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.
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.
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.
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.