Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Battle for Battleship Goes to the Navy This Month

Battle for Battleship Goes to the Navy This Month
By Ian Thompson

FAIRFIELD - Supporters of the campaign to park the World War II battleship USS Iowa at Mare Island as a museum and memorial got support from the Solano County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Bringing the Iowa here would be a "fantastic addition to the waterfront in Vallejo" and would further enhance Solano County's military tradition, Supervisor Mike Reagan said.

Supporters of berthing the Iowa at Mare Island have spent the last several months gathering resolutions of support from cities, counties and historical groups throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Historical Ships Memorial at Pacific Square will ask the Navy next month to dock the ship at Mare Island.

But that's not the only place the battleship could go. Stockton officials want the Iowa as a centerpiece of a museum planned for the former Navy facility at Rough and Ready Island since 2001.

Stockton is willing to give the ship a berth, 15 acres of land for uses such as parking and one of the buildings to house museum offices and exhibits. Supporters there are presently trying to raise $11 million to fund the effort.

Historic Ships has been trying to get its hands on the Iowa since 1996 as the first ship and the center of its museum.

Historic Ships director Merilyn Wong called it a "community project" that will marry Mare Island's deep history with that of the Iowa's.

"It will be the first battleship memorial on the West Coast," Wong said. "It will also be a significant draw for tourists and will be a catalyst for economic development."

The group is attempting to raise the $15 million or so needed to dredge the channel and prepare the area for the Iowa's berthing, Historic Ships treasurer Tom Carney said.

Both Historic Ships and Stockton will submit their plans for the Iowa to the Navy at the end of the month. The Navy is expected to make its decision on who gets the battleship some time in the next six months.

Built in 1943, the battleship operated during World War II. Initially, Japanese officials were supposed to sign surrender documents there until President Harry Truman moved the ceremony to the USS Missouri, which was named after his home state.

The battleship next appeared off the coast of Korea in 1950 during the Korean War, lending its massive firepower to support United Nations troops there.

While it never came to Mare Island, the battleship had visited the Bay Area several times for maintenance, provisioning, decommissioning and recommissioning.

The Iowa was decommissioned for the final time in 1990 and was later moved to the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in April 2001 where it's now tied up.

Two of its sister ships have already have become museums - the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor and the USS New Jersey in Camden, N.J.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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