Essential Thoughts for Mission Essential Professionals

A Steel Ship and Ten Iron Men


“There were many acts of bravery and good judgment under extremely stressful and dangerous conditions. Concern for shipmates was a common thread present throughout the tragedy.”  – Record of Proceedings of the Inquiry into USS IWO JIMA (LPH 2) Engineering Casualty.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  John 15:17 – Plaque at Villanova University NROTC unit remembering alumnus LT John Snyder, presented “in loving memory” by his classmates.



The engineering space is a dangerous workplace (U.S. Navy file photo showing the lighting of fires on USS John F. Kennedy)

In August 1990 an international coalition led by the United States began preparations for war. Called Operation Desert Shield, it involved the coordination and prepositioning of military forces that would be deployed in Desert Storm. One warship included in the buildup was USS IWO JIMA (LPH 2). She was a 30-year old amphibious assault ship with a crew of over 700 and capable of transporting a Marine aviation squadron and landing team of over 1,500. She was dependable and deployable. Just weeks after the start of Desert Shield, she participated in maneuvers meant to confuse the Iraqi army. In late October, the ship transmitted a maintenance request to the Navy’s repair unit in the region, Ship Repair Unit Detachment Bahrain (SRU), for repairs to components in her propulsion plant which required repairs before returning to the operational theater. An item added later, which did not have to be repaired before returning to sea, was main steam valve 2MS-7, which provided steam generated from #2 boiler to a turbo service generator. IWO JIMA requested it be added to “to maximize valve maintenance” and “correct a myriad of small packing and flexitallic gasket leaks”. SRU requested additional information about 2MS-7 and ship’s force personnel responded with information, a part of which indicated it was a six-inch globe valve. In reality it was a four-inch gate valve.

Because failures in main steam systems pose great danger to the crew and its proper operation is vital to a ship’s mission, the Navy categorized them as having the highest “level of essentiality”, referring to the degree of regulation and control required to assure reliable repair and maintenance.  Because maximum confidence was required, the strictest oversight – “Level I control” – applied to maintenance and repairs conducted on 2MS-7 valve and adherence to numerous operating, maintenance, material, inspection and quality assurance (QA) procedures were mandatory.

SRU personnel were not aware 2MS-7 was in a Level I system subject to Level I controls. They thought they were managing repairs on a less critical Level III system, but even so, the surveyor chosen to define and have oversight of the work informed the resident marine surveyor that he had never developed repair specifications for valve repairs. Nonetheless, he was directed to create them, for despite the recent augmentation to the unit increasing its staff from nine to seventy-six people, he was the only surveyor available. SRU’s workload had increased from seven ships to thirty-one. The SRU acting officer-in-charge later testified he was under pressure from Naval Logistics Support Force to complete IWO JIMA repairs quickly to free up the power barge supplying electricity to the vessel for use by USS LA SALLE and the resident marine surveyor, who supervised all surveyors, was under the impression repairs needed to be completed quickly for operational reasons. Neither impression was accurate.

On Thursday, the 25th of October she arrived in the Port of Manama in Bahrain, an island less than 400 square miles in size 20-miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. A conference was held on the ship that included the SRU acting officer-in-charge and resident marine surveyor, representatives from fleet- or Navy-wide units and the IWO JIMA Chief Engineer. During the conference the ship’s Chief Engineer, who knew 2MS-7 was a Level III valve by design but Level I by application, stated the ship had no replacement parts for 2MS-7. Neither he nor any other conference participant asked about or mentioned Level I requirements on any of the scheduled work. The Chief Engineer was under the impression the surveyor was familiar with Level I procedures, that his written work specification called for Level I controls, and the contractor knew how to do Level I work. His thinking was contrary to a Naval Surface Forces Atlantic instruction which stated “The engineer of a ship shall ensure that controlled material requirements are included in work requests where a determination has been made regarding the requirements of Level I controlled material.” On Level I taskings that required material, a ship would normally provide what was needed because detachment level SRUs would not maintain an inventory of Level I material.

This error of initially communicating that 2MS-7 was a globe valve was discovered. The surveyor knew his specifications should be corrected but he did not do so due to perceived time constraints and how the work on 2MS-7 had been characterized as a Level III item (due to ship’s force never identifying it as Level I). He wasn’t knowledgeable enough to have caught the error on his own, but a surveyor’s work package was supposed to be reviewed by the resident marine surveyor, whose position required knowledge of Level I ship repairs.

Following the conference, inspection of the listed items was made. Because the plant had been on line recently and was still hot, 2MS-7 remained covered in insulation preventing examination. The work specification was expedited so the contract could be awarded to a civilian contractor before noon. That was when the Bahrainian weekend began and only a few hours after the end of the conference. Even so, work would not begin until the start of the new work week. The next day, the oversight of the repairs were reassigned and the surveyor turned his documentation and work specifications over to another surveyor, who was familiar with Level I requirements on diesel and oxygen generation systems, but not on steam systems. As he transferred the work to the second surveyor he said the ship was gathering technical documentation for SRU and what parts the ship was providing. Both surveyors later testified neither of them received the requested information.

Due to miscommunication, misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions, a correct understanding of quality assurance requirements, and who was responsible for ensuring the required QA was indeed performed, was thwarted. Where procedures, policy and practical common sense should have made for a clear development and execution of QA requirements, a rough patchwork of vastly different interpretations emerged:

  • Ship’s force personnel thought responsibility for all work specification check points were shared by SRU and the civilian contractor. This is the case when work is performed at larger U.S. based repair units, but not in foreign ports.
  • The SRU officer in charge and one surveyor thought IWO JIMA personnel was responsible for QA for the contractor’s work, and indeed, the Chief Engineer and Commanding Officer ultimately were. Had they reviewed the specification they should have discovered QA requirements that would have ensured progress inspections and check points were absent.
  • Another surveyor thought the contractor had responsibility to provide a QA inspector to be on board during the repair work.
  • Other SRU personnel thought that surveyors were responsible only for completion of a job in accordance with the specifications, but this was not the same as the QA that was required.
  • The contractor’s perspective was the surveyor is primarily responsible for confirming the work was adequately completed.
  • The Sixth Fleet’s maintenance officer said QA in repair work is a shared responsibility between the ship’s force and the surveyor.

It was the responsibility of the Chief Engineer to establish a team of qualified personnel to monitor progress and inspect the work being performed by commercial contractors, witness quality control tests, and assure correct completion of the work. He had a standing requirement that his personnel monitored all work in the plant, no matter what entity was doing the work, and such an organization existed when he reported aboard nineteen-months earlier but it waned. In July 1989, IWO JIMA promulgated a ship’s quality assurance instruction but in October 1990, the engineering department was not utilizing it.

On Sunday, October 28th, a civilian employee of the shipyard contractor boarded the ship and began disassembling of 2MS-7.  He was not expected to read the repair specification but to take “general repair guidance” from his foreman, who did have a copy of the specification, which SRU routinely issued in a simple form because of language barriers, and because the contractor wouldn’t have the reference documentation cite therein. After he resurfaced the portions of the gate and valve body that controlled steam flow, IWO JIMA’s Chief Engineer and a Chief Boiler Technician inspected the work and the Chief Engineer directed the surveyor to reassemble 2MS-7. The contractor foreman was required to inspect the work but did not do so; he was confident in the pipefitter’s ability to work on Level I systems even though neither one spoke the other’s language. An amendment to the “Master Agreement for Repair and Alteration of Vessels” between the Navy and the contractor stipulated at least one English speaking employee be on board when work was being done. Although the Master Agreement had been in force for six years, SRU did not have a copy.

Graphic of Parties

Personnel from several different organizations missed opportunities to oversee the work properly

Not aware of the stringent material control on the work he was performing, the pipefitter approached a crewmember for new parts. The ship’s force had not been instructed to not provide any parts for the work, so, despite the language barrier, he was shown the parts bin from which he selected four bolts, eight studs and 20 3/4 -inch nuts. He possessed ten years of experience but hadn’t noticed that some of the nuts he chose were brass. Because those fasteners were covered with a manufacturer-applied black coating, at a glance, they could be mistaken for the correct grade 4 steel nuts. The pipefitter knew silver nuts in the bin were steel, but was unsure of the dark colored ones. Closer examination by way of a scratch or magnetic test, would have revealed their metal content. Brass nuts were not appropriate for use on any system exceeding 400° F. IWO JIMA’s propulsion plant operated in excess of 800° F. Past the maximum rating of 400 ° F, the tensile strength of this copper and zinc alloy was lost and when IWO JIMA left port two days later, the nuts would be subjected to a system temperature 116% above their limit. Without “general repair guidance” from his foreman, he reassembled the valve, mixing eight studs with four bolts. The valve should have been reassembled using only B-16 steel studs; doing otherwise was a violation of good engineering practice. He also unwittingly started a battle with physics that could not be won when he placed at least one brass nut on each stud or bolt.

The non-English speaking pipefitter indicated to ship personnel he had finished the work and disembarked IWO JIMA. The next day the valve was reinsulated with lagging, covering it up again. The foreman had never looked at 2MS-7 and now no one would be able to. When the plant was lighted off, every sailor in the fireroom then would be at extreme risk, and the likelihood the ship’s mission commitments could be missed was significant. Navy propulsion plants were dangerous places. From the late 1800’s to mid-20th century, no less than 52 Medals of Honor were issued for heroism in engineering spaces.

On October 30th in preparation to get underway and proceed to her operating area, fires were lighted in the boilers at 0218 (#1) and 0556 (#2). At 0353, one side of 2MS-7 was initially pressurized with steam generated from #1 boiler. Between 0630 and 0720, valve 2MS-7 was opened to supply steam to the generator that supplied electrical power to the vessel. The passage of superheated steam – a powerful and invisible gas with immense energy and now at a searing 865° F – pressurized the bonnet and heated the bolts, studs, steel and brass nuts. The brass nuts were coming under a strain for which they were never designed – and were incapable of holding – and they rapidly softened. At 7:50 am, a Boiler Technician Third Class saw the lagging insulation covering 2MS-7 smoldering and discussed this with two other petty officers. Four minutes later the wheelhouse received the report from main control the plant was ready to “answer all bells”.  At 7:56 am, IWO JIMA was underway, headed for her part in the largest military buildup since World War II. She would quickly reach a catastrophic destination made inevitable due to improper repair specifications, inadequate work procedures, use of non-certified material and no quality assurance merging with the lack of proper supervision, missing inspections and check points.

At 0811, main control requested permission to shut down #2 boiler because of a steam leak reported by the Boiler Technician of the Watch. The officer of the deck approved the request. One minute later “a major steam leak” was reported to the bridge along with the request to sound general quarters. Seconds before the valve’s failure, one sailor, who had just entered the fireroom, saw four men on the upper level looking at the failing valve beneath them. Immediately he was waved off by the main propulsion assistant. As he turned around and began exiting the space he heard the loud bang of the valve bonnet explosively detaching. Instantly, the entire space within the fireroom was overcome by 640 p.s.i. superheated steam. He was already on the ladder leading up but because of being suddenly enveloped in extreme heat, he questioned himself “Will I be able to make it out?” Because he had literally just set one foot in the fireroom when the lieutenant motioned for him to leave, he escaped with no injuries and survived. Just a few feet more and he would have received irremediable injuries along with ten watch standers in the space.

Moving between eight- and nine-knots, the ship’s steering was lost for about a minute and when the vessel had slowed to a safe speed of five-knots the OOD ordered both anchors dropped to slow, and then halt, the ship. Bold professionalism, augmented by training in major steam leak casualty control procedures in June and August, was evident in many locations. In main control, quick actions were taken to mitigate further impact. Like the watch standers on duty in the fireroom, other individuals moved with rapid purpose, making lightning-fast assessments in main control, on the mess decks and the bridge saving the ship from more damage.

The four men who were looking at 2MS-7 initially did not attempt to escape, rather, they ran away from the exit toward the lower level to undertake casualty control measures, a disciplined, professional and sacrificing move because the decision would unquestionably doom them. All ten of the sailors standing watch that morning knew the procedures for a major steam leak stated personnel should attempt, as time permits, to locate and isolate rupture and secure equipment including securing boiler. Without hesitation, three of the men standing above 2MS-7 rushed farther into apocalyptic space but quickly realized there was nothing they could accomplish. Gravely injured in the few seconds that had passed since the release, they made their way to the fireroom exit and ascended the ladder to the mess deck where they were treated by other crew members until the medical staff arrived. The other sailor who had been above the valve climbed through the escape hatch and walked to sick bay. Despite their own fatal injuries, the four men who escaped pleaded to those who were caring for the injuries that those who hadn’t escaped had to be helped. In time, they were transferred to the USNS Comfort to receive appropriate medical care for their devastating thermal injuries. All of them, these sailors who had responded courageously to be immediately vanquished by the horror that enveloped them, died later that day on the hospital ship. In the moments following the accident, one thought was on the minds of the rest of crew: Six shipmates were still in the space.


The remaining sailors in the fireless inferno went about implementing procedures for controlling a major steam leak. The fuel oil pump for #2 boiler was manually tripped to shut down the fires and attempts were made to trip the quick closing valves on the fuel oil supply to #1 boiler. If the fires in either boiler were not extinguished significant damage to the ship probably would have occurred. The sailor performing this casualty control procedure also tried to time it so steering wouldn’t be lost for a longer period that would pose an even greater hazard to the ship leaving port and to prevent causing a major brownout of the electrical system. Another, forgoing a good chance to escape, stayed to switch control of the turbo generator to main control. On the mess decks another sailor who had not been in the fireroom at all, shut the main and auxiliary main steam stop valves on both boilers by using remote operators. The main steam stop valve for #2 boiler, 2MS-1, did not shut because the air supply line to the valve motor had been severed by the explosion. The hellish leak from 2MS-7 could not be isolated. Upon recommendation of the Machinist’s Mate of the Watch, the Chief Engineer ordered throttles to full open to pull as much steam from the system as possible and ordered positive air flow into the fireroom to clear the steam and cool the space. The other turbo generator was left on line to continue its use of the steam supply. A Boiler Technician First Class attempted to enter the fireroom to trip the fuel oil pumps but the forceful heat was impenetrable.

Twenty-three minutes after the explosion, and now on their second attempt, two petty officers entered the menacing fireroom to search for their shipmates. They too had been turned back earlier, but as scared as they both were, what kept them going forward was their shared thought, a hope really, that someone had made it through. While approving their aggressive and courageous request, the Chief Engineer instructed them to assist anyone in the fireroom as needed. Otherwise, they were told to identify the sailors still in the space.


The author with Matt Edwards (on right), one of the first two sailors to enter the space

Once a space filled with engineering wonders – where man created and harnessed 16 megawatts of energy that moved the 18,400 ton vessel around the world – was now a furnace of devastation. A Marine on board described it decades later chillingly, saying it looked like the space had been covered in white napalm. Still exceptionally hazardous because of the incredible heat, the fireroom presented a stunning landscape: Everything was white. The explosion obliterated insulation covering pipes, valves and fittings and dusted everything within the space with fine particles. As a Marine said twenty seven years after that dark day, “a white napalm” had come. Working quickly for the sake of the six as well as themselves, the two sailors found the lifeless bodies their shipmates. Where they found them told the story: The delay of all ten, and the inability of the six who never escaped, was due to their attempts to shut down the steam plant and save their ship.

Snipes to the end.

A harbor tug maneuvers the amphibious assault ship USS IWO JIMA (LPH-2) into port following a boiler room accident aboard the vessel which killed ten crew members. The Iwo Jima is in the region in support of Operation Desert Shield.

A harbor tug maneuvers the amphibious assault ship USS IWO JIMA (LPH-2) into port following a boiler room accident aboard the vessel which killed ten crew members.  U.S. Navy photograph.

Reminiscent of five Marines and one sailor raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi – the highest point on Iwo Jima – ten sailors in one of the lowest locations on USS IWO JIMA, with many shipmates in other locations of the warship, acted in the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service the day 2MS-7 surrendered and hell came calling.


In Memory Of:

The Fallen 10-28-17

“Fair winds and following seas”.

The explosion on IWO JIMA rumbled through the entire non-nuclear surface fleet. The Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Naval Investigative Service (NIS) investigations determined that missteps in the required quality assurance procedures were not isolated to SRU or USS IWO JIMA. The Court’s proceedings found “the failure of USS IWO JIMA to maintain a viable QA program is a tragic example of a greater QA deficiency in the non-nuclear” Navy. Concurrent with the investigations a significant fleet-wide review was undertaken and it was discovered a vast number of ships were not consistently embracing required quality assurance processes. Even IWO JIMA’s Chief Engineer, who had initiated or resumed certain QA measures since reporting aboard, wasn’t following his department’s engineering organization and regulations manual. In response to the major engineering casualty, quality assurance manuals were simplified and QA responsibilities of ship personnel clarified throughout the fleet. Pocket-size guides to QA was provided for every sailor in the fleet and proper training and program reviews were instituted along with increased attention to QA by the leadership of the Navy’s surface fleets.

The direct cause of the accident was the improper use of black coated brass nuts. The potential for an engineering casualty anywhere in the fleet was identified by the Navy in 1975, but because an all-out purge never took place, they remained an inventory item in 1990. The Court called for the removal of all such fasteners, fully and finally rectifying the problem that was first acknowledged fifteen-years earlier.

After the accident IWO JIMA spent six weeks in port for repairs before getting underway and serving in Operation Desert Storm. In 1992 she participated in the humanitarian mission Operation Provide Promise as a search and rescue resource in the Adriatic Sea for aircraft delivering aid supplies to Sarajevo. In 1993, weeks short of thirty two years of active service, the USS IWO JIMA (LPH 2) – the first vessel built from the keel up to deliver both air and ground forces – was decommissioned and cut up for scrap three years later.


A former Sailor's outreach to Shipmates he never knew.

A former sailor’s outreach to Shipmates he never knew.


On BB35 June 2015Timothy C. Cummings began his military service as a  Navy 1,200 p.s.i. boiler technician. His original case study of the USS IWO JIMA incident was selected to be the keynote presentation at a national human performance/root cause conference in 2013. In late 2017, with years of contact made by Sailors, Marines and family members, he began updating his work, now entitled “A Steel Ship and Ten Iron Men” to develop the story of each of the men who gave their all on 30 October 1990. Because of the pain expressed in much of the feedback received to date, Tim is pursuing additional education in counseling as a means to help those still grieving the loss of ten fine Sailors. He currently serves with the Texas Military Department TXSG Engineer Group.

Chief Engineer Magazine May 2014 Cover

Postscript: In May 2014, this piece was published as the cover story of a plant engineering trade magazine. Ironically, the publisher misspelled “catastrophe”. After being annoyed at their amateurish oversight, I came to view it as an ironic way to underscore what went wrong on 30 OCT 90: People not paying attention or being earnest in executing their duties. – TCC


154 comments on “A Steel Ship and Ten Iron Men

  1. Robert Scott
    October 15, 2017

    I was one of BT2 Parker’s LPO’s onboard the USS Farragut DDG-37 before we both transferred. Me to the USS Nitro AE-23 and him to the Iwo Jima. He was a good BT and a fast learner. This especially hit me hard as I was at an HM&E conference at the Pentagon in 1984 representing SIMA Navairlant/Portsmouth and brought up this problem with counterfeit fasteners. I literally pleaded with them to look into this and I told them, how many sailors must be lost before they address this problem?? It still bothers me to this day that I was not able to sway them.

    • timothycummings
      October 16, 2017

      Robert, that you tried, and are bothered to this day about the inaction speaks to the kind of Snipe you are. I’m proud to know you.

      • Gregory Gaedeke
        November 10, 2017

        I am also proud to have known Robert Scott. Fred was a great BT, leader and friend. You had helped in that Robert. Fred had outfitted his navy blues and gave them to me as I was departing the USS Farrugut in July 89. I will forever hold Fred Parker dear to my heart along with all the other sailors the perrished in that accident.

  2. Russell Faison
    October 15, 2017

    I was on westpac at the time and was on the way back from the gulf when that happened. I remember hearing the root cause and have used it as an example during training for fasteners at the plant I work at. It was an accident that made you give the utmost respect to the maintenance practices in the steam plant both in the Navy and civilian world

    • timothycummings
      October 16, 2017

      A hard lesson to be taught as long as we have the ability to do so. Thanks for that.

  3. Gregory J wooden
    October 30, 2017

    Tim ,

    Thank you for such a clear remembrance of that sad day. I was on duty as CICWO in Combat and remember many orders being given over the 59MC as many worked to keep the ship safe in restricted maneuvering waters. It was a very hard time for a great crew. I still think of our lost shipmates often.

    Greg Wooden, then EWC{SW}
    CWO3 [RET]

  4. lindbergh wesley
    October 30, 2017

    I remember that day. I never forgot…I was one of the stretcher bearers that went down to the Main Space and helped get the bodies out. Before the casualty It was early morning and got dressed and went up on deck to get ready for flight quarters for respot… Respot wasn’t until 930 and air dept was was still sleeping. After I did my flight deck walk through I went to the mess decks and bought a soda from the soda machine, All of a sudden I heard a rumble and saw one of the guys from the main space run up and out yelling “Its gonna blow” Immediately i ran through the passageway to air berthing yelling for all of air dept to get up out of their racks.Shortly there after GQ alarm was sounded and that was when everybody got up got dressed and we went to the flight deck as it is our battle station. The word was passed that V-4 needed help with stretcher bearers because only a few from V-4 would go down to assist with the casualty after they were told what occurred. Myself and a few of us from V-1 volunteered to go down to the main space.

    • lindbergh wesley
      October 30, 2017

      ABH3 Wesley at the time of the casualty. I was on IWO JIMA LPH2 1989 TO 1991
      I retired ABH1 in 2011

  5. Rickie Marsh
    October 31, 2017

    I was the petty officer first class that entered the space from the mess decks to find smith and manns. Me and FN Crist entered together. Iam LI1 Marsh

    October 31, 2017

    I was a lance corporal in the Marines aboard the Iwo Jima at the time of the failure and helped evac several of the men. It is something that haunts me to this day. Tears come to my eyes just thinking about it.

    • Rickie Marsh
      October 31, 2017

      I know the feeling buddy every Halloween is very bad for me seeing my shipmates like that.

    • Tracy Long
      October 11, 2018

      I was also one of the Marines who helped carry out one of the injuried sailors. We used a backboard to carry him as there was no stretcher to use. I cansay that I still have hard time dealing with that day.

  7. david myers em2
    November 1, 2017

    i am em2 myers & i beleive BT1 volden should have gotten the medalof honor, not only for saving the ship but because he had his 20 but had to stay on board &wait for his replacement,,he is a true hero among heroes.that is my opinion,

  8. Kim Brock-McKinsey
    November 10, 2017

    I just want to take this Veteran’s Day to say a humble & heartfelt thank you for your service to my husband’s shipmates & all military members.

    I am forever grateful

    Kim, Dan McKinsey’s widow

  9. Brian Butterworth
    November 16, 2017

    Wow! That was an incredible read. I was a Machinist Mate on USS Farragut (85-89) and remember Fred Parker well. He had a swagger about him. Sometimes he would talk like it ain’t no big deal. But when it came down to it he was a steamin’ mo fo!

    MM’s and BT’s talked a lot of smack to each other about who had the harder job. HA! No doubt BT’s are some hard workin’ folks.

    Even though MM’s were on the other side of the wall (bulkhead, sorry) from the BT’s we ALL knew the danger of superheated steam. We often discussed what would be worse – a main space fire or major steam leak. I think we all agreed by far it was a major steam leak.


  10. Charlie Park
    November 17, 2017

    I never read this summary of events in detail like this before. I just finish breakfast, after duty from CIC Combat Information Center and was about to go asleep when the boiler explosion happen. Hauling ass to my battle station we were in the dark for 3 hours before we knew what was going on. Still have nightmares. Good friends with 2 shipmates who lost their lives. Os3 Park 1989-1993

    • Connie Lupatsky
      October 31, 2018

      Did you know my brother Danny Lupatsky?

  11. Paul Blake
    December 21, 2017

    The Sentinel’s Creed

    My dedication to this sacred duty
    is total and whole-hearted.
    In the responsibility bestowed on me
    never will I falter.
    And with dignity and perseverance
    my standard will remain perfection.
    Through the years of diligence and praise
    and the discomfort of the elements,
    I will walk my tour in humble reverence
    to the best of my ability.
    It is he who commands the respect I protect,
    his bravery that made us so proud.
    Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
    alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
    this soldier will in honored glory rest
    under my eternal vigilance.

    – Simon 1971
    Creed all Tomb Guards learn in training.
    Inscribed on a plaque by the entrance to the quarters.
    Arlington National Cemetery,
    Washington, D.C

  12. Shawn Wright
    January 23, 2018

    Your article and everyone’s comments have helped me understand more about what occurred on that dreadful day. I was stationed on the USNS Comfort as a Corpsman in the Burn ICU. BT2 Fred Parker was my patient. No words can fully describe the events of that day. I carry his memory with me daily and I pray to meet BT2 Fred Parker’s family to share his final hours with them. I’m continuing to work on this goal and I have faith it will happen. I have wanted to talk with his family to let them know that we did everything humanly possible to save him, but the Lord had other plans for those brave men. The sailor’s who lost their lives on the USS Iwo Jima and the USNS Comfort on October 30, 1990 need to have their story told to all of America.

    Every generation has questioned why our American military men/women were sent to battle/war? Regardless of which side you’re on, each soldier/sailor/marine has answered the call with courage and pride. Serving as a Navy Corpsman was the proudest time in my life – the bond shared with other veterans is priceless!! Thank you to all the men and women who were a part of that dreadful day!! The TEN IRON MEN are not forgotten and will always be remembered.

    Below is a poem written by Lieutenant Frank Mendicini. He was our friend who flew helicopters that delivered supplies to the USNS Comfort during the Persian Gulf War. His poem makes us think how war affects the human side of war.

    I wondered aloud,
    “Why am I here?”

    Then in a crowd a man bought me a beer.
    “My friend”, he said,
    “You cannot kiss
    Your family today.”

    “My family has gone in fear.
    They couldn’t stay.
    This round of cheer is my way to say,
    Thank you for coming all this way.”

    And yet another
    In white robe, he smiles.

    “I know you’ve come
    From across the miles,
    With wife and 5 children in hand.
    From our home across the sand.”

    “We fled in fear
    From our own land.”

    Straight in his eyes I looked.
    In my hand, his hand shook.
    Suddenly, as I held that quivering hand.
    In those eyes I saw fear and sand.

    “Was it very bad for you
    To leave that way?”

    He gulped, with wet eyes
    Fearing even me, he did say,
    “I fled from Kuwait,
    Is that okay?”

    I just smiled.
    “That is why I am here today.”

    • timothycummings
      January 24, 2018


      Thanks for attending to Fred.

      I have had many family members contact me, but no one from Fred’s family yet. When that happens, I’ll give them your contact information.


  13. Shawn Wright
    January 24, 2018

    Thank you. I would appreciate any information. I kept a diary while stationed on the USNS comfort detailing the events during that time. I know their family would appreciate hearing what happened to their loved one. Should you ever want a Corpsman’s view for any project related to that day, please contact me.

  14. Dale Betts
    March 15, 2018

    I am EM2 Betts – this day haunts me over and over. That was my Sea and Anchor detail that morning. EM2 Lupatsky took my watch because I just came off the Mid-watch and he didn’t want me to go back because I would have surpassed the allowable stay times because of the heat. I listen to the nightmare over the 5MC and heard my friends last word only to rush to the mess deck to find him helpless and open his airway so he could breath while Cheng and I carried him to the Med Deck that was the last Time I saw my friend. I wrote his wife a letter once but never sent it couldn’t bring myself to do it – I still feel I was to blame for his passing. Rest In Peace Ski.

    • timothycummings
      March 16, 2018


      The responsibility was not yours, you bear no accountability. With concern for your safety and taking that watch, Ski was taking care of a Shipmate. Many people who should have taken care of those repairs failed him and the others.

      Thanks for sharing. There are many folks willing to come alongside you and hear you out if that would be helpful…me for one.

      • Connie Lupatsky
        October 31, 2018

        Danny was my brother. Please please it’s okay. It’s not your fault. I would love to know his last words. God bless you.

    • Paul Blake
      March 16, 2018

      I am 73 Dale, and we have something in common, I have two “what if” deaths to pray, and account for in this life!

      It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. William Shakespeare

    • Dave Wilson
      June 2, 2018

      I remember you, Dale from the e div. Motor rewind shop. I was a gang. There’s a reason you weren’t in the fireroom. No one could conceive this happening. Not to blame for Dan, Dale!

      • Connie Lupatsky
        October 31, 2018

        Did you know my brother, Dan Lupatsky?

    • MS2 (sw) Kevin Smith
      October 30, 2018

      Betts, hang in there man I know that it is rough. I was suppose to be in the space at 6:00 a.m. so that I could watch underway preparations and the shift change. I had spent a lot of time with both shifts because I was working on my ESWS badge. On this morning I OVERSLEPT.

  15. Brian Carey Hedrick
    May 26, 2018

    I am writing this because Dan’s wife, Kim, told me recently that Dan felt called by God to die in someone’s place so that they may come to know God. He died in all our place out there, and I did come to know God because of this. I got chills when she told me that.
    God’s heart is dear to those who go to war as you can read that in Psalms 107 and being at sea, or any one of us who are led to the catacombs or the abyss and cry out to the Lord. I grew up a missionary kid in Hong Kong, but my heart was far from God when I joined the Marines. When I boarded the Iwo-Jima I had told myself that I will get my heart right with God when we hit the beach on our D-Day that we were planning. God never accepts that as now is the day of salvation.
    A Chief, his last name Manzo, and another sailor came down to our birthing space to tell me, “Brian? Brian Hedrick? We know your father from back in Norfolk.”
    My Uncle Don and my Dad were pastors of Grace Baptist Church on Sewell’s Pt road. {oh great} I thought to myself. Here we go again. Dad had asked Marines in Okinawa to visit me that he somehow came into contact through missions to the military, years prior. Some came to visit me at Lejeune and I can remember one of my squad leaders telling me, “You got some Christians down there who want to see you” He saw the frustrated look on my face and said, “You want me to get rid of them? I’ll get rid of them for you!”
    “Yes!” I responded. I wanted to be left alone in my drinking and chasing after women or going to topless bars. That was my life. When Chief Manzo came to visit me in that birthing space and invite me to Bible Study on the Iwo Jima, I did not reject him. He was just to joyful and friendly and besides, he knew my Dad too well, so I needed to keep my Christian parents fooled. I went up to that Bible study that night and Chief pointed out that the vivid painting of Freddy Krueger, on the Boiler room door.
    He felt it was not only in bad taste, but, and he went on to quote, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked! You can paint something like that and God not do something about it” {Oh, come on Chief} I thought {It’s just a joke}. It was not a joke on October 30th, 1990. After I finished chow and made my way past the chow line, to my right, I headed toward that ladder well to go up to the next level hanger deck, where we usually mustered to get ready for formation and onboard training of some kind: First aid response to chemical attack or practicing calling in overhead fire or artillery etc., but the boom happened, I could hear Marines yelling “Gas!” “Gas!” and so I turned to head back toward the boiler room, door, where Freddy Krueger, from Nightmare on Elm st, invited everyone down to hell with him. I was trying to head toward the area I had left my gas mask. I got pushed back by sailors, as they pushed and turned around and ran toward the area warning us to stay away, so I get up on the hanger deck and steam is billowing over our heads. Once all the commotion ended I tried to get back to where I was. Once I got back in front of the boiler room door. I saw that it was no longer there. It was as if God whacked it out of the way, just like Chief said he would.
    I began trembling.
    I knew I was at the opening of hell and literally dangling over its abyss. I saw a fellow Marine Cpl. We worked together in the same platoon. We called him Ogre as he was a hulk of a man with tiny Shrek ears. He was in shock. When I asked him how he was doing, he pointed toward the door and where the bodies were. He said, “The hatch blew open and a sailor came blowing out with it.” We lined up to either help take the bodies out, if the sailors needed us to help pick stuff up or just to be there in case they passed out. At one point I had to look away, I could not take it, and when I looked back a sailor grabbed an arm and placed it back in a stretcher. I was wondering if it was still attached. Strange the things that consume our thoughts or the strange thoughts we have during those times. The weeping fellow Sailor, I am unable to get out of my mind or what Chief Manzo said in Bible Study. For days I listened to myself breath and tried to sleep while not wanting to or trying to but couldn’t. It was so hot we would wake up in a pool of sweat every ten minutes. No relief and they wouldn’t let the Marines sleep on the flight deck. We had to continue sleeping down there, with the boiler room on the other side of the bulkhead, with one of the main pipes right next to my rack. I felt like I was sleeping down there in the catacombs with those men’s ghosts. During the day I would start in on these mini panic attacks but knew I had to hold it together as I listened to myself calming myself down from hyperventilating. I was an NCO Marine that needed to make sure my men knew I wouldn’t fold in combat.
    One day I finally told God, “All right, I’m going to stop putting this off, today I need to get right with you. now!”
    I began reading my Bible, but as I read much of it, I began to feel worse, as I know that if I had walked with the children of Israel, in the wilderness, I would have been stoned. Then I wondered if I had committed the unpardonable sin, since I had known all about the Bible and Jesus, all my life, but always rejected Him, like I was rejecting dad sending those men and me telling that Corporal to get rid of them, or even mocking at Chief Manzo’s warning. I couldn’t find peace, even though the New Testament was calling me to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
    One night, a few days later, after struggling with all of this, going to Bible studies but not having peace, I went up to one of the Bible studies and we opened a hymnal and began singing, “It is well with my soul” when we got to the verse, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!” I began weeping, I had finally found peace as I laid all my vile sin and rejection of God, at the cross and opened my heart to Him, believing once and for all that God had done everything for me. Then I began to realize that God had been pursuing me all the while. I mean, what were the odds my Dad would keep running into these men that I deployed with or would be stationed with? So, it really wasn’t my earthly father pursuing me, it was my Heavenly Father. May Dan’s sacrifice, Tim’s and the others, lead us all back to God, for it is in sacrifice like this we see the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us in dying on the cross to redeem us back to God the Father and out of the catacombs of hell and death.

    • Carey B Hedrick
      May 26, 2018

      My apologies, I mean Tim’s account of it and the other’s sacrifice.

    • Kim Brock-McKinsey
      May 27, 2018

      Wow Brian that’s powerful. I mean Dan didn’t have a death wish he just was ready if he had to die. More ready than I was for him to die

      • Carey B Hedrick
        May 27, 2018

        Yes, so thankful for He and you and Dan Jr. I apologize if I made it sound as though he did. I didn’t mean to. Just so thankful for God working in Him.

    • Michael Heath
      December 14, 2018

      Brian, I know this is a few months behind, but just wanted to add to your post. I knew Chief Manzo and as a Sergeant attached to MWSS-274, remember him from my time in the wardroom (officer’s mess) on the Iwo Jima during that time. He was a solid Christian man and helped me and a couple of other Christians while we were there.

      It was a sad, sad occasion as they brought the ones that survived the initial explosion, but would later pass.

      Shout out to MSgt Wayne Russell (Ret.)!

      Semper Fi my Brother/Mike

      • Brian C Hedrick
        December 14, 2018

        Good to hear from you brother. We may have crossed paths, I am sure. You’re name is a familiar name; however, I cannot place you. I did talk to many of the air wingers in the chow hall, on the flight deck and in the hanger. If you were ever in Bible study or chapel, I am sure we crossed paths. Still, it was many of the sailors I ended up getting to know really well back then. I sure miss them. I can remember a Sergeant, with your unit, had a full head of grey/white hair and a young looking face. Was that you by any chance. I can also remember another air winger challenging me as I read my Bible and asking me how I did know if the Islamic religion was the true religion and how did I know which one was. This spurred me to so really deep studying. Semper Fi!

      • Brian C Hedrick
        December 14, 2018

        “How did I know” I meant to say. Sorry about the typos. I forget we aren’t able to edit.

  16. Richard French
    May 31, 2018

    Thank you for your hard work on this.

    Richard French
    BT2, served onboard the Iwo from 83-87

  17. Wayne Russell
    June 16, 2018

    I was a Marine Corps Msgt NCOIC of Marine Support Squadron 274 aboard the USS IWO JIMA, during the entire operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, I remember this day clearly in my mind, and to this day I can’t get this day and those 10 brave men out of my mind, thoughts and prayers. I was good friends with one of the Chiefs that was in charge of one of the watches that worked in the boiler room, and he gave me a tour of the engine room the night before the explosion, I remember opening the door from the mess deck with the picture of Freddy Krueger with the crossed arms and the long nails on each of his fingers. Thank you for the great explanation of what happened. I could tell you more about what happened that evening before and the day of and what happened next.

  18. Mike mummey
    June 26, 2018

    I served with Matt Edwards in Key West. He always wanted to be a cop. I loved being a snipe. Years afterwards I served on the USS Guam. I would remember Matt’s stories and touch the same valve every time went down to fireroom.
    MM1 Mike Mummey

  19. Bryan l. Tanner BT3
    July 5, 2018

    I was friends and work mates with 8 of the 10 that died that day. My best friend ( BT3 david gilliland) was one of 10 that died. The other BTs called us frick and frack. I left the Iwo 3 months before the accadent. After the accadent i got in contact with BT3 gillilands parents and was close with them for many years. And even was asked by his parents to video tape his memorial., in rolla mo. I also asked there permission to name my son david after their son. Also i reported onboard the IWO with BT1 volden, and trained dan McKensey in his duties as a messenger of the watch in the fireroom. They will all be missed.

  20. Cipriano Pineda
    October 23, 2018

    I was an HM2 with MWSS 274 on Oct 30th, 1990 and I have distinct memories of that day. When GQ was called, I went to the BDS and John Breon and I decided to head to Medical. Once there we were quickly put to use with a team of medical personnel led by Dr. Joe Williams. I later found out our patient was Tyrone Powers, Dr. Williams a great physician had to remind some that Tyrone could still hear us and we reassured Tyrone that he would be ok. The images of Tyrone are vivid and it seemed like forever in that treatment room.
    We took him to the elevator and I remember Medical being a mess, full of bandages, people and controlled chaos. One memory is when we went through the normally loud hanger bay, it was very solemn and the Marines and Sailors were being very respectful of the injured. I was told that I would be going with Tyrone and we loaded into the helicopter and flew to the Comfort. I also remember when the elevator door of the Comfort opened, we handed Tyrone off to a mass of Surgeons and Nurses.
    It was only when we were sipping coffee and waiting for our return ride did the event hit all of us. I returned to the ship very late that night and was struck by how immaculate and quiet the Medical spaces looked, a vast difference from the morning.
    Later in the deployment, I was looking at a Time magazine and saw a short article about Tyrone, his widow and young baby. God Bless those that gave the ultimate sacrifice that day.
    Cipriano “CP” Pineda

    • timothycummings
      October 24, 2018

      Doc, Thanks for being his caretaker. I’m thinking your reassurance was helpful to Tyrone.

      • cppineda
        October 25, 2018

        Thanks and Thanks for all of your efforts on documenting this incident. Also, I accidently typed Tyrone Powers when it is Tyrone Brooks.

  21. MS2 (sw) Kevin Smith
    October 30, 2018

    Today marks a day that I will never forget. I tried to block how this day affected my life for 22 years until the memories brought me to my knees. I have faith and I am a believer in the Bible but the results of this day have caused my heart to ache in ways that I did not know was possible. There is no way to explain it and only those that were there can truly understand it. We have to stick together my brothers of the “Mighty Iwo”. Thank you Tim for putting together this post. My hope is that one day some of the “Iwo” family between 1989-1992 will be able to reconnect. Again many thanks Tim!

  22. Connie Lupatsky
    October 31, 2018

    My brother was Daniel Lupatsky.

    • Rick Mitterando
      February 2, 2019

      Connie I served with your brother and was there that horrible day. I have many times wanted to contact a family member but this didn’t want to open old wounds. I jest want to tell you he was a great friend and one of the finest men I have ever met in my life. He was always there to help, and gave 150 percent to everything he did. May he Rest In Peace, and always be remember along with the others.
      Rick Mitterando MM2

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