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A Glimpse of Hell : The Explosion on the U. S. S. Iowa & Its Cover-Up Hardcover – March 1, 1999

3.6 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On April 19, 1989, Turret Two aboard the recommissioned battleship USS Iowa exploded, killing 47 men. In A Glimpse of Hell, former naval officer, newspaper reporter, and 60 Minutes producer Charles Thompson has written an authoritative exposé of the United States Navy high command's consistent efforts to manipulate the evidence of that disaster and slander deceased seaman Clayton Hartwig. The Iowa investigation is contextualized by Thompson's startling insights into the moral universe of the navy's masters, a cabal so protective of their own jobs that they prepared press releases indicating that an out-of-control Tomahawk missile launched from the Iowa was actually a part of a federal and military crackdown on an illicit marijuana field in Alabama. Unlike the Tomahawk debacle, the falsehoods embroidered into the investigation of the Turret Two disaster did become public, as naval officials accepted a noticeably botched report from investigators who "lost" two 2,700-pound projectiles and consistently claimed, with no foundation, that Hartwig, killed in the explosion, was a murderous and suicidal psychopath who blew up the turret in revenge for a thwarted homosexual affair. Two years later, they were forced to admit that they had no clear and convincing evidence linking Hartwig to the explosion and apologized to his surviving family members. (The family later initiated a $12 million defamation lawsuit against the U.S. Navy.)

As active duty officers rebuffed his own investigation, Thompson found that many personnel, including captains and admirals, were willing to talk when their careers were no longer on the line. A Glimpse of Hell assiduously follows the Iowa story with a dedication that honors the dead and their families, as one journalist does more to expose the careerism and sexual preoccupations of ranking naval officers--and their consequences--than any government investigative agency. --James Highfill

From Publishers Weekly

The U.S. Navy received a barrage of bad publicity after the infamous 1989 explosion that killed 47 sailors and the even more disgraceful coverup that followed. If even half of what Thompson alleges is true, the coverup was the end of a long line of blunders and lies involving the Iowa, which Thompson calls "a 59,000-ton accident looking for a place to happen." Though Thompson makes it clear that lax safety and poor training most likely caused the explosion, the navy chose to pin the blame on second-class gunner's mate Clayton Hartwig. For starters, he was rumored to be gayAthough the navy never proved that. Also, his family tried to go after the $50,000 life insurance policy that he'd left to a shipmate. But mostly, it seems, it was easier for the navy to blame an enlisted man than to admit that the accident could have been avoided altogether were it not for a deadly combination of arrogance, ignorance and carelessness both aboard the ship and among navy higher-ups in Washington and Norfolk, Va. A former naval officer who produced several stories about the explosion and coverup for 60 Minutes, Thompson has no ax to grind against the navy as an institution. In fact, he clearly loves the navy at its best. He writes with careful attention to detail (and a familiarity with sometimes dizzying military acronyms) and a slow, burning rage at how investigators willfully distorted the truth, misled the public and set out to destroy the reputation of a sailorAseemingly all so that the navy could cover its own brass.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 430 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393047148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393047141
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Lest there be doubts, IOWA exploded due to a combination of volatile gun power, the lack of safety interlocks, and an unknown event in Turret Two which pushed the crew faster than the power and gun system could manage. The men did their best given the constraints their peers, their command, and their Navy had placed upon them. I am IOWA's last Turret One Officer, at least the last Division Officer who daily mustered men on station in preparation for gunnery, underway. I am also one of the "Gang of Four" who aided Charlie with his book. My father retired after 38 years in the submarine service, and many of the senior officers in the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy while I was an officer knew of my father, and our family. From the outset, let me say that Charlie's book underscores the degeneration of what we used to call "they Navy Family". The command does not treat spouses and children (relatives, too) as an integrated part of the command (as it did when I was a child), or, indeed, as the citizens to which they are pledge to defend. Once you grasp this point, you can understand why the chain of command treated the memory, and families, of the IOWA-47 they way it did. This is a good book for prospective khaki or bluejacket to read, it is also a good book for Americans, in general, to read as they try to figure out whether the Justice Department has an accuracy problem with WACO, whether Energy Department employees were radiated and not told so, and whether gene therapy patients are dying without NIH knowing so -- there is a pattern of professional deceit centered on Washington these days. IOWA was just the first time the Officer Corps turned on its own men in order to save a Class of ship.Read more ›
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By A Customer on April 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am the Mother of one of the sailor's killed aboard the USS IOWA (BB-61). I was deeply involved in investigating the cause of the explosion. Mr. Thompson's book is well written and statistically accurate. However, much can be said as to where he places the blame. The Navy had no qualms about hanging a dead sailor out to dry. Mr. Thompson didn't go far enough into the dirty tricks the Navy used to promote their theory. Dressing a dead sailor in Hartwigs uniform to prove his location during the explosion,and giving orders for the sailors to keep the actual location of Clay's body a secret. Mr. Thompson made numerous people out to be hero's, when in all actuality they were covering their own tracks. Dan Meyer was credited with exposing the Navy's cover-up of the location of Clay's body. But, he failed to say it took over a year of begging and pleading,from me, to get Meyer's to come forward. There were no hero's that day only pawns, in a deluded man's scheme. In my opinion Stephen Skelley and Ken Costigan, were responsible for the experiments. These experiments and the faulty powder were the direct cause of the explosion in turret two on April 19th, that took the life of "MY SON". Mr. Thompson's book is just that,"a book". It can't bring my child back and it can't give me justice. I must continue my life knowing that the men responsible continue to go unpunished. My only consolation is that unless these men admit their wrong, "A Glimpse Of Hell", will be their just reward.
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Format: Hardcover
As a former department head who served aboard BB-61 before, during, and after the explosion, I strongly recommend "A Glimpse of Hell" to anyone with either an interest in what actually happened during the Turret Two incident or what life aboard a Navy man-of-war is actually like. This is the best publication to date which captures the command environment surrounding the explosion. The personal relations among the key leaders could be characterized as a powderkeg waiting to be ignited. The book does a good job of recognizing the differences of two of the Iowa's Commanding Officers- Captains Moosally and Seaquist, falls short of doing an adequate comparison and contrast of their leadership styles. Neither was without fault, but the book is especially lacking in failing to highlight or even mention BB-61's highly successful convoy escort missions into the Persian Gulf of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers. The 87 deployment was a milestone for the battleship and deserves some recognition as how the crew proved that they could "do it right" under the proper leadership. The goal of the book was not meant to focus on the role of the senior leadership. It tries to give a balanced view of what went wrong, but falls short due to a lack of input from Capt Moosally. Even without his side of the story being provided, the book reads well and will hold the readers interest from cover to cover. As a footnote: it would have been nice to see some of the royalties/proceeds from the sales of the book go to the Scholarship fund for children of the turret victims. The author tells a good story but at times is a little too self serving and high and mighty in his role as the investigator. He, too, has his agenda and motives which are not always as altruistic as he would like the reader to believe.
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