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. Mark

    It is a shame the USS Iowa wasn't brought "home" to Iowa where it would have been appreciated. A trip up the Mississippi River wouldn't be an impossibility. To all my fellow veterans, I salute you!

    May 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • goo6er

      That would be pretty cool, but there's no place to harbor it on the Mississippi of course. There are enough retired Iowans living in southern California that it will get plenty of attention from "home."

      May 26, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • honest john

      oceangoing vessels can really only get to Baton Rouge on the Mississippi. Barge traffic is a lot different then a 90 million pound battleship.

      May 27, 2012 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. Russ

    The Iowa's day is over, just as is the nuclear submarine, since there will not be a nuclear war and there are other methods of responding to a rogue attack. Time to remove these costly white elephants too.

    May 26, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gimblecat

    It is always a sad day when a gallant lady ends up as a museum. She did her job well and in her last voyage does not deserve any stupid jokes.

    May 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • opinionguru

      Well said... Well done BB-61, and thank you.

      May 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • korgri

      You'd rather she was cut up for razor blades?

      May 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • DanBun


      May 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dustin Goldsen

      Well, there are worse fates than becoming a museum. At least she won't be broken up on the ways.

      May 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • dou44

      Make a gridge with the steel. Waste of money in 1943, waste of money now.

      May 27, 2012 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
    • dou44

      Make a bridge with the steel. Waste of money in 1943, waste of money now.

      May 27, 2012 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dan

    You're article was factually incorrect. The Iowa did not spend a decade docked in the Port of Richmond. It was only recently moved there from the Reserve (aka Moth Ball) fleet area in Suisun Bay off of the town of Benicia where it had been for a decade.

    May 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Don

    God speed Iowa! My father was stationed on the Mighty-Mo for a few years. They are truly magnificent ships. I have never felt anything like the broadside salvo of all 9, 16 inch guns being fired at once.

    Many fine men served on those keepers of the seas. They are a awesome testament to the engineering and firepower the US Navy possesses.

    May 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lgbarn

    I was stationed in Norfolk when the USS Iowa came back into port after it's gun turret blew up...what a sad day that was 🙂

    May 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Really Jersey

    The gunpowder being used for the Iowa during the gun turret explosion in 1989 was found to have been stored out on river barges in excessive heat conditions. There was considerable debate at the time about whether that destabilized the gunpowder, contributing to the explosion. The effect of that accident was devastating to the morale of the crew on board the Iowa. A close friend was stationed on board at the time & it was hard for him to deal with.
    With 20 years in the Navy, we found the general public never really understands what service members & their families experience during a military career. Even in peacetime, the risks are always there. I salute the brave sailors of the Iowa...Those living, & those listed on the roster ethereal.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Keel Hauler

    In the 1984 action novel "Vixen 03" by Clive Cussler, the Iowa is destroyed by an explosion in her #2 turret. In 1987, the real Iowa suffered an explosion in her #2 turret, killing 47. A horrible coincidence.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keel Hauler

      Oops, I meant 1989.

      May 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John, fl

    I'm sorry. I have to disagree with @gimblecat. I don't see it as a joke. I see it as a way of educating people about our military history and paying tribute to her and the sailors who bravely served aboard her. I want to walk her decks one day. I can't do that with the USS Oriskany or USS Enterprise (CV-6). When Enterprise CVN-65 is decommed, I hope they don't turn her into a reef.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason Glugla

      When the Enterprise is decomissioned, it is unfortunately going to be scrapped. The only economically feasible way to get the reactors out is to tear it apart.

      May 27, 2012 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. cj

    She played a major part in the making of modern history so it's fitting she take the role as a teacher of that history.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Are You Kidding?

    One of the last great ships head for her final duty.........she will teach millions her history....can't say that of some of the newer ships.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. VinceRN

    A museum is good. As a diver I think artificial reef would be better.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Oskar Pitchfork

    Try to remember that these massive ships were state-of-the-art at that time. Nine sixteen-inch guns, 20 5-inch guns, and a great number of 40mm anti-aircraft guns made these dreadnoughts the mastewrs of the oceans during the 40's, 50's 60's and 70's...

    May 27, 2012 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  14. Steve

    Regardless of how anyone feels about the reasons she was created, she was and still is an amazing ship, and she was manned by amazing people.

    May 27, 2012 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sonny

    The USS Massachusetts is a museum in my home town of Fall River, MA. and these ships and the crews who served on her deserve our thanks and prays. We have our freedoms today because of our military. Not because of the jokers in D.C.

    May 27, 2012 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
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