Battleship USS Iowa begins journey down California coast
The USS Iowa makes its way under the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of its 400-mile journey to Los Angeles.
May 25th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

Battleship USS Iowa begins journey down California coast

Decades after transporting President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic and fending off kamikazes in the Pacific during World War II, the USS Iowa passed Saturday under the Golden Gate Bridge en route to its final home and duty as a living museum.

Fireboats shot water into the air to salute the battleship around 3 p.m. Saturday, as it was towed through San Francisco Bay and into the Pacific Ocean. Scores of people watched from nearby - some on ferries, others from onshore and on the iconic bridge - under blue skies dotted with puffs of clouds.

The USS Iowa fired nearly 12,000 rounds over its more than 50 years in service for the U.S. Navy before being decommissioned for a third and final time in 1990.

After more than a decade docked in the Port of Richmond near San Francisco, the ship is heading south to the Port of Los Angeles in the care of the Pacific Battleship Center, which plans to transform the ship into a museum by July, according to the nonprofit group's website.

Bay Area residents may be saying goodbye to the USS Iowa, but they'll soon have the chance to celebrate some history of their own - namely, the bridge that the battleship went under. Known for its high orange towers, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic between San Francisco and Marin County exactly 75 years ago on Monday.

A daylong celebration of the bridge is planned for Sunday, two days after the dedication of a new visitor's center and services.

But Saturday belonged to the Iowa, or "The Big Stick," as she is known, whose passage is unrelated to the Golden Gate Bridge festivities.

Launched from the New York Naval Yard in 1942 and commissioned the next year, the Iowa's first wartime duty was in the Atlantic, neutralizing a German battleship, according to a detailed history on the Pacific Battleship Center's website.

A special bathtub was put on the ship later in 1943 for use by Roosevelt, transporting him through the Mediterranean to Iran for the Tehran Conference to meet with Allied counterparts Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek.

After returning Roosevelt to the U.S. mainland, the Iowa headed to the Pacific, where her crew targeted Japanese forces in places like Saipan, Tinian and Guam, and braved kamikaze attacks and a typhoon.

The Iowa was taken out of commission in 1949 but got new life two years later, setting the stage for its extensive involvement in U.S. naval operations during the Korean War. 

Seven years later, after having spent time back in the Mediterranean Sea and in Cuban and European ports, the USS Iowa was again decommissioned.

The battleship was modernized and put back into service in 1984. In that and subsequent years, the Iowa spent time on the Pacific Coast, in Central and South America, in Scandinavia and other European ports, the Persian Gulf and other locales.

One of the Iowa's most infamous moments occurred in April 1989, when 47 crew members were killed in an explosion in one of the gun turrets off Puerto Rico.

A U.S. Navy investigation detected "foreign material" and the presence of a "chemical ignition device," naming one crew member as the "principal suspect" in purposefully causing the blast.

But a later Sandia National Laboratories report submitted to Congress found no conclusive evidence of such a material or ignition device, speculating that a "high-speed overram" of the turret may have been to blame.

Track the battleship's journey south

The ship was struck from the Naval Register in 1995, five years after being decommissioned. Federal authorities put the USS Iowa up for donation in 2006. In September 2011, the secretary of the Navy gave the Pacific Battleship Center the rights to the ship.

Veterans of the USS Iowa will get the first peek at the ship in San Pedro July 2-6.

A grand opening event for the public is scheduled for the next day, July 7. The Pacific Battleship Center said the ship will soon serve as "an interactive naval museum experience that honors and illustrates the positive contributions of this battleship and its crew at critical moments in American history."

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Filed under: California • Los Angeles • Military • San Francisco • U.S. Navy • Veterans
soundoff (180 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    A fitting tribute is owed to this grand symbol of this nation's valor and sacrifices in WW11 – USS iowa

    May 25, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jerrold

    So cool I live in San Pedro, can't wait to go aboard.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. Golden God

    Very cool. I've been aboard the Mighty Mo when she was docked at Bremerton, Wa. The New Jersey was right next to her, but I didn't get a chance to board. I also went on the Wisconsin in Norfolk last year, and the North Carolina last month. They are such powerful ships. I know I would not want to be on the business end of those 16 inchers.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. snowdogg

    Its 16 inch guns could hurl a one ton projectile about 25 miles... real FIREPOWER!

    May 25, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Golden God

      No kidding – imagine looking to the sky to see a hail of incomming volkswagons.. no point running, ducking – just stand in amazement and face your fate.

      May 25, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  5. cando

    Magnificent example of maritime warfare hardware.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. reallifewithgod

    While war is always ugly, there is great honor in the justice for which this ship has had to stand and battle. It's more than a symbol, it's an example. America is good. Thank you sacrificing servicemen and women through the years.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. JRC Gainesville

    Finally. After San Francisco's Supervisor, Gerardo "The US Doesn't Need a Military" Sandoval and his ilk prevented the ship from berthing there, the Iowa sat in Suisun Bay for additional years unneccessarily. This move is definitely a good thing; since the People's Republic of San Fran is becoming increasingly occupied by people who have lost touch with reality, it will be fitting for this ship to be treated as a temple to bravery and a place that actually appreciates those traits.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      good post

      May 25, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. Scott

    Fitting end to also honor the 47 who died in the 1989 turret explosion.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    Crowley Maritime Corp., Aleister Crowley's outfit.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. Thunderking

    Good Wind and Gods Speed.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  11. STEVE


    May 25, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. Chemack

    A fitting tribute to our veterans but it would have been nice if this story expounded a bit on the ship's history and the action it saw in WW2 and Korea. More bad writing from the youngsters at CNN.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • edgalbraith

      C'mon Chemack. Give your personal agenda a rest.

      May 25, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. battleshiplover

    awwww.. these battleships are so graceful yet powerful... i remember building REVELL models of the USS North Carolina and the USS New Jersey. Loved those models!..time to start collecting them again!

    May 25, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Godspeed Baker Baker 61

    May you always proudly represent the struggles of millions of men, women, and children who rose up and fought against fanatical genocide and won a victory for peace, and may your guns lie ever silent in the memory of those who were lost.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • JRC Gainesville


      May 25, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Chris Cavas

    I've never heard anyone call IOWA the Battleship of Presidents – what a silly name!! – but the photo you're using shows the ship on one of her saddest days – – and not inappropriate for Memorial Day. The 16-inch guns of Turret Two are still trained to starboard, as they were when an explosion took place inside the turret on April 19, 1989, killing 47 sailors. The ship, exercising near Puerto Rico when the explosion took place, is seen returning to Norfolk Naval Base shortly after. The turret – which still worked after the explosion – was never fully repaired. A small shrine to the victims of the explosion is located in the back of the turret.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
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