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. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "5 - Words Succinct"

    @Jim
    Industry hires with boiler license.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. george

    Andre, Thats a run on sentence. You should have paid more attention in english class.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • William

      As a product of the Public School System myself I cant find fault with his sentence structure.

      May 27, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave Anders

      Maybe his hero is Barack Obama who finds fault in anybody's words, if it is not agreeing with him!

      May 29, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Diane Wiley

      Oh COME ON! Do you really need to turn this into a rant against our President?!?

      May 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • tj

      We could turn Christmas into a rant against our president (Obummer doesn't deserve the respect of a capital P on the office he stole). Oh that's right – he's a Muslim, and doesn't believe in Christmas either. Christian?? Hardly. That bigoted minister he listened to for 20 years is hardly a Christian.

      May 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "5 - Words Succinct"

    @Jim
    Feed the disabled poor.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "5 - Words Succinct"

    @75 george
    , Thats?

    May 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David

    Shut up

    May 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. HenkV

    To all of you: thank you for your service to this great country of ours.

    May 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnest T Bass

      Thank you. And your welcome.

      May 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Richard

    The US military are our countries greatest asset,our brave young men and woman who serve are the best in the world. Grateful citizens must not forget their sacrifices..

    May 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      I am grateful for their sacrifices; however, it is a voluntary service.

      May 25, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • madmaninthemiddle

      David, isn't the fact that service is voluntary precisely WHY we should be grateful. They chose to serve.

      May 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. nancylynn03

    thank you for all those who have and continue to serve and secure our freedoms.

    May 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dale

    With the advent of long range missiles, gun ships have become all but obsolete. If I can stand off at 300 miles and destroy you, how can you possibly touch me with a gun with a range of 23 miles? These ships and their crews are to be honored, having provided a great service to freedom. Rest well old warriors. The sea battle has moved to the skies and to the subsurface.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • honest john

      True the missiles have better range, but the rounds in a battleship are a lot cheaper then a cruise missile, so there are some scenarios where a battleship would still be useful if you need to employ a lot of firepower over a long time at relatively close range.

      May 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • rocinante

      Two of the Iowas should be kept in service to replace the Blue Ridge command ships.

      May 26, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jimmy cracorn

    Why don't we modernize our battle ships with nuke reactors and rail guns. The projectile from a rail gun has got to easily be much much cheaper than a missile.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • wavejump1100

      we already spend enough on the military. no other country even comes close to our naval forces. our new enemy is terrorism and the best way to counter it is with covert agents, eavesdropping and surveillance. a giant nuclear powered ship with a huge rail gun would be awesome but we just dont need it and we dont have the money to waste. it would be very cool though.

      May 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark C

      Uh, how about because "cheap" isn't really the goal in a war, Einstein? How about because no railgun exists that is even remotely as powerful as the 17-inch guns on the Iowa, let alone a missile?

      May 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • honest john

      probably be cheaper to build a whole new battleship then to modernize an Iowa class like that.

      May 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. calirider

    "It was emotional when they went under it because they knew they were going out to war," Rogers told the Chronicle. "But when they came back, they just immediately knew they were home again when they saw the Golden Gate." And that is exactly what happened to my dad. Got to sail under the bridge with my mom and dad many years later, I saw WWII through their eyes as they talked about dad coming home in 1945. Let the children of this generation see WWII through this great ship. Congrats San Pedro and treat her well.

    May 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jimmy

    As an old Gunner's Mate it was my dream to sail on a battleship.They were all out of commission by the time I was old enough to join.I still wonder how it must have been inside a sixteen inch turret firing a broadside.All of us old sailors and old ships are either dead ,mothballed or made into a museum.

    May 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Old Bald Guy

      Old? Maybe. Dead? Some. In a museum? Possibly.

      Forgotten? Never.

      May 26, 2012 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. N&W 1000

    Hats off to the majestic Iowa and her crews over the years.

    May 25, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. plato

    What is sad though is that the ship can't be honored in SF Bay. It is unbelieve-able that the San Francisco city counsel voted against making this majestic ship into a museum locally by using it as a podium to voice their opposition to the Iraq war. It is such a dishonor to America's history that the San Francisco City Counsel acted in this way. It should be moored in the bay, and be part of the living museum that is the bay. An enormous amount of WW2 was history was crafted here.

    May 26, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Robert Conway

    Very Cool, Can't wait to go and see it!

    May 26, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
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