Historic Battleship Becoming Naval Museum in SoCal

Associated Press Modified: May 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm •  Published: May 12, 2012
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RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) — Firing its 16-inch guns in the Arabian Sea, the U.S.S. Iowa shuddered. As the sky turned orange, a blast of heat from the massive guns washed over the battleship. This was the Iowa of the late 1980s, at the end of its active duty as it escorted reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran-Iraq war.

Some 25 years later, following years of aging in the San Francisco Bay area's "mothball fleet," the 887-foot long ship that once carried President Franklin Roosevelt to a World War II summit to meet with Churchill, Stalin and Chiang Kai Shek is coming to life once again as it is being prepared for what is most likely its final voyage.

Not far from where "Rosie the Riveters" built ships in the 1940s at the Port of Richmond, the 58,000-ton battlewagon is undergoing restoration for towing May 20 through the Golden Gate, then several hundred miles south to the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. There it is to be transformed into an interactive naval museum.

On May 1, ownership of the Iowa was officially transferred from the U.S. Navy to the Pacific Battleship Center, the nonprofit organization that has been restoring the boat for its new mission.

"This means everything — it's going to be saved," John Wolfinbarger, 87, of San Martin, Calif., who served aboard the USS Iowa for almost two years in the mid-1940s and recently began giving public tours of the old ship during repairs here.

"When it gets down to San Pedro, it's going to be the happiest day of my life, like coming home!" he said, watching the mast being reattached.

For the past decade, the lead ship of her battleship class known as "The Big Stick" has sat in the cold and fog, anchored with other mothballed ships in nearby Suisun Bay. This spring, workers began scrubbing and painting the Iowa's exterior, replacing the teak deck and reattaching the mast in preparation for the museum commissioning on July 4.

Jonathan Williams, executive officer of Pacific Battleship Group, has been overseeing the project, which will exceed $4 million upon completion. Williams credited his dedicated his staff and volunteers, along with the financial contributions from the state of Iowa, for making the restoration possible.

"The U.S. Navy, MARAD (United States Maritime Administration) and the crew that mothballed the battleship over the past 22 years did an excellent job and kept the heart and soul of Iowa alive," said Williams.

"Things are on track and we are following our schedule as planned," he added. "We are trying to make sure nothing is missed as the process is complex."

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