Historic Battleship Welcomes the Public

Visitors can walk the bow of the USS Iowa on weekend tours before the ship is moved to LA.

Joe Rosato Jr.

Dave Way sees them all day long. Dozens of people pressing their faces against the chain link fence– straining to see one of the world’s last battleships.

Since arriving at the docks of Richmond five weeks ago, the USS Iowa Battleship has generated plenty of curiosity. Way certainly understands the draw.

“They’re considered by many people to be the finest warship ever developed,” said Way, Tour Director for the Pacific Battleship Group.

After two decades languishing in the Suisun Bay Mothball Fleet, the Navy awarded the historic ship to the Los Angeles-based group. The Iowa is undergoing restoration in Richmond before it’s towed to its new home in the Port of Los Angeles, where it will become a museum.

“There’s a lot of history, a lot of people served on her,” said Jonathan Williams, scanning the deck. “Upwards of 2,700 men in World War II, all the way into the eighties.”

The ship is famous for serving three commissions -- beginning in World War II in 1943 -- and ending in the eighties. It’s long history includes the massive 1989 explosion in turret two that killed 47 crew members.

To walk the old rotting teak decks of the ship, is to walk through 70 years of military past.

“Think about the number of people who have come through here and the number of stories,” said Williams. “The kids’ lives that were changed. A lot of them were 18 years old when they came in.”

Starting this weekend, visitors won’t have to peer through a chain link fence to witness the Iowa anymore. The Pacific Battleship Group is opening the ship to weekend public tours. Although most of the ship remains off limits, visitors will be able to walk the bow and stand in the shadow of its massive 16-inch guns.

They’ll also see the dent where a Japanese shell hit the ship’s thick armor, leaving hardly a mark.

“That shell hit a 10-inch armor plate,” said Way, gesturing toward a painted arrow marking the coffee can sized welt. “You can tell it did very little damage.”

The ship will remain open every weekend, except Christmas, into the Spring when the ship is towed to its new home in Los Angeles. Its operators hope to eventually open up the interior to the public once repairs are made.

In the meantime, there is plenty to do. In addition to system upgrades, some 60-thousand square feet of teak deck need replacing: thousands of square feet of steel need painting. The sprawling mast that was removed to fit the ship beneath the Benicia Bridge will eventually be reattached.

“We’re breathing some life back into it,” said PBC’s Mike Getscher. “We intend to operate some of its systems and make it a living memorial -- not just a silent museum.”

The ship is located  at Terminal 3, 1411 Harbor Way, Richmond CA. Tours cost $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 years or older, and they are free for children 11 and under.

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