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Battleship of Presidents

The Battleship of Presidents:

Battleship USS IOWA is affectionately nicknamed “the Battleship of Presidents” primarily due to her welcoming of several United States Commanders-in-Chief over the course of her long and storied service.

Each of those visits was special, but a particularly unique one resulted in a perk rarely seen on a military vessel: in 1943 a bathtub was installed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to use during his voyage to the Tehran Conference.

Subsequent years saw the ship host numerous dignitaries, including the South Korean President in the 1950s and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s.

Today, the Battleship USS IOWA resides in Los Angeles as a Top5 TripAdvisor museum attraction. She continues to serve as an important symbol of American democracy. The crew proudly maintains the ship’s tradition of welcoming visitors, treating hundreds of thousands of guests annually to a glimpse of living history, as they experience spaces where these Presidents once stood, dined, and bathed.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

On 12 November 1943 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt boarded the USS Iowa from the Presidential yacht USS Potomac at the mouth of the Potomac River. The President’s party included Presidential Advisor Harry Hopkins and the President’s War Cabinet. This high-level consort was bound for a secret meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference.

Two days later, at Roosevelt’s request, the USS Iowa conducted an anti-aircraft drill to demonstrate her defensive capabilities. Escort ships also participated in these activities.

One of those escorts was the destroyer USS William D. Porter. The warship was performing a routine torpedo drill when her #3 torpedo was accidently discharged from its tube. It headed directly towards the Iowa.

After numerous attempts to signal the Iowa via blinker light, William D. Porter crew decided to break radio silence to inform the Iowa of the mishap. Iowa turned hard right to avoid the torpedo, which exploded in the battleship’s wake.

During this event, Roosevelt had learned of the incoming torpedo and asked the Secret Service to move his wheelchair to the side of the battleship so he could have a better view.

Iowa returned President Roosevelt safely to the United States on 16 December 1943 . His departing address to the crew included a compliment every ship’s company appreciates: “…from all I have seen and all I have heard, the Iowa is a ‘happy ship,’ and having served with the Navy for many years, I know, and you know, what that means.

Read more about Roosevelt’s adventurous 1943 voyage in this great article by Patriot’s Point.

President Ronald Reagan

On 4 July 1986 President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan boarded USS Iowa for Liberty Weekend, the celebration of the restoration and centenary of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. That morning ships from a variety of eras participated in the naval revue, which President Reagan viewed from USS Iowa. He saw the ships as a personification of freedom and liberty:

Perhaps, indeed, these vessels embody our conception of liberty itself: to have before one no impediments, only open spaces; to chart one’s own course and take the adventure of life as it comes; to be free as the wind – as free as the tall ships themselves. It’s fitting, then, that this procession should take place in honor of Lady Liberty.

Numerous countries, ships, and performers took part in this event, which was capped off that evening with a thirty minute fireworks display. The Beach Boys performed on top of Turret 3 that night for the battleship’s crew, their families, and invited guests of the Navy.

President George H.W. Bush

On 28 April 1984, as Vice President, George H.W. Bush recommissioned USS Iowa at Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, MS.

He returned to the ship for a far more somber occasion on 24 April 1989. Then as President, he joined the crew and families of USS Iowa at the memorial service in Norfolk, VA for the sailors lost in the Turret 2 explosion. He remarked:

We join today in mourning for the forty-seven who perished and in thanks for the eleven who survived. They all were, in the words of a poet, the men behind the guns. They came from Hidalgo, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; Tampa, Florida; Costa Mesa, California. They came to the Navy as strangers, served the Navy as shipmates and friends, and left the Navy as brothers in eternity. In the finest Navy tradition, they served proudly on a great battleship, U.S.S. Iowa.

This dreadnought, built long before these sailors were born, braved the wartime waters of the Atlantic to take President Roosevelt to meet Winston Churchill at Casablanca and anchored in Tokyo Harbor on the day that World War II ended. The Iowa earned 11 battle stars in two wars. October of ’44, off the coast of the Philippines — I can still remember it — for those of us serving in carriers and Halsey’s Third Fleet, having Iowa nearby really built our confidence. And I was proud to be a part of the recommissioning ceremony in 1984. And now fate has written a sorrowful chapter in this history of this great ship.
Let me say to the crew of Iowa: I understand your great grief. I promise you today we will find out why, the circumstances of the tragedy. But in a larger sense, there will never be answers to the questions that haunt us. We will not – cannot, as long as we live – know why God has called them home. But one thing we can be sure — this world is a more peaceful place because of the U.S.S. Iowa. The Iowa was recommissioned and her crew trained to preserve the peace. So, never forget that your friends died for the cause of peace and freedom.
To the Navy community, remember that you have the admiration of America for sharing the burden of grief as a family, especially the Navy wives, who suffer most the hardships of separation. You’ve always been strong for the sake of love. You must be heroically strong now, but you will find that love endures. It endures in the lingering memory of time together, in the embrace of a friend, in the bright, questioning eyes of a child.
And as for the children of the lost, throughout your lives you must never forget, your father was America’s pride. Your mothers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles are entrusted with the memory of this day. In the years to come, they must pass along to you the legacy of the men behind the guns. And to all who mourn a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, I can only offer you the gratitude of a nation — for your loved one served his country with distinction and honor. I hope that the sympathy and appreciation of all the American people provide some comfort. The true comfort comes from prayer and faith.  And your men are under a different command now, one that knows no rank, only love, knows no danger, only peace.  May God bless them all.”
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