The Last Ride of a Famous Battleship

In the shipyards of Richmond, a chain thick with rust slowly ascended into the tip of the U.S.S. Iowa Battleship. As the chain pulled taut, the ship’s massive anchor followed, pulling into place as it’s done countless times over the last seven decades.

By Joe Rosato Jr
|  Thursday, May 17, 2012  |  Updated 6:38 PM PDT
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Images of the USS Iowa

Joe Rosato Jr

A volunteer worker climbs the gangway of the USS Iowa in the docks of Richmond.

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In the shipyards of Richmond, a chain thick with rust slowly ascended into the tip of the U.S.S. Iowa Battleship. As the chain pulled taut, the ship’s massive anchor followed, pulling into place as it’s done countless times over the last seven decades.

The scene was an easy metaphor for the volunteers who raised Iphones to capture the symbolic moment -- this weekend the USS Iowa will pull anchor and head on a final journey home.

The Iowa barely looks like the same ship that was towed out of the Suisun Bay Mothball fleet back in October. The ship had languished two decades in the elements and had been stripped of many of its components, including the mast.

But when the Navy awarded the ship to the private Pacific Battleship Center of Los Angeles, its salvation from the scrap yard was assured.

“She’s an American masterpiece is what she is,” said Mike McEnteggart, a former Navy Iowa crewman, now taking part in the ship’s restoration. “They don’t build them like this anymore.”

In October, the ship was towed to the shipyards of Richmond for restoration. A battalion of volunteers replaced many of the missing parts. Parts that couldn’t be found were replicated, including some of its ancillary guns and its towering radar blades.

“During the last six weeks we’ve used over four thousand gallons of paint and spread that over 210 square feet of surface area,” said Dave Way, who serves as the Pacific Battleship Center’s curator.

With the work mostly done, the ship is set to begin the final journey to its new home. On Sunday four tug boats will guide the ship out of the Bay for one last time. The San Francisco-based Jeremiah O’Brien liberty ship will lead a regatta of ships escorting the Iowa to sea.

“This is the last battleship the Navy has,” said Bob Rogers. “It’s the last time you’ll see a battleship go underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Rogers was part of a group that hoped to bring the USS Iowa to the Port of Stockton to become a museum. But the group’s efforts unraveled, as did other attempts to keep the ship in the Bay Area.

“Obviously a lot of people would like to see it stay in San Francisco and the Bay,” said Rogers, who now serves as a spokesman for the Pacific Battleship Center. “But it’s not going to happen -- it’s going to a good home.”

Once out of the Bay, a seafaring tugboat will tow the Iowa to the Port of Los Angeles where it will become a floating museum in San Pedro. The group hopes to make it in time for a roll-out on the Fourth of July. Once open, the ship will host tours and education programs.

McEnteggart who was stationed 49 months aboard the ship in the eighties is moving from Albany, New York to San Pedro to help care for the ship, which was once his home.

“She was a big part of my life, I felt like I grew up here,” said McEnteggart. “She taught me a lot.”

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