The ship, not the state
This has nothing to do with climate as we usually cover it here and everything to do with Memorial Day. But somewhere off the California coast, the battleship USS Iowa is on its final voyage to become a floating museum in San Pedro. That’s a long way from speculation a couple of years ago that she would become a reef at the bottom of some ocean.
People like Bob Rogers were not about to let that happen. “She’s the last of the dreadnoughts,” says Rogers, who led one of several efforts to save the Iowa from scrapping or sinking. “She was a true ship-of-the-line, designed to go toe-to-toe with any ship, including the enemy’s largest, slug it out and survive.” And survive she did, through five decades and three wars. And though Rogers’ campaign to land her for Stockton was not successful, he’s just glad she found a good home after eleven years in limbo. “She’s going to a great place,” he told me, on the ship’s final morning in Richmond. “We all had the same goal. We wanted to see this ship saved.”
Rogers says that in the last two decades, the Navy has given up only seven ships for museums. One was the aircraft carrier Hornet, which Rogers helped preserve as a museum in Alameda. “There are great ships that are reefs right now,” he said. “One is the carrier Oriskany off of Florida, and that was a ship that I thought could be saved.”
In addition to Stockton’s bid for the Iowa, a similar campaign by veterans in Vallejo also fell short, and one in San Francisco was rebuffed by local pols averse to any more wartime icons. There are two WWII-era vessels serving as museums in San Francisco, the submarine USS Pompanito and Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien. But with all due respect to the aircraft carrier aficionados, the four Iowa class battleships were quite simply the most stunning vessels ever commissioned by the U.S. Navy. They would literally stop traffic when they steamed into port. From its sleek lines and teak decking to its thundering 16-inch guns, there had never been anything quite like them — and never will be again.
Iowa has one other distinction: It’s the only U.S. naval vessel to boast a bathtub. It was installed for President Franklin Roosevelt when the ship transported him to the Mideast for talks with WWII allies.
Iowa spent the last decade in Suisun Bay as part of the federal “mothball fleet” of retired and semi-retired ships. That was followed by a stint at the Port of Richmond, where workers lovingly restored her exterior. “I grew up on this ship,” says Michael McEnteggart, one of the former crew members who helped with the restoration. “I spent 49-and-a-half months on this ship, active duty, and it changed me. Years went by and I thought about this ship a lot — sometimes every day.”
By the time she passed through the Golden Gate on Saturday, pulled along by the seagoing tug Warrior, she looked ready for action again.
Iowa’s new home will be the Pacific Battleship Center, not far from her old home port of Long Beach. She’ll arrive there mid-week under tow and anchor offshore for a final hull cleaning (required by invasive species regulations), before arriving at her museum berth. Museum head Robert Kent says it will take three-to-four years to fully develop the ship as a museum.
Hear more about the effort to save the Iowa in Sarah Baughn’s radio story for The California Report.