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. Keel Hauler

    Weird fact about the Iowa: In 1984, author Clive Cussler wrote an action-adventure novel called "Vixen 03", in which terrorists sail the (decommissioned and sold for scrap) Battleship Iowa up the Potomac River to shell Washington. The attack ends when the ship's number 2 turret explodes because one of the 3 giant 16-inch gun barrels is damaged by an airstrike and the shell jams when it's fired. The explosion destroys the ship.

    Now here's the weirdness: In 1989, the real Battleship Iowa had an explosion in her number 2 turret, killing 47 sailors. The cause of the explosion was thought to be a powder jam while loading one of the 3 barrels. Now that's a scary coincidence. The same battleship (1 of 4 sister ships) and the same turret (#2 out of 3). Wouldn't surprise me if it was the same barrel too.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • BearLover

      Another weird or odd fact... Tom Clancy wrote a book in 1994, "Debt of Honor" where a pilot flies an airliner into the U.S. Capitol... we know what happened 7 years later. Are terrorists using these books as guides and training manuals?

      May 25, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. HIDE BEHIND

    It is a floating pile of scrap metal and nothing more until lt once becomes a rusting out tourist trap that will cost taxpayers to keep afloat.
    it will provide laid back easy living jobs for those who produce nothing, knowonly what script they are " interpreting ", who will put in their time until fired or old age retires them.
    The majority only know warrior storys as history and of course that keeps the belief that we all alone won WWII and our warrior mythos ongoing.
    Sink her for an artificial reef to give ocean sea life a sanctuary and pla e a floating bouy over ot as both a tombstone anda glorious past of destruction to one of creation.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • flinters

      To intentionally turn your back upon history is one certain way to repeat it.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      You have absolutely no clue what you are talking about and obviously have no respect for history. This ship is a symbol of what America stands for, fighting for freedom, honoring those who defend it, and showcasing American industry and engineering.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Travelista

      You know what. My grandfather proudly served our country on that ship. He fought many battles and even had to watch the ship with two of his brothers aboard go down during one of them. He did all of that so you could have the freedom to call it a piece of scrap metal. I, for one, will be making the trip one day with a picture of him in hand so I can pay my respects to his memory.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      Speak for yourself.
      I think most people interested enough in military history to visit a battleship know well that the Soviet Union and the British Empire fought longer and sacrificed more than the US in WW2.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • ELH

      HIDE BEHIND, an apt screen name indeed.

      I shouldn't dignify your callous post with a rejoinder but the Iowa is a fitting symbol of the sacrifices America has offered to the world in the search for freedom since the day her keel was laid.

      She and the men who served as her crew are just a small piece of that which insures you have the right to say what you wish, mean-spirited as that may be.

      In the words of George Orwell, " We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." So stood the Iowa and her crew.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • sunsohot

      Maintaining museums is one of the things people do to ensure history is not lost. While I find the idea of a reef admiral, I would suggest using ships with less history attached to them – and there are plenty sold for scrap all the time.

      John should read Hide Behind's post again – the "laid back easy living jobs" remark was out of line and suggests he may be a republican who perhaps enjoys diving.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Sailor101

      May you go straight to Davie Jones' Locker and rot. Those who fail to honor tradition lead a useless existance. You are a sorry excuse.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Thinker

      @HideBehind. Yours was the most narrow-minded post in a long time. The Iowa is a majestic superdreadnaught: the pinnacle of thousands of years of surface warfare. She was manned by thousands of dedicated sailors, transported historic persons, and her silhouette on the horizon depletted enemy morale.
      And if you have ever taken the time to actually talk to a museum docent, and been smart enough to understand them, you'd find that most of them have a valuable understanding and a lot of enthusiasm for the museum's artifacts.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Nowhere and I mean nowhere has it EVER been written or said that we alone won WWII troll. Put simply you are just another good for nothing ungrateful piece of crap that has more than likely never done anything in your life other then get up out of bed. Anytime you see something that reminds you have how meaningless you really are. You attack it because it bothers you that you have never amounted to anything and that you have been LEFT BEHIND in life.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Hawk in Texas

      HIDE BEHIND, You are one very sick republican,, tea party, right winger. your post was a slap in the face of all us old veterans. america, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.

      May 27, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Seadog

      you seem like a bitter idealogue. It will be funded by a non profit organization.

      May 27, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott

    The battleship class ships should have been maintained as active warships (Iowa, Missouri, et). The intimidation factor those ships wield is amazing. They can bombard a city dozens of miles inland, non stop. They are just an awesome sight. And while I know the world can't field anything that can even challenge our smaller warships... Imagine how they feel when they see the Iowa coming...

    May 25, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bryan

      Not anymore, Scott.. not anymore.

      The Iowa is sorely outclassed. The new missiles would shred her steel bones like butter. She can sling a Volkswagen 23 miles inland... but she'd never get that close. Missiles with 100's of miles of range would find her long before she got there.

      The era of the Battleship has past, sadly. Even her intimidation doesn't hold up; how can she intimidate an enemy that can sink her from over the horizon?

      I do wish I could hear her guns thunder a full salvo one more time, though...

      May 25, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Roallin

      They cost to much and take too many sailors to maintain. The submarines can bombard places hundres of miles away.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. John

    Bet "Hide Behind" never served in the Navy....

    May 25, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Weasley

      Serving in the Navy, or any branch of the military, should not be required to voice one's opinion however bad an opinion it may be–and make no mistake, HIDE BEHIND's opinion is distasteful, and disrespectful .

      We should never put ourselves in a position in American that any one class, including the military, has an exclusive right to criticize it's own.

      May 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. gingersrule1

    I'm thinking you would never see those bullets coming. You'd just see entire blocks blown to pieces in an instant and absolute mayhem to boot. I've heard from a navy man that when those guns go off the water in a thousand foot diameter around the ship ripples like there are a bunch of fish schooling at the surface. I wish I could see one.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. wabob62

    Let her live as a museum a great idea it'a shame they never preserved the surviving battleships of Dec. 7th instead of scapping them.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. MOCaseA

    Though they are, sadly, completely outclassed in modern warfare, the sight and feel of the WWII battleship is still one to inspire awe at the awesome power our nation wields. These ships were the juggernauts, the unstoppable forces of the sea, for a long time after they were used in war. Even today the sheer volume of destruction they can deliver is enough to make anyone, or any nation, sit up and take notice. That she is going to become a national museum and memorial to the thousands that served and bled for her is, truly, a wonderful thing. The only thing that could beat this memorial, is to have her and all her sister ships sailing under their own power once more time across the mighty blue, filling the air with the thunder of their guns.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sandy S.

    A fitting memorial for the men who fought and died aboard her serving our country.
    God Bless them all. We are a FREE people because of such men.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. flinters

    We'll need these gunboats on the ready for when the Posleen come. 🙂

    May 25, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rufus Pooser

    I wish she were able to sail to her final destination under her own power. It doesn't seem fitting to have such a mighty ship tugged in. My heartfelt thanks to all who served aboard her.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  11. AWorkingAmerican

    Another great coincidence... Saturday are the celebrations for the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. What an incredible tribute to both!

    May 25, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. DB

    "It will provide laid back easy living jobs for those who produce nothing, knowonly what script they are " interpreting ", who will put in their time until fired or old age retires them." Hide Behind

    Sorry to shatter your socialist claim, John, but no liberal socialist would ever make a claim such as this. Hide Behind is a fool, and apparently a misguided right winger.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. WorkingInVA

    To wabob62. The battleships that were at Pearl Harbor are gone, but one from that class is still around – the USS Texas. It was part of the Atlantic fleet when Pearl Harbor took place. It is currently at San Jacinto State Park.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Thomas R Brandon

    The Battlseship TEXAS is also a museum in Houston, Terxas

    May 25, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • bosfaninva

      Thomas - there are others as well. The article only mentioned the sister ships of the Iowa.

      The Massachusetts is a museum in Fall River, Mass. The North Carolina is a museum in Wilmington NC.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      True enough, but it is not an Iowa-class battleship. It is a New York-class battleship.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • DrNoisewater

      There are many other Battleships being used as a museum. This article is referring only to the Iowa-Class battleships.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Nato

    The steel protection afforded by an Iowa Class Battleship that were built before missiles can withstand a heavy, supersonic, anti-ship missile impact much better than anything afloat today. They were designed to be able to take the impact of a 16" armor penetrating round without breaching. No anti-ship missile today matches the highly focalized impact and explosion of a 16" armor piercing shell. Thus, Iowa's should be able to take a multi-impact missile attack and continue to function. When the Iowa's were fitted out in the 1980's, 32 Tomahawk missiles were installed for long range attack beyond the 16" guns carried. There were 3 reasons that were interwoven with one another as to the reason why these ships were retired, and it had nothing to do with being able to withstand today's weapons and function. 1> Cost to operate 2> Manpower requirements 3> Age

    May 25, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Brad

      When I was in the service (Navy) the USS Startk was hit by an Exocet missle. Shortly after this a program played on military tv called navy news aired a program. On the program were captains from a Stark class frigate, a Ticonderoga class cruiser(read Agies cruiser) and the captain form the Iowa. The same question was asked of each: What would you do if a inbound vamprie (surface or air to surface missle) was targeted at your ship. The Stark captain said he woudl make sure the Phalanx(anti millse system) was on line and take evasive action. The Ticonderoga Skipper said about the same but he would aslo put chaff in the air and deploy a decoy helo. Teh Iowa Skipper said after the missle hit, he would pipe the boson mate on deck to sweep up the mess and then go hunt down and kill the sob that shot at him.

      very fitting.
      Thank you for your service old girl and fair winds and following seas.

      Brad USNR

      May 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
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