets harder and harder, he said.

"The things I saw that day will never go away," Gramazio said.

Hall, 50, of Virginia Beach, wasn't aboard the Iowa at the time, but on leave at his mother's Florida home. He never made it back to the Navy. It was 20 years before he could attend the annual memorials, he said.

This year's ceremony for him hits too close to the release of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," the latest in the film franchise. Hall said when he finally sees the superhero film, it will be to honor Moses, whom Iowa survivors consider just one of several heroes lost that day.

"I can look at it that way and not feel sad that he can't see them," Hall said.

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