Our reward for participating in the “Conquer the Bridge” event in San Pedro on Labor Day was half-price admission for the tour of the USS Iowa. The 887-foot-long, 45,000-ton World War II battleship is now a floating museum in San Pedro Harbor. The tour opened in July, and already thousands of visitors have toured what has been called the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship” due to it power and heavy armor.
The Iowa served in three commissions, World War II, Korea and 1980’s era cold war. It was also known as the “Battleship of Presidents” hosting Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush–more U.S. presidents than any other battleship.
The Iowa was equipped with a special bathtub for FDR, as well as an elevator to accommodate his wheelchair. And there are many areas of the ship with upgraded officer’s sitting rooms and accommodations made hospitable to the visiting presidents. It isn’t difficult to imagine how these visits would have encouraged the on-board sailors, and given them a boost in morale.
In the long active career of this famous ship it picked up several nicknames. “The Big Stick” is a direct reference to President Theodore Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” philosophy of negotiating peacefully while simultaneously displaying military power. That sense of power is certainly evident in the gun power. I learned they were 16-inch guns, but I don’t particularly have a grasp for what that means except to say they are HUGE.
I may know little, but listening to the Navy veterans in the group touring with us, I learned the gun-power was impressive in its day. Of course, to modernize for Cold War endeavors, the original battery was eventually replaced with the capacity for “smart weaponry.” I admit that when it comes to understanding the mechanics of this great old battleship’s capacity for warfare, the weaponry is “smarter” than I am.
However, there was an incident with those guns that you may recall from tragic headlines.
The powerful guns contributed to a great on-board tragedy on April 19, 1988, when a turret explosion in the center gun room killed 47 of the turret’s crewmen. It was later determined that a significant overram of powder bags into the gun as it was being loaded may have caused the explosion.
The year following the deadly explosion the Iowa, along with the three remaining battleships, the Missouri, Wisconsin and New Jersey were consigned by the Navy to its reserved fleet. The Iowa was decaying but veterans groups and interested citizens actively lobbied for its restoration. The state of Iowa donated $3 million and private sources and loans provided more than $1.5 to refurbish.
It’s a very big honor for Los Angeles to be designated “home” for this battleship with all her history. She is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, a nice boon to the local economy.
I would like to do a little more research on the ship and its illustrious career and then revisit in the future. There are plans to open up more of the massive ship to the public over time. It was profitable to be a good listener, though, following a number of Navy veterans touring with wives and family members. It was clear they had a great deal of respect for the ship and as they shared personal stories from their own naval experiences I was just glad to follow and listen.
Our tour of the Iowa was our field trip for this week! We learned a great deal, but I also determined that when it comes to military ships and their technology I have a lot of significant gaps in my knowledge. Now I want to make a trip down to San Diego and see if we can tour an aircraft carrier. Maybe I’ll be able to do a little research before we tour the USS Midway.
But this weekend we’re off on another kind of field trip. Have you ever heard of the “California Water Wars?” There’s quite a story here! In fact, a fictionalized story of the “water wars” was used as the basis for the 1974 Jack Nicholson film, Chinatown. There’s a slim thread of the larger-than-life William Mulholland, central figure to bringing water to Los Angeles, that also connects back to San Pedro…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We’re going to do some exploring this weekend to satisfy my curiosity! If you don’t hear from me for a couple of days you’ll know my investigation has proven successful and I’m lost in my explorations. But I’ll be back. And ready to talk WATER!
I wonder if my love of water…ocean or from the tap, has anything to do with the fact that I’m a Pisces? Just wondering…
Have a great weekend. And let me know if you take a field trip of your own. There’s always something worth investigating!