Michelle Valles, Troy McLaurin
Thousands tour the World War II-era battleship now docked in San Pedro as a floating museum. The giant ship, completed in 1943, was decommissioned in 1990. Michelle Valles reports from the Port of Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on July 7, 2012.
The massive USS Iowa, a retired World War II-era craft known as the Battleship of Presidents and "The Big Stick," opened Saturday in San Pedro.
Long-awaited by locals who hope the 887-foot-long ship will create a much-needed boost to tourism in the seaside community, the USS Iowa is now a permanent floating museum that is open to the public.
On July 4, the Iowa hosted a reunion for veterans who served on the ship. Those who attended had tears in their eyes as they watched the ceremony.
More than 300 people waited in line to see the great ship on Saturday morning.
"What a marvel of naval architecture it is," said Don Moen, a USS Iowa volunteer.
The ship arrived in May and was anchored about 3 miles off-shore from the Port of Los Angeles, as shown below at right, after being towed from the U.S. Navy's mothballed fleet in Suisun Bay, near San Francisco.
The Navy would not allow the gunship, which had been decommissioned in 1990, to move under its own power.
The Iowa, which began operating in 1943 and saw action during World War II and the Korean War, had its hull cleaned off shore and has since been docked at Berth 87 next to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.
Saturday's opening ceremony brought out hundreds of veterans, and a host of dignitaries including: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad; Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin; Rep. Janice Hahn, who represents San Pedro; LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and Julianna Roosevelt, the great-granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for whom a bathtub was installed on the ship.
The captain's cabin was a popular spot at Saturday's opening. The cramped quarters were taken over by Roosevelt when the USS Iowa transported him and top military advisors to Casablanca on the way to the 1943 Tehran Conference with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.
Construction on the ship began in 1940, and it later served in the Pacific Fleet, shelling beachheads on the Marshall Islands. It was among the first ships to enter Tokyo Bay after Japan's surrender in 1945.
The nonprofit Pacific Battleship Center, which will operate the battleship, raised about $9 million to move and restore the Iowa. An organization in Vallejo, not far from where the ship was docked in Northern California, had unsuccessfully completed with the San Pedro group to become the Iowa's permanent home.
A general admission ticket will cost $18. Retired members of the military and seniors will get in for $15, and attendees ages 6 to 17 will get in for $10. Iowa residents got in free Saturday.
"It’s a little different," said Iowa resident Scott Bakley at Saturday's opening. "We don’t really have ports in Iowa, so it’s been fun experiencing it."
Museum memberships are available at www.pacificbattleship.com. The USS Iowa will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.