If there was one thing that stuck out in my mind about being on the USS Iowa, permanently docked in the Los Angeles suburb of San Pedro, it’s that I was glad I was on it then rather, than, say, sometime in 1943, 1944 or 1945.
Or during the Korean War or any other conflict in which it she involved in her near 40-year service history.
First of all, no one was shooting at us and secondly, we were not shooting at anyone, either. And while I had to sometimes wait a few moments to climb some stairs or to peer into a gun turret, there were not 2,800 sailors on board.
It was also not moving, not hot, steamy and so miserable that people were sleeping on the decks instead of in their tiny bunks.
What it was instead, in my experience, was really cool.
I had long wanted to say “permission to come aboard” and tour this WWII-era battleship. And I got the opportunity to do it during LA Fleet Week. I’m a bit of a World War II buff and the opportunity to walk the decks and see those massive 16-inch guns up close was something I was not going to miss.
So, when I walked up the ramp and set foot on the USS Iowa, I said to the sailor “permission to come aboard sir!” He laughed and said “of course.”
Okay, that’s probably not standard navy protocol but I was finally onboard and, like a puppy dog being held back by a leash, wanted to bolt to see those guns. The sailor who greeted me suggested downloading the USS Iowa app and use it to guide me through the ship – oh those young millennials today! – but by the time I did that and figured it out, I figured I could be at the guns.
I’m kind of anti-app to begin with so I just followed a route that was clearly marked off with ropes blocking access to certain rooms. All I and my two PubClub.com associates had to do was follow those roped off areas – simple!
We paused to peer at a few officers’ quarters (small) that took us from starboard to port side, then headed to the bow area. And there they were, looking like gigantic silver-colored telephone poles sticking out of a mount, the guns.
I had read or seen somewhere that these battleships could fire shells the size of a Volkswagen a distance of 25 miles. Think about that for a second. From that spot in San Pedro, the USS Iowa could fire a projectile and hit the Santa Monica Pier. In that scenario, it would fly over me in Hermosa Beach, be a streak in Manhattan Beach, go past LAX and Marina del Rey before landing – with quite a bang, I’m sure – at startled tourists on the ferris wheel.
But that was only the beginning of our USS Iowa experience. After all, as impressive as they are, the guns are stationary and silent (thank goodness). The rest of the self-guided tour took us up and down steps – some narrow and steep – into various areas and rooms.
The most interesting room was the one used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he went to Iran to meet with Churchill and Stalin. Modifications had to be made to accommodate him because he was in a wheelchair due to having polio.
All along the way, volunteers told interesting stories, like the gentleman in this room who said that an accompanying destroyer accidentally fired a live torpedo at the ship – with Rosevelt on board!
We also saw the massive kitchen, the bunks where sailors slept (tiny beds stacked against a wall like bunk beds no A/C in WWII and the Korean war; again, I’m glad I was not this ship in those days), learned of a tragic incident involving a gun turret explosion that killed several sailors in the Iowa’s final years and enjoyed a new display in the stern of the ship about naval ship warfare history.
I was not keeping track of time but it took about two hours go through the ship. And it could have easily taken three if we had read more of the informative plaques.
Overall, this is a highly recommended Los Angeles attraction. It’s not cheap but considering the price of other things it’s certainly not unreasonable. A general ticket is $19.95 and there are combo packages that include, among other things, harbor tours for close to $30. You can save $2 by purchasing ahead of time on line at the USS Iowa website.
So I’ll salute the USS Iowa and the men who served on her. Just don’t give me a gun salute in return. I don’t want to see a Volkswagen-sized shell flying over my head while I’m sitting on the beach in Hermosa.