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. bill constantine

    I am going to buy the Enterprise after it is decommissioned. I will use it as a tourist boat. charge a small price and let the kids dream about her. New ships are much smaller and can do more then the old ships..Your grand-kids would want to visit the ship and now ladies are part of the ship. There must be enough room in this large ocean were she can be docked..Hell Portland would take her and other small ports and it should belong to the county were it is placed....Bill the Greek who is 82 years of age who was born before these ships were built ..we have to keep history with us..

    May 27, 2012 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. BHH

    Woohoo! We in the west coast finally get a big battleship museum! And a Space Shuttle to boot! Gonna love the drive to socal a bit more from now on!

    May 27, 2012 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. borisjimbo

    God bless her and all who sailed on her.

    May 27, 2012 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
    • s.h.h.

      roger that.

      May 27, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. jeff

    My grandfather served on this ship in WW2.

    May 27, 2012 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Deborah

      Jeff, my great great uncles son, Frank Terry, was a Lt. Commander of the USS Iowa and also a navel aid to President Roosevelt on his travels.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @Jeff,it must of been something watching those 16" cannons firing,was told if it shot off starboard or port side it would all most tilt at 45% angle and would push sidesways in the water from the cannons recoil,that's quite a picture of raw power and accurate to putting a shell the size of a VW in a tennis court 17.5 miles away,real impressive...It's kept in top condition, if its has to come out of mothballs for war...

      May 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. alladin sane

    I hope it is to honor the ones giving everything for their country, and not a cheap promotion for such a lousy propaganda movie

    May 27, 2012 at 4:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. Someone

    Folks – A few (very few) people have questioned the reason why we are turning this ship into a museum. I will be honest with you – I never served myself, but I have spent a great deal of time studying WWII history. I have to tell you, you NEVER, EVER can get an idea about what these ships, tanks, planes and other weapons are all about unless you actually look at them, get inside them, walk around them. You can never get an idea of how the crew lived unless you walk around her.

    As far as financial support – many, if not all, of these museums are privately funded. They're usually supported by a Foundation of some sort. So to say they are supporting someone at taxpayer expense is utter stupidity....

    May 27, 2012 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. William

    Beautiful ship. Graceful lines. I hope its well taken care of. Seeing it I also feel a bit melancholy at our faded glory.

    May 27, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • South Westport

      Faded glory? Iraq, dog meat. Afghanistan, torn up on weeks. Not faded at all!

      May 27, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. Center of Thought

    I'm a Navy veteran who lived and worked on Iowa for nearly 4 years in the late 80's...I have many, many, many memories of life on board that incredible ship, and am thankful that she has been selected to be a museum, providing insightful historical perspective to visitors, and allowing former crewmembers like myself the occasional opportunity to visit, walk around her, and to be able to more vividly recall those amazing years...

    May 27, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. andew

    modernize and put it back into service.just like the new jersey.

    May 27, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Big Bob

      Huh? The New Jersey is a museum ship on the Delaware River in Camden, NJ.

      May 27, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. RScott

    Truly a tremendous ship, as are the the few remaining. They are relics of an old era, and these ships will never be built again. Kudos to the US Navy and all private cictizens for keeping them afloat and on display.

    May 27, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. Phil

    My Uncle, Admiral F. Julian Becton was one of her Skippers. I was able to visit him on board.....what a magnificent ship! I hope she is appreciated in Los Angles.

    May 27, 2012 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  12. Edward

    75 years ago the Golden Gate bridge was opened. Great things, really great things used to take place. Now that all the money is in a few hands, California struggles to pick up the garbage once a week.

    May 27, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. Argyle

    My father served as her Chief Engineer while I was back in Frisco being born. His two career highlights were both aboard IOWA - getting her underway from mothballs in 30 days and replacing a main shaft bearing underway. She is truly a member of the family. I know what caused the explosion but I'm not at liberty to say. It was not the ship's fault, and it was not the fault of any sailor. Use your imagination. Anyway, IOWA was once the most powerful and famous ship in the world. An international celebrity. She is worth all the money being spent on her. She accomplished so much for all of us.

    May 27, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    I would man the rails anytime for those ships and their crews. Right had salute!

    May 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sam

    I don't think anyone mentioned this, but you do realize that the USS IOWA's "museum" status is partially correct. According to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006, the IOWA is to be maintained for combat readiness. Nothing on her is to be changed or altered that will prevent her from being activated and turned around for combat in 6 weeks. Therefore, none of her engines will be removed, the guns will not be filled with concrete, and the fire control systems will remain active. She won't have any ammunition stored on her while a "museum", but they will be stored within "reach" so she can ship out when needed.

    May 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @Sam,that's what I've red,she has to be kept in military readiness to be called back anytime for war and has been updated with all the new electronics and weapontry needed for combat,no shells like you said are on board,but close by in special storage,just in case..

      May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Argyle

      I remember that Act. I was working for Aegis at the time as an ECP evaluator and AWS engineering problem solver. The last thing I worked onn before getting laid off in March '08 (when the rest of the country's workers got laid off) was make final preparations for Aegis Cruiser Modernization. I smoked my brain trying to find a way to include BB61 in CG MOD, inasmuch as IOWA was last modernized to CG Flight 1 specs. TWS - VLS - AWS - even a pair of CWIS to rattle pirate cages - everything except the SPY-1D. Including her in CG MOD would not have been that difficult - that expensive. Indeed, IOWA is perfect for the NGEN Littoral Warfare concept. Go figure. So the question becomes, will the need arise? I for one think hte answer lies in politics. Second term - more opportunity to implement. Roll of the dice, Matey.Maintain course and speed and see what transpires.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
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