By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Last week my brother took us on an adventure – or lack of adventure – with an old Army general. This week we’ll continue with the military theme and go aboard the USS Iowa.
My husband, Alan, brother Bob and I visited the “Battleship of Presidents” last month at its new home in San Pedro, CA. Being a World War II buff, and always one to light up at the mere mention of Fleet Week, I thought this would be an entertaining way to spend an afternoon. It was…just not in the way I expected.
When arriving at the harbor I looked around for a huge ship – after all, the Iowa is a battleship, for crying out loud. But as we pulled into the parking lot, I was still looking around for a big ship. Take it from me; battleships are very low to the … well, sea. I think I was imagining an aircraft carrier, which both Alan and Bob assured me are much taller.
In any event, once piped aboard we found that there are no official tours. The Iowa had only been open for a month and the plan is to have guided tours within the next year. Until then visitors follow painted arrows on the floor (or “deck” as they insisted on calling it). Let me say right here that this is not a tour for anyone with any physical limitations; we climbed up and down stairs, stepped over those little barrier thingies between rooms, and had to squeeze through narrow passageways. People with claustrophobia or who are on the heavier side of the scale should not plan their next summer vacation around a visit to the USS Iowa.
Nevertheless, the Iowa is an impressive ship with an equally impressive history. The Iowa was in Tokyo Harbor on the day World War II ended and it provided the platform from which Reagan presided over the ceremony for the Statue of Liberty’s restoration ceremony. George H.W. Bush officiated at its recommission and sadly, at the memorial for 47 sailors who died in the accidental explosion of a gun turret. It was home to many brave men and women who served our country and it now provides us civilians with a real appreciation for life on a battleship.
The photographs and artifacts in the officer’s quarters provided the most graphic history of the Iowa. There was a giant map of the ship’s cruises, from its launching in 1943 to its decommission in 1990. In 1943 it took FDR to Casablanca for the summit with Stalin and Churchill. The captain, having a firm grasp of the organization chart, vacated his quarters and lent FDR his “luxurious” suite. Here is a picture of the bed that Roosevelt slept in with the specially woven Presidential bedspread:
Due to FDR’s polio, the captain also installed a hot tub (pictured below) for that cruise. This was a man who clearly wanted to progress up the ranks.
I’m thinking that Roosevelt didn’t actually play with that rubber ducky. The visit to the captain’s quarters only confirmed that we have a long tradition of wasteful government spending in this country.
Moving on, we climbed endless steps up and down through the various compartments and decks. Without a formal tour guide, I had to rely on the descriptions and explanations that Alan and Bob rattled off – two people who never let the truth get in the way of a good story. I have no idea if even half of what they told me is true, but there were times when they were so animated that a crowd gathered to listen to their “expert” commentary. The oft-used mnemonic for Iowa – Idiots Out Walking Around – came to mind.
Here are the two of them – Bob not knowing which is the business end of a 16″ gun barrel and Alan showing off his guns. You can see what I was up against.
Despite the Iowa still being in shakedown mode, one facet of the ship was up and ready to go – the gift shop. Not a trick had been missed in setting it up. There were the requisite t-shirts and caps, of course, but they also sold golf ball markers, a Stryker marshmallow gun, and a book called “Airigami: Realistic Origami Aircraft” in case you’re looking to kill some time at your next staff meeting.
All in all, the USS Iowa is well worth seeing, but my recommendation is to visit when they have their official tours available. If you go before that, just make sure that the person up on the bridge doesn’t look like this: