By Harry Saltzgaver
Long Beach left the Iowa By The Sea moniker behind long ago (even though I do happen to have a Hawkeye in the newsroom).
But I was literally at Iowa By The Sea last Sunday, and I was plenty impressed.
It was, of course, the USS Iowa over in San Pedro across the bay. It was the decommissioned battleship’s 70th birthday, so it was occasion enough for me to drive across the bridges. (Lovely wife dislikes heights intensely, so we don’t do this often. But that’s another column for another day.)
I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when Los Angeles and San Pedro trumpeted the “victory” of winning the right to try to keep the World War II hero afloat and turn it into a viable tourist operation. After all, I’d watched our fair city’s efforts to make one of the most glamorous ships ever, the Queen Mary, work as an attraction.
The Queen has become an icon, to be sure, and I’ve personally spent many memorable moments aboard. But it has seldom actually paid for its own upkeep, much less turned a profit.
And there are plenty of military museum pieces scattered along our country’s coasts. The USS Midway is only 90 minutes or so away, and is accompanied by a full-blown museum.
But I was won over by the ship known as The Big Stick.
It didn’t hurt any that I had Erik with me. The 12-year-old video player was truly impressed. We were 90 minutes into our tour before he even thought about being bored.
Those big guns got him going, but I think he actually got the feeling of history that pervades the battleship. I got to tell him a little bit about what World War II was all about and who that actor in the wooden wheelchair was supposed to be.
The real deal was what really mattered, though. Thanks to the fact it was a birthday celebration, there were plenty of veterans on board, many of whom apparently served on the Iowa. They weren’t just docents helping with the tour, either.
We followed one older gentleman sporting a Navy jacket for a short time, as his son and grandson helped him through the narrow hatches. He didn’t allow help as he went up the ladders they call staircases, though.
Then he stopped and talked to another vet. I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure if they were talking Pacific action in World War II or encounters in Korea, but they were talking about being in battle aboard the Iowa. I was humbled.
It’s true that the 16-inch guns on the bow are awe-inspiring, and I was just as impressed by the Harpoon and Tomahawk missile systems near the stern. Approaching the ship, it sort of exudes power — maybe even menace.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is the sense of history on the decks. There’s the tub installed specifically for President Roosevelt, and there’s the admiral’s flag bridge. There’s also the enlisted men’s mess and the crawl spaces where they maintained those massive guns.
The most lasting impression came from trying to imagine being on the ship in a time of war. It is, after all, less than three football fields long and just more than 100 feet wide at its widest point. When attacked, there was no place to run.
But then, it wasn’t designed to run. It was built to fight.
It might sound hokey, but there’s a real sense of patriotism when you’re aboard the USS Iowa. This ship, and the crews who manned it, fought for our freedom.
That’s an Iowa by the Sea worth experiencing.