Iowa survivor was forced to start over Implicated sailor's friend lost wife, job.

October 18, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

AIKEN, S.C. -- Between calls to his attorney, Kendall Truitt turned his head toward the television set and watched a replay of the USS Iowa's No. 2 gun turret exploding in a big gray-white puff.

For the past 2 1/2 years, Truitt has tried to remove that image from his mind as the Navy accused his best friend, sailor Clayton Hartwig, of causing an April 1989 explosion that killed 47 crewmen, including Hartwig.

Yesterday, acknowledging the blast's cause might never be determined, the Navy formally apologized to Hartwig's family in Cleveland. That apology, which Truitt described as insincere, indirectly vindicated him as well.

Shortly after the Navy began probing the April 1989 explosion, Hartwig and shipmate Truitt were accused of being lovers, and the Navy investigation suggested a suicidal Hartwig set off the explosion after being rejected by Truitt.

"I've known in my heart all along that this was an accident," said Truitt, 23, a student at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

"Not to sound conceited, but I am glad that I was one of the survivors, that I would stand up to them and get the story out."

The Navy's conclusions centered on circumstantial evidence.

The investigation was attacked by Hartwig's family and several influential members of Congress, including Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and was eventually discredited.

Truitt has lawsuits pending against the Navy and NBC News.

The painful aftermath of the explosion, Truitt said, ultimately cost "my wife, my job and now dates."

He said the Navy tapped his phone and opened his mail, but that he resolved a long time ago to push ahead with his life. He moved to Aiken a year ago to be with his father, who relocated there from Florida.

Married four months before the explosion, Truitt was divorced earlier this year after two years of strain. He left the Navy last year and delivers pizzas to help pay for school. Truitt has a straight A average and hopes to attend classes at the University of South Carolina.

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