Iowa’s Battleship Set For Final Commissioning

By Mark Carlson, Reporter

The conning tower of the USS Iowa at Berth 87 at the Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 3, 2011, in San Pedro, Calif. The ship will be commissioned as an educational and memorial center. (SourceMedia Group News/Jim Slosiarek)

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By Katie Stinson

SAN PEDRO, CA -- It’s a day that many feared would never come, but thanks to the work of countless Iowans on Wednesday the USS Iowa will be officially dedicated as a museum in San Pedro, CA.

Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin will join hundreds of veterans onboard Iowa’s battleship for what’s being described as a “final commissioning” ceremony. More than 500 thousand visitors are expected to visit the Iowa annually at its new home; Berth 87 in the Port of Los Angeles.

“We want to honor the Iowa, point to the Iowa and thank the people of Iowa for helping to save the ship,” said Bob Rogers, a veteran who has worked to publicize the restoration effort since the Iowa was towed out of a the “ghost fleet” of Suisun Bay in Northern California last year. “The people of Iowa all should be very, very proud, she’s a mighty ship.”

Sharp green road signs along Interstate 110 just south of Los Angles read: Battleship IOWA This Exit. At night the ship is lit up with dozens of flood lights, making the Iowa stand out like a lighthouse to thousands of drivers passing over the Vincent Thomas Bridge, a major connection between San Pedro and Long Beach.

“It’s fantastic,” said Chuck Cavanaugh of Cedar Rapids. Cavanaugh flew to southern California with his father, George, an 80-year-old Korean War veteran who served aboard the Iowa.

“This is a very special ship,” said George Cavanaugh, who hadn’t seen the Iowa since he left the Navy in 1954. “I really do think people will come to see it.”

This week USS Iowa veterans from around the country are in the Los Angeles area for an annual reunion. A handful of veterans from Eastern Iowa made the trip, and will take part in the dedication. Melvin Rhodes, 86, of Cedar Rapids will stand in formation during the ceremony, something he did while on the Iowa in the 50’s. George Milligan of Cedar Rapids plans to do the same.

“It was a real honor to be on the Iowa,” Milligan, also a Korean War veteran said. Milligan and his wife, Marlene flew into southern California to see the Iowa this week as part of a vacation. The couple agreed they’re excited to see the Iowa turned into a museum. It’s their first time onboard since the last recommissioning ceremony in Pascagoula, MS in 1984. At that time the ship was destined for five years of service in the Cold War.

“I’ve never sat up here,” Milligan said with a laugh while sitting in the captain’s seat Tuesday afternoon. “I never dreamed I would be sitting here.”

“It’s great for these guys,” Marlene Milligan said. While Milligan and Cavanaugh were both serving on the ship at the same time, they had never met until Tuesday. More than two thousand people were aboard the Iowa during the Korean War.

“It’s fun,” said Cavanaugh, who played on the USS Iowa baseball team and this week reunited with some former teammates for the first time in decades.

In September the U.S. Navy awarded the Iowa to the Pacific Battleship Center (PBC). The non-profit Los Angeles based organization has spent nearly a year recovering and restoring the ship. The estimated $12 million dollar project wouldn’t have been possible without $3 million dollars in funds from the state of Iowa, Rogers said.

The Iowa is widely known as one of the most powerful ships in world history. It has been called the Battleship of Presidents because Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have all spent time on her deck. Roosevelt lived on the Iowa for more than a month in 1943. FDR handpicked the Iowa to transport him across the Atlantic Ocean to meet with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin during the heat of World War Two. Julianna Roosevelt, FDR’s great-grand-daughter, will also attend Wednesday’s dedication. Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Representative Janice Hahn (D-CA), round out the list of distinguished guests taking part in the ceremony.

Restoration work to the Iowa is expected to continue for a couple of years. The PBC hopes to eventually open additional tours onboard the Iowa, but will only be able to achieve their goal with additional funding. Admission fees will be used for upkeep and maintenance projects on the ship. The Iowa officially opens to the public this Saturday.
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