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After years of effort, the USS Iowa will soon have a permanent berth in the port of San Francisco as an educational and tourist attraction, Rep. Lynn Woolsey has announced.

"Unless there is some unforeseen circumstance . . .San Francisco will soon have a new museum dedicated to those who served in our Navy," the Petaluma Democrat told an audience of about 200 sailors, dignitaries and community leaders during a Fleet Week banquet Monday night.

The relocation of the Iowa to San Francisco was made possible by a $3 million allocation approved last week by the House Appropriations Committee.  It will cost about $2 million to tow with the remainder of the funds targeted for maintenance.  The defense bill will have a final vote Tuesday, and Woolsey said she expected it to pass. 

Bill Stephens, director of the Historic Ship Memorial at Pacific Square, a nonprofit San Francisco group that led the effort to bring the 887-foot battleship to The City, said the Iowa would be docked in San Francisco probably before next summer, but it is up to the Navy to
decide when it will arrive. It's current home is Rhode Island. 

The Historic Ship Memorial had been working for six years to obtain an Iowa-class battleship. The class includes the Iowa and three others, the USS Wisconsin, Missouri and New Jersey, all World War II ships.  To finally receive the class' namesake ship is a great achievement, said Merylin Wong, the group's corporate secretary and director.

"Getting this ship has been a lifelong challenge for some," Wong said. "But this is the top ship, and, as a community asset, she is the ultimate ship."

In 1996, San Francisco lost a high-stakes battle to become the port for the decommissioned USS Missouri, the ship on which Japanese officials surrendered at the end of World War II. The Missouri was sent to Honolulu.

The Iowa was used during World War II and the Korean War. It brought President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the 1943 Tehran Conference, where Allied leaders formulated their plans to beat the Germans. 

The Iowa briefly called San Francisco home in 1944 after being seriously damaged during a storm in the Pacific. It was repaired at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, then decommissioned. In 1951, it was recommissioned and sent into action in Korea.  Wong said the battleship would dock in Pier 30/32 for an interim period. Once Pier 35 is ready to hold the ship, the 46,000-ton Iowa will move there.

The Iowa will provide an educational opportunity and tourist attraction for San Francisco, Wong said.  The ship can also become a command center if an emergency, such as an earthquake, occurs.  But most importantly, it will be a memorial, not only for those who died in wartime, but for the 47 sailors who died during peacetime in 1989 when a gun turret
exploded on the ship, Wong said.

San Jose resident Paul Gomez, who fought in the Korean War and served as a fire control technician on the USS Iowa from 1951 to 1954, was especially pleased about the decision. Gomez, who has not been on the Iowa since he served on it, is looking forward to walking through it again and recalling the good times.

"The ship is a part of my life," Gomez said. "Right now, it's sitting somewhere not serving a purpose.  Bringing it to San Francisco, will make millions come to see her . . . and her heritage will be preserved." 

Because the ship was recently shifted from donation to reserve status - meaning it could be called into action if needed - the Iowa will not be called an official museum immediately. Visitors will be able to visit the top deck and certain interior spaces, but some areas will remain off limits. Stephens said Historic Ship Memorial had plans to create shore-side exhibits, making it as close to a museum as possible. 

"This is a moment of extreme accomplishment on behalf of everybody who's worked so hard," Gomez said. 

(c) 1999 San Francisco Examiner - all rights reserved


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