Thursday, October 11, 2012

Costa Mesa Seaman Geoffrey Scott Schelin, RIP

This blog covers our town, the people who live here, and our connections through the arts. We often go to museums to see art, and we here on Goat Hill have the Orange County Museum of Art nearby. When we want exposure to history and other cultures, Bowers Museum is just up the freeway. But southern California has museums dedicated to our history as Americans; this blog post is about one of them.

We recently visited the U.S.S. Iowa  ( at its new home in San Pedro. What an impressive museum. The best kind. Lots of hands on, get up close and personal things to see. The docents are knowledgeable, entertaining and very approachable. (A great day trip is a visit to the Iowa followed by a trip to Fort MacArthur, just up the hill. There you can see the coast artillery post that defended our coast from battleships like the Iowa. Just outside the Fort there's a terrific park that overlooks the ocean. It has picnic tables and a lighthouse you can visit.)

Walking around the deck was an amazing experience. We stood next to the Iowa's immense gun turrets and tried to imagine what it was like to be aboard when those big guns fired. The videos they showed were impressive, but could not recreate the way the ship itself reacted to the forces released.

As we rounded the turrets the words "Costa Mesa" on a plaque caught my eye. Of course I stopped to read the whole thing. The subject was the explosion in Turret 2, which is closed to visitors. On April 19, 1989, USS IOWA was conducting a firing exercise approximately 260 nautical miles northeast of Puerto Rico when 47 sailors were killed in an explosion in the Turret 2 Gun Room. This tragedy remains the largest post-World War II peacetime loss of life in U.S. Navy history.

One of those sailors killed was Geoffrey Scott Schelin, 20, seaman, from Costa Mesa, and it was his name that caught my eye. I cried. I come from a military family, and the loss of this young man, and all the others, in a peacetime accident is just too sad. All their names were on this plaque, and I read them all. And I remembered Rochester Street, near my house in Costa Mesa, was named for a local man killed in Europe in World War 1.

I remembered the explosion on the Iowa, and the subsequent investigation. The whole family read "A Glimpse of Hell," by Charles C. Thompson and watched the James Caan movie based on the book. As we went through the ship, I looked for other signs of the explosion. The gift shop did not sell Thompson's book, which I found interesting. 

Once we were home I dug through the bookshelves to find our copy of Thompson's book, and googled the explosion to find out what happened to the survivors in the 20 years since his book was written. The Senate Armed Services Committee had called for an investigation by independent experts, and the man who lead that team had written a book, "Explosion Aboard the Iowa," by Richard L. Schwoebel. So I immediately ordered it from Amazon. It was as interesting as Thompson's book, maybe even more so because the author merely discusses the technical investigation and experiments his team conducted.

The ancient Egyptians believed that as long as a person's name was preserved somewhere, the person would survive in the afterlife. The brave men who died on that battleship deserve to have their names preserved forever, so here they are, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Adams, Tung Thanh, 25, fire controlman 3d class, Alexandria, Virginia
Backherms, Robert Wallace, 30, gunner's mate 3d class, Ravenna, Ohio
Battle, Dwayne Collier, 21, electrician's mate, fireman apprentice, Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Blakey, Walter Scot, 20, gunner's mate 3d class, Eaton Rapids, Michigan
Bopp, Pete Edward, 21, gunner's mate 3d class, Levittown, New York
Bradshaw, Ramon Jerel, 19, seaman recruit, Tampa, Florida
Buch, Phillip Edward, 24, lieutenant (jg), Las Cruces, New Mexico
Casey, Eric Ellis, 21, seaman apprentice, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Cramer, John Peter, 28, gunner's mate 2d class, Uniontown, Pennsylvania
Devaul, Milton Francis Jr., 21, gunner's mate 3d class, Solvay, New York
Everhart, Leslie Allen Jr., 31, seaman apprentice, Cary, North Carolina
Fisk, Gary John, 24, boatswain's mate, Oneida, New York
Foley, Tyrone Dwayne, 27, seaman, Bullard, Texas
Gedeon, Robert James, III, 22, seaman apprentice, Lakewood, Ohio
Gendron, Brian Wayne, 20, seaman apprentice, Madera, California
Goins, John Leonard, 20, seaman recruit, Columbus, Ohio
Hanson, David L., 23, electrician's mate 3d class, Bison, South Dakota
Hanyecz, Ernest Edward, 27, gunner's mate 1st class, Bordentown, New Jersey
Hartwig, Clayton Michael, 25, gunner's mate 2d class, Cleveland, Ohio
Helton, Michael William, 31, legalman 1st class, Louisville, Kentucky
Holt, Scott Alan, 20, seaman apprentice, Fort Myers, Florida
Johnson, Reginald Jr., 20, seaman recruit, Warrensville Heights, Ohio
Jones, Brian Robert, 19, seaman, Kennesaw, Georgia
Jones, Nathaniel Clifford Jr., 21, seaman apprentice, Buffalo, New York
Justice, Michael Shannon, 21, seaman, Matewan, West Virginia
Kimble, Edward J., 23, seaman, Fort Stockton, Texas
Lawrence, Richard E., 29, gunner's mate 3d class, Springfield, Ohio
Lewis, Richard John, 23, fire controlman seaman apprentice, Northville, Michigan
Martinez, Jose Luis Jr., 21, seaman apprentice, Hidalgo, Texas
McMullen, Todd Christopher, 20, boatswain's mate 3d class, Manheim, Pennsylvania
Miller, Todd Edward, 25, seaman recruit, Ligonier, Pennsylvania
Morrison, Robert Kenneth, 36, legalman 1st class, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Moses, Otis Levance, 23, seaman, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Ogden, Darin Andrew, 24, gunner's mate 3d class, Shelbyville, Indiana
Peterson, Ricky Ronald, 22, seaman, Houston, Minnesota
Price, Matthew Ray, 20, gunner's mate 3d class, Burnside, Pennsylvania
Romine, Harold Earle Jr., 19, gunner's mate 3d class, Bradenton, Florida
Schelin, Geoffrey Scott, 20, seaman, Costa Mesa, California
Stillwagon, Heath Eugene, 21, gunner's mate 3d class, Connellsville, Pennsylvania
Tatham, Todd Thomas, 19, seaman recruit, Wolcott, New York
Thompson, Jack Ernest, 22, gunner's mate 3d class, Greeneville, Tennessee
Welden, Stephen J., 24, gunner's mate 2d class, Bethany, Oklahoma
White, James Darrell, 22, gunner's mate 3d class, Norwalk, California
White, Rodney Maurice, 19, seaman recruit, Louisville, Kentucky
Williams, Michael Robert, 21, boatswain's mate 2d class, South Shore, Kentucky
Young, John Rodney, 21, gunner's mate, Columbia, South Carolina
Ziegler, Reginald Owen, 39, gunner's mate, Port Gibson, New York

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