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Mast Raising Caps Historic Day For USS Iowa

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PORT OF RICHMOND, California - April 24, 2012 will be a date that will go down in the storied history of the USS Iowa. Late Tuesday morning crews placed the battleship's original mast back onto the WWII era vessel.

"It's a major milestone on our path," said Robert Kent, president of the Pacific Battleship Center, the organization working to restore the Iowa.

The mast had been removed in 2001 when the Navy moved the Iowa to a reserve fleet in Suisun Bay, Calif. In late 2011 the Navy awarded the ship to the Pacific Battleship Center, who will eventually turn the ship into a floating museum in the Los Angeles area. Currently the ship is docked at the Port of Richmond, near San Francisco.

"We can't bring it back to Iowa," said Jeff Lamberti, a lead fundraiser on the project and the former Republican leader of the Iowa Senate. "Los Angeles will be a great place for the world to see (the Iowa)."

On February 1, Governor Branstad signed a bill pledging $3 million in support of the project.

"I'm glad they're saving the ship, there's a history there, and people of Iowa should be very proud," said WWII veteran Mike Wunderlich, who periodically works as a volunteer on the ship.

Crews used a giant barge to lift the 52 thousand pound mast more than 100 feet in the air and place it on top of the ship. An Iowa quarter was placed underneath the mast before it was welded back onto the ship, a Navy tradition.

"I'm thrilled for the state of Iowa because this is a very meaningful ship," said Bob Rogers, a Pacific Battleship Center volunteer who has spent the last decade fighting to save the vessel. "This is the last major element of the ship to go up."

The USS Iowa is perhaps most notable for serving as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's personal ship during WWII. The Iowa carried him across the Atlantic ocean in 1943 to meet with allied leaders. The ship is equipped with a handicap accessible bathtub, which FDR needed because he battled polio, although few people knew it at the time.

Crews will being towing the Iowa towards the Los Angeles area on May 20, ahead of a July 4 opening ceremony.

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