Battleship Heads for Mothballs for Third Time
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ The battleship USS Iowa, which survived two wars and a catastrophic explosion and fire that killed 47 crewmen, was decommissioned today for a third time.
The World War II and Korean War veteran, with 16-inch guns that sent their 2,000-pound projectiles at targets as far away as 20 miles, was taken out of service 47 years after it first joined the Navy.
Strong wind and rain forced the ceremony to be moved from a pier at the Norfolk Naval Base to the bridge of the ship. Several hundred former Iowa crewmen and their families gathered in the ship’s mess hall, where they chatted but could not hear the ceremony.
Also aboard were some relatives of crewmen who were killed in the explosion and fire on the ship on April 19, 1989.
″He would want us to be here,″ said Paula Schwarz of Levittown, N.Y., whose brother, Peter Bopp, died in the blast.
In the ceremony, the Iowa’s chaplain said the ship’s crewmen, living and dead, should be remembered for their role in preserving democracy.
″Although we bid farewell to the teak decks and steel plates, we do not say goodbye to Iowa, for Iowa is us,″ said the chaplain, Cmdr. Joseph C. Cappar.
During World War II, the ship carried President Roosevelt to a war conference. The ship was fitted with a bathtub for Roosevelt, who had trouble standing because of polio. To this day, the Iowa remains the only ship in the Navy with a bathtub.
After serving in the Pacific providing protection for aircraft carriers, the Iowa was decommissioned in 1949.
The battleship stayed in mothballs for little more than two years before it was brought back to service in August 1951. Its guns fired more than 4,000 rounds during the Korean War.
The ship was put in storage from 1958 until 1984, when it was recommissioned as part of the Navy buildup to a 600-ship fleet. At a cost of $435 million, the ship was modernized into a platform for cruise missiles. The big guns were considered a bonus.
Perhaps the most shattering incident in the ship’s history was the explosion and fireball that raced through the No. 2 turret during an open seas gunnery exercise last year. The crew fought the fire and saved their ship.
In less than 60 days, the ship was able to make a scheduled Mediterranean deployment, with its No. 2 turret sealed. But because of federal budget deficits, officials decided not to spend the estimated $13 million it would cost to repair the ship.
A Navy investigation into the explosion laid the blame on a disgruntled gunner’s mate who died in the blast. Navy officials said the gunner’s mate deliberately sabotaged the guns.
That report has been challenged by some of the families of the 47 sailors and some members of Congress. Earlier this year, the Navy reopened a portion of the investigation.