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. WGC

    I did my first midshpman cruise aboard Iowa in 1953, and still have many memories of that time. The first naval gunfire I ever experienced was a nine gun broadside of her 16 inch guns. Absolutely spectacular! We steamed through the North Sea, which lived up to its reputation. Green water back to number 1 turret even with that huge bow, destroyers that you could see under the first third of the ship as they pitched through the sea. Holystoning the main deck. Painting the underside of the platform at the very top of number one stack before liberty call in Guantanamo. As I said, many memories. I look forward to taking a tour soon in LA.

    May 27, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sydhanson

    Has anyone else watched Battlestar Galactica? it's silly, and I'm a nerd, but this is exactly how it starts out.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CMS

    I had the privilege of working on the NAVSEA project that reactivated 4 Battleships in the 80s, the Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri and the Wisconsin, it was one of the most memorable and satisfying jobs I have ever had.

    May 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • lou50

      thanks for your efforts and glad you had the honor of working on it!

      May 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Wilson0004

    Great Old Ship whose life was sparred. Los Angeles awaits You.

    May 29, 2012 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dawkin

    Mr. Lendon:
    Perhaps your crack CNN fact checking staff was off duty when you filed the Iowa story.
    The ship was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; there is not now nor was there ever a New York
    Naval Yard.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • myname

      Picky much? Too bad Brooklyn isn't in New York.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      I hate to sound rude since I am a retired Navy sailor but isn't Brooklyn in New York? The writer of this article was merely stating to the public that the shipyard where this ship was built is in New York. If it had been built in Bath, Maine, I am pretty sure he would have just stated that it was built in Maine. If it was built in Newport News, he probably would have said Virginia. Sorry to be picky.

      May 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acaraho

      Anyone who has lived in New York knows there are distinct differences between Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan. Never, never, never call a location in Brooklyn or in any other borough except Manhattan, New York. This distinction goes back hundreds of years.

      May 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acaraho

      Right! It's just like asking someone where is our nation's capital. Most people would say Washington or Washington DC. Hardly anyone would say "The District of Columbia". So when someone refers to the Naval Yard in NYC it is correct to say the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

      May 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      Brooklyn, on it's own, would be the 4th largest city in the US. That said, they've always had an issue with being lumped in with NYC. Queens, which is almost as big, never complains.

      May 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dave Anders

    The USS Iowa is not one of those heavy giants that were so top heavy that turning was slow and made them easy to be hit. The USS Iowa could turn on the proverbial dime and had a low shape that made it hard to be spotted by submarines.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Divemast

      Hard to spot by submarines? LoL!

      May 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mark

    Wish someone would save the USS Olympia before the city of Philadelphia ruins it. I was kind of amazed to find out it is still afloat.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Friends of the Cruiser Olympia

      Mark - We're doing what we can to save the Cruiser OLYMPIA. Our organization is dedicated to her preservation and maintenance so that she can be shared with future generations. We launched a national effort to save her in 2009. For more information, visit Thanks for your encouragement and support!

      To the USS Iowa - Congratulations and best wishes for tremendous success!

      June 1, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. Mike C

    I am thrilled that is being transformed into a museum. Here in Massachusetts we have Battleship Cove that has the USS Massachusetts as a floating museum. I keep an active membership to the museum which has 4 ships total and my family and I love it so much.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy D

      @ Mike C. I grew up near Battleship Cove and have fond memories of many school trips. Yes, it will be great to have this ship hear in the LA area.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      I grew up in MA and retired from the Navy in 2010. I forgot there is Battleship Cove in MA. I need to check out where it is so I can try to go see it the next time I am in MA.

      May 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. V.P.

    BRAVO ZULU! By the way beautiful pic, when I see things like this I really miss the Navy.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. cmarrou

    I, too, find many faults with our president – but can't we leave politics out of SOME stories, like that about a battleship turned out 20 years before he was even born?

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

    They can't get there stories right. The Iowa was anchored off of Benicia, part of the mothball fleet. There are other ships there, including the Stealth Sea Shadow ready for scrapping. It's only been in Port Richmond since the beginning of this year. But here are some great pics and stories of the other ships there.

    May 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tj

    To all you illiterates and fact-deprived mo-r-ons out there, the NAME of the shipyard was the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and it was located in Brooklyn, a borough of New York City. Calling it the New York Navy Yard (are you listening, Yahoo???) is erroneous and misinformed. The Yard functions today as an industrial park.

    May 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. nolongerarepublican

    The Iowa. That's the ship that had a turrent blow up in 1989 because the Captain was trying to break a distance record, the equipment was not working properly due to cost cutting and negligence by the Navy, 47 men were killed, and they blamed in on a "gay lover suicide/murder" which of course was totally false. But our government never lies to us, never.
    Yea, the Iowa is a great monument to LIES and cover ups.
    That's what I think of when I hear USS Iowa.

    May 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    I had the honor of serving on the Iowa from '84 to '87 and was lucky enough to be chosen to meet Ronald Reagan when he was onboard for the '86 re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty in NYC (and I think I could see Brooklyn from the Hudson, must be close, who knew?). It was one of the greatest times in my life and a truly an amazing experience on a great and historic vessel. Not going to comment on the April '89 explosion, but there are a few posts above that are accurate with regard to the coverup. God bless the 47 men we lost that day, our sympathies have always gone out to their families and loved ones.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CMS

    Mike C and Billie D...I grew up on the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and watched the USS Massachusetts make her voyage to Battleship Cove. I recall it was delayed while they removed the antennas because it was too tall to go under the Mount Hope Bridge.

    June 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
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