- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

BURKITTSVILLE, Md. — The Navy was Dan Meyers family until they broke up.

The FX cable movie "A Glimpse of Hell" tells the sensational true story of that split.

Mr. Meyer, now a Washington lawyer who lives in rural Western Maryland, is played by Robert Sean Leonard ("Dead Poets Society") in the movie, which airs this coming Sunday.

Lt. j.g. Meyer was the main battery officer aboard the battleship USS Iowa during Caribbean training exercises when an explosion ripped through one of the ships gun turrets on April 19, 1989, killing 47 sailors.

The Navy initially blamed one of the dead seamen, Gunners Mate Clayton Hartwig, suggesting he had deliberately detonated the gunpowder in a suicide over a homosexual affair with another crew member.

Mr. Meyer believed the explosion was accidental. He stood by that theory, despite being viewed as disloyal, until a congressional probe forced the Navy to revise its findings and apologize to Mr. Hartwigs family two years later.

The movie focuses on the relationship between the ambitious yet principled 24-year-old junior officer and ship commander Capt. Fred Moosally (James Caan), who demands loyalty above all. After reading the Navys initial report on the explosion, Capt. Moosally tells Lt. Meyer: "That is the Navys position. Therefore, it is mine, and it is yours."

The real-life Lt. Meyer left the Navy in 1991, unable to reconcile his duty to protect subordinates with the military code of blind loyalty. "It was in the Iowa situation where we first had officers turn against enlisted personnel," Mr. Meyer says. "Coming from a naval family, it just turned my stomach."

The son of a submarine commander, Mr. Meyer says the Navy "was like a family firm, and when you see those kinds of decisions made, the betrayal was pretty clear."

He now agrees with the Navy that the cause of the Iowa explosion will never be known because all the eyewitnesses are dead and some of the evidence was tossed overboard. He believes the findings of the federal Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, which analyzed the Navys findings at Congress request and determined a gunpowder handling mistake could have caused the blast.

The movies producers did not ask the Navy to participate in the film, relying instead on technical advice from Mr. Meyer; Capt. Larry Seaquist, a former Iowa commander; and William Burnett, an enlisted man under Mr. Meyers command.

Director Mikael Salomon ("Hard Rain") calls "A Glimpse of Hell" a morality tale that parallels a recent Navy disaster, the collision between the submarine USS Greeneville and a Japanese fishing boat off the coast of Hawaii that killed nine people.

"They should come clean and immediately put everything on the table. I think in the long run, it certainly pays to tell the truth," Mr. Salomon says.

FX Networks President Peter Liguori says he hopes the movie changes the lingering public perception that the Iowa was blown up by "that gay guy."

"That 'gay guy theory was an easy out for the Navy. That 'gay guy theory preyed on a deeply seated public prejudice, which is, 'that gay guy means he was different, therefore 'that gay guy means he was suspect and went to the inevitable atrocity of 'that gay guy is capable of anything, including mass murder," Mr. Liguori says.

"I feel that was a horrible disservice to the 47 sailors, including Clay Hartwig, who gave their lives in service to this country."

Mr. Meyer still wonders whether he could have prevented the Iowa deaths by expressing more forcefully his concerns about defects in the gunnery system. He ponders the question while tending his yard and restoring the 110-year-old farmhouse he rents in Burkittsville.

The tiny town reluctantly served as the setting for another movie, the mock documentary horror film, "The Blair Witch Project." Mr. Meyer sees a relationship between the two pictures.

"With the 'Blair Witch thing, you were looking at a movie that had a fictitious account of the town," he says. "In the Iowa story, it was the exact opposite. The media product is more accurate to the truth than any official finding."

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