When the historic battleship USS Iowa was tugged away from Berth 51 in San Pedro to its new permanent home at Berth 87 on Saturday, it carried not only the memory of the thousands of Navy seamen who served aboard the ship, but some of the men themselves. Ninety-two-year-old Bob Dedic was part of the original crew when the ship was commissioned in 1940, and was back again for this final voyage. So were other veterans and active Navy sailors who served on the ship during its 50-year tenure until it was decommissioned in 1990. There were also active Navy and Navy Sea Cadets as young as 14 all spruced up in their dress whites.
Dignitaries on board included Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both beaming with pride in bringing the future museum ship to Los Angeles. I can tell you they were beaming, because I was on board too, along with a passel of TV crews, journalists and photographers invited to document and share this last hurrah.
Rescued from mothballs where she had been languishing in the Bay Area, the ship made the full 400 mile voyage to San Pedro under the push-pull of a team of tug boats, arriving in Los Angeles on May 30, 2012. She got a bottom scrubbing to remove any potentially invasive species or contaminants before being cleared for the final tow to her new home.
The volunteer crew from the Pacific Battleship Center cast off the chains and we set underway for the short journey accompanied by the twin brigantines Exy and Irving Johnson, as well as the tall ship the Spirit, sailing only under one sail to keep her speed down to ours. Two LA City Fire Boats at the bow and stern spouted water streams to martial arrangements of Anchors Away and Oh Shenandoah (an off choice, I thought) creative a festive spirit as we pulled away from land. A few dozen other sail boats, yachts and motorboats joined in the parade.
Along our path, close to 1000 people had gathered along the waterfront to welcome the USS Iowa to her new home. Our destination was only a mile away, but to add a little grandeur to the event, as well as better photo opportunities for us and the news ‘copters above, we paraded up the channel under the Vincent Thomas Bridge, where we paused briefly before resuming our tow in the reverse direction.
Technical difficulties docking meant that we got to enjoy the marching band and cheering crowd that welcomed us from captive positions on the deck while Randy Newman’s I love LA blared from the ship’s speakers. Due to the delay, the young Sea Cadets never got to present the Color Guard during the truncated award ceremonies as proclamations and awards changed hands. They didn’t seem to mind. Having stood their posts proudly as the ship found its new home, they became part of history, documented by TV and news cameras and yours truly for posterity.
The USS Iowa is open to the public as a museum ship. For information and tickets, visit pacificbattleship.com.