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."

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

    @ Nato,agreed!!

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

    The author is correct. The three battleships mentioned in the article are the other Iowa-class battleships. All of the other battleships that are museums now are of other classes.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • CT

      What about the Massachusetts in Fall River, Mass.?

      May 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. indianriver

    Lol...They used the Iowa in the SyFy Battleship-clone movie "American Warships" that aired last weekend.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. bosfaninva

    I applaud the overall good quality of the comments on this story - how rare is that!

    Two exceptions: The morons trying to score political points (on both sides), and the idiots claiming the author is incorrect for not mentioning ships OF OTHER CLASSES.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    For those claiming that the article is in error because it states that the Iowa only has three sister ships still around as museum ships, it is you who are wrong. There are four Iowa-class battleships: Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and New Jersey. All the others are of other, earlier classes. The Iowa class were the final US battleships and the pinnacle of completed American battleship designs. The Montana class would have been larger, faster and more heavily armed, but was canceled due to the eclipse of battleships by aircraft carriers.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ali Baba

    What an awesome ship! Our navy is 2nd to none. God bless America and the men and women in uniform protecting us.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. So Proud

    I once worked for a company that put equipment on this Lady of the Sea. I was so proud of that fact, that I helped to keep her going while on active duty. This ship can lay to waste some ME countries with just her guns. Something to think about.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. trex

    ....In the waning years of WW2, these magestic ships were the highest form of dreadnought ever built. They were fast, manuverable, and had the biggest punch with the best accuracy of anything we made during the war. The reason each Iowa class BB had that classic elongated bow, was the need to offset building the ship wider to displace the gross tonnage of the 2 16" gun turrets, AND, fit thru the Panama canal. My Dad served as a coxswain on an LST in the South Pacific during that war. He said whenever he saw a battleship, esspecially these Iowa Class ships, he felt much safer. As a kid, I remember tourng the USS New Jersey, and I could have fit inside those 16" guns.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • trex

      .The Iowa Class had 2 3 gun main turret armaments forward, and 1 aft.

      May 25, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Fair winds and following seas, Old Girl. You served us well, and now you can serve to teach a new generation about the good works you and your crew accomplished over a 48 year career. A buddy of mine had the opportunity to be in a Helicopter over the Mighty Mo when she was off the coast of Lebanon a number of decades ago. He was impressed as all get-out watching it on fire a broadside salvo into the hills around the Bekka Valley. He said the recoil from the salvo rocked her back at least 10 feet, then came back. Something about throwing shells the size of Volkswagens at something impresses you.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. brotherjukebox2012

    they obviously forgot the battleship texas which is in san jacinto

    May 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • SailCapt

      The Texas is a different class than the Iowa and her ilk.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Ah yes, BB-35 TEXAS, one of the last dreadnoughts built. New York class ship. As a kid I thought it was the biggest thing in the world till I saw a picture of an Iowa class ship. Can't wait to head to Los Angeles(or wherever), and tour BB-61.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. whatsnaname

    I always thought there was a majestic beauty to those ships, and after seeing the New Jersey in action was in awe of its fire power. I'm glad to see it out of view in mothballs.

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

    I'm glad to see this great ship make it's way to serve as a museum. If they were still active and updated with new and safer supplies of gun powder or fitted with some of the awesome new railgun technologies that we read about from time to time, they could certainly continue their mission well into the future. Our great battleships are one of the most worthwhile tourist visits you can make with your kids. They are fun to explore!

    To get satellite views of some of the many other battleships serving as museums around the country, google or bing "How to Hunt for Battleships."

    May 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      If you know the name of the vessel sometimes the computer search engine is adequate to the task. The battleship New Jersey is at the Camden New Jersey waterfront. We raised the money ourselves & brought her home to the state she was named for. It is a shame that the state of Iowa is landlocked, but Great Lakes, Illinois would have been a grand place for her. Close to those new sailors. To serve as a reminder of honor & service.

      May 26, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"

    $2,250,000 srcap feeding Americas poor.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      If you pay people to be poor, youll always have a lot of poor people. Put them to work , they can probabily pick up enough scrap & garbage along our highways to keep feed themselves for a long time.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim

    I was a plank owner on the USS Iowa BB-61 and the USS Wisconson BB-64 , I consider these Ships the very foundation of my career as a Boilers Supervisor. America has faced adversity in its past and will face it again in the future. A grave mistake would be to scrap these ships they have no equal. A gun platform to stand toe to toe with any adversary in the world we shall prevail. In peace may she honor those whom go into harms way.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • 06Chip

      Aye, Aye, Sir – I honor & salute each & everyone of you!

      May 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobblehead

      I was on the decommissioning crew of the USS New Jersey (B-div), it was a great honor to serve on such a magnificent warship. I feel very privileged...

      May 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. WoodEagle

    We were in a bad place one dark night on the Bonson Plains just north of Quhinon Viet Nam and badly needed fire support. The closes availiable guns that could reach us were on the Battleship New Jersay ( can't remember now maybe it was the Missouri). In the distance, you could see the whole sky light up muiltiply times and in just a few minute you could hear the shells going over head . They just devestated the NVA's postions. Just wanted let you know and say thanks will never forget.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill USMC

      It was the New Jersey. We called in for fire support from her once our selves. Those 16 inch shells hitting a target 1/2 mile away were unbelevable.

      May 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoeP

      Yes, it was the Big J. She was the only US battleship to serve in the Vietnam conflict.

      May 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      The New Jersey is now a museum at the Camden, New Jersey waterfront. Please come visit her. People in our state held fundraisers to purchase & refurbish her. We are very proud of the way she was saved from the scrapyard & our children learn more about our country aboard her. The people who run the tours are always glad to see veterans with memories of her.

      May 26, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8