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USS Iowa Shows America’s Past and Present Importance in Global Maritime

Pictured is the USS IOWA docked in San Pedro at Los Angeles Harbor. She was commissioned in February 1943, proudly served and was instrumental in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans during WWII, served in the Korean War and during the Cold War era. Courtesy photos by National Museum of the Surface Navy at Battleship IOWA.

 

By Laurie Hanson • June 27, 2021

With an international virtual outreach since COVID-19, the USS IOWA in San Pedro demonstrates the importance of our nation’s global maritime presence in the world.

The retired battleship is transitioning into being the National Museum of the Surface Navy by 2025, to raise awareness in how United States is a maritime nation. First commissioned in the 1940s, she served in World War II, the Korean War, and during the Cold War era.

“Throughout her active years, the world’s oceans were her home,” said Vice President, Development and Marketing Joleen Deatherage.

Decommissioned for a final time in October 1990, the battleship languished in “mothballs” on both coasts until she was rescued from the Suisun Bay “ghost fleet” by Pacific Battleship Center in late 2011.

“She opened as a museum in San Pedro in July 2012,” Deatherage said. “Plans are currently underway to build the National Museum of the Surface Navy onboard this incomparable and beautiful example of American engineering prowess.”

The battleship’s educational program serves more than 20,000 youth annually and is funded through grants and paid programs. It primarily serves local students in San Pedro and Los Angeles Harbor areas in Southern California.

“We work extensively with Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the nation, to bring under-served youth to the ship,” Deatherage added. “Our added virtual component allows us to reach students all over the country as well as internationally. We are committed to the continued growth of both components.”

Prior to the pandemic, their educational programs were mostly for in-person visits. However, they quickly pivoted to provide online opportunities for both teachers and students, according to Deatherage.

“It’s only within the last month or two that we’ve once again been able to open our in-person offerings, including our award-winning Camp Battleship overnight program, which has been restructured to comply with COVID-19 protocols,” she added. “[But] we intend to continue to provide virtual experiences as well.”

With customizable interactive virtual tours and lessons, schools and youth organizations ranging from 2nd grade to 12th grade are offered educational opportunities that best fit their needs. Their virtual programs include a history and STEM tour, a general themed tour, and several virtual STEAM at Sea offerings on buoyancy, projectile motion, Naval Aviation, and energy conservation.

“These virtual tours and programs allow for a personalized session where students engage with our ship-based educators for synchronized learning and activities, providing the best alternative to an in-person visit to the IOWA,” Deatherage said.

Patrons of all ages are reminded of the battleship’s historical significance and contribution she made in the world throughout her years of service.

“Built in American shipyards by Rosie the Riveter during WWII to ‘make the world safe for democracy’, she was sailed into harm’s way by American sailors,” said Rear Admiral USN (Retired) Mike Shatynski, who serves as Chairman of the Board for the National Museum of the Surface Navy at the Battleship IOWA.

“The USS IOWA reminds us of what is best about America,” he added. “Together as a country, [she] helped defeat the three worst dictatorships that the world had ever seen.”

 

The Iowa’s 16 inch Gun firing broadside c1980s.

 

It was while visiting the USS TEXAS as a small 5-year-old child that Shatynski was stirred to join the U.S. Navy. He said that while most children who visit the USS IOWA might not be similarly enthused, he hopes it inspires them to serve in their own unique way, having a greater appreciation for those who do ultimately serve.

“From the founding of our country, our constitution required us to ‘maintain a Navy’ always but to ‘raise an Army’ as needed,” Shatynski added. “Freedom of the seas has been the basis of our success as a country and enabled the world to prosper as never before. The USS IOWA and the other ships of America’s Surface Navy ensure that freedom.”

“How important is freedom of the seas?” he said.

“Today, 80 percent of all commerce is on the sea and 99 percent of all communication is under the sea,” Shatynski said. “The worldwide internet would not function without its undersea connections.”

With 70 percent of the world’s surface is covered by the seas, and 80 percent of the world’s population living near them, plus 90 percent of all world trade traveling over the oceans, this and more is why our country maintains a Navy, according to the U.S. Navy website.

“Los Angeles is a maritime city, and the United States is a maritime nation,” he added. “One in 12 jobs in Los Angeles is directly-related to maritime trade. Most of us in Southern California do not realize that, and I think that the USS IOWA as the National Museum of the Surface Navy will help us understand the importance of our maritime past and future.”

From her commission in February 1943, the USS IOWA proved priceless in protection of the world’s seas being awarded nine battle stars alone for her participation in WWII. Her first mission was to stand guard near Newfoundland to prevent a Nazi battleship from getting loose and prevent attacks on cargo convoys in the Atlantic. Following this, her next mission which was top secret, was transporting President Roosevelt and his War Cabinet across the South Atlantic to attend conferences in Cairo and Tehran. She was also involved in the presentation of  plans for D-Day’s Second Front given onboard the battleship to the Allies for their approval.

In the South Pacific during WWII, the USS IOWA mainly escorted aircraft carrier task forces, bombed shore positions, and provided artillery support during invasions of enemy-held islands. With two strikes, the battleship hit industrial targets on Japanese homeland islands and was at their surrender in Tokyo Harbor.

The USS IOWA was then decommissioned for the first time in 1949, but brought back two years later to provide gunfire support to United Nation’s troops during the Korean War. She was part of the 7th Fleet’s Flagship and awarded two more battle stars. After the Korean War, she provided midshipmen and Naval Reserve crew trainings, participated in NATO exercises, and was “showing the flag” in ports worldwide. During both WWII and the Korean War, her homeport was the Long Beach Naval Base.

It was after being deactivated from 1958 to 1984, that she and her three sisterships were modernized and brought back into action to counter a build-up of the Russian Navy.

“The IOWA and her three sister ships are the fastest battleships ever commissioned, with a top speed of thirty-three knots (thirty-six mph),” Deatherage said. “The ships are floating tanks, with forty-two percent of their displacement weight being from their protective armor.”

“Besides their great speed, armor, and firepower, they can refuel escorting ships from their massive fuel loads of 2,400,000 gallons, share food from their large storerooms, conduct mechanical repairs in their machine shops, provide dental services, and have surgery capabilities with a 26-bed hospital,” she added.

The USS IOWA carries the largest guns ever placed on an American warship – the 16-inch guns.  The guns have a range of about twenty-four miles. Its armor piercing projectiles can penetrate 30 feet of reinforced concrete and up to 18 inches of armor on an enemy vessel. Damage varies based on distance fired and angle of penetration. Its high capacity can create a crater 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep, with 200 yards bursting diameter. The ship has 19 decks with seven down in the hull (not all running the length of the ship) and 12 levels in the superstructure. The top superstructure compartments are quite small, according to Deatherage.

“During deployment she fired twice as many 16- and five-inch projectiles as she fired in all of WWII,” she said. “On some days, her guns fired around the clock, with five-inch ‘interdiction/harassment’ firing one shell per hour during the night to keep the enemy from sleeping and off guard.”

Today, if the USS IOWA and sister ships were still in service, they would be the largest U.S. Navy ships afloat excluding aircraft carriers and amphibious assault mini carriers, said Deatherage.

 

The battleship USS IOWA ( launches a Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile during Fleet Exercise 2-86.

 

“We have strived to keep the USS IOWA as original as possible, and she hasn’t changed much since her final de-commissioning in 1990,” she added. “She is a mixture of WWII and the Cold War. If you can call a warship handsome, she is very handsome and is considered to be one of the finest warship classes ever commissioned.”

Since opening to the public in 2012, the battleship has hosted both public and private events. Some include a high school prom dances as well as the swearing in of service men and women in front of its ‘”big guns”.

“Hollywood has used her in numerous television shows, first responders have used her unique architecture to hone their skills and more,” Deatherage said. “The USS IOWA team is committed to working with clients and partners to help them achieve their goals in the most bespoke, efficient, and cost-effective way possible.”

As one can imagine, it takes a lot of work to maintain a battleship.

“We describe it like painting a bridge – start at one end, paint till you reach the other, then start over in perpetuity,” she said. “We’re constantly painting, chipping at rust, cleaning, restoring spaces, and more. The work never ends, and neither does the fundraising.”

The USS IOWA team raises money through ticket sales, event bookings, grants, corporate sponsorships, and donors at all financial levels – from $10-$20 to several thousand. They also run campaigns to fundraise for specific needs such as a two-month-long campaign to raise money for hull preservation, according to Deatherage.  

“We hope to inspire future generations of sailors interested in serving in the U.S. Navy by providing a window into life at sea – an in-situ view of a shipboard community, the teamwork and cooperation required in the day-to-day operations of a floating city, and the rewards of hard work and camaraderie,” she said. “Stories of heroic sailors are told to motivate them to create their own tales of selfless service.”

“The ship itself instills excitement at the possibilities of careers in the maritime world – not only in the Navy, but in marine science and naval architecture,” Deatherage added. “All in all, we can encourage future generations to look beyond their usual surroundings and see broader opportunity for their lives they might never have imagined.”

Public support for the USS IOWA can be done in several ways by spreading awareness or leaving reviews on Facebook, Google or Yelp, or becoming a “Plank Owner” (offered for free) in support of the National Museum of the Surface Navy. Volunteers and tax-deductible donations are also welcome, according Deatherage.

“While she is one of the top five museums and tourist attractions in Los Angeles, we still have a way to go before we’re at the top – which is where we strive to be, while remaining authentic to the ship’s proud history,” she said.

For more information about the USS Iowa, please visit online at www.pacificbattleship.com.