By CAROL COMEGNO
The battleship USS Iowa passes through the Panama Canal this week, just as its
sister ship, the USS New Jersey, did to reach Camden on its
The Iowa's trip could be its last, too. It is traveling
in the opposite direction from the New Jersey, which
traveled west-to-east from Bremerton, Wash., around North
America before docking in Philadelphia in November 1999.
The ship was moved last year to Camden, where it is
undergoing refurbishment in preparation for its planned
opening as a floating museum on Sept. 2.
The Iowa, meanwhile, is headed from Newport, R.I., to a
mothball facility in Suisun Bay near San Francisco.
The two massive but sleek battlewagons of the Iowa
class - the largest of all U.S. battleships - share many
They are nearly identical in appearance - only their
names and bow numbers are markedly different. Both served
in World War II and Korea and were active during the 1980s.
The Iowa, the first built of four Iowa-class ships, was
constructed at the former Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York
and carries the number 61 on its bow. The New Jersey, built
at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, is designated
In January 1944 the two ships traversed the canal
together as part of Battleship Division 7.
The New Jersey is one of the most highly decorated ships
in Navy history, winning more battle stars than the Iowa.
The Iowa was in Tokyo Bay at the end of World War II in
1945 when the Japanese surrender was accepted aboard
another of the Iowa-class ships, the USS Missouri. The New
Jersey had already been ordered to head home.
In 1989, a massive gun turret explosion on the Iowa
killed 47 sailors. That damage in Gun Turret 2 has never
been repaired, because the ship was decommissioned shortly
after the blast as part of military downsizing. Until 1998,
it was moored at the former Philadelphia yard.
"She has a shape like a woman. She's a piece of
beautiful artwork," said retired police officer John
Lapotasky, 64, of Manville in Somerset County, where his
computer room is filled with photographs of the ship on
which he served in 1955.
Lapotasky said he favors a plan to eventually transform
the Iowa into a museum near Fisherman's Wharf in San
Francisco because it's a beautiful spot in one of the world'
s most visited cities.
As for its other sister ships, the Missouri already is a
museum in Hawaii, and the USS Wisconsin is to open to
visitors for limited tours in June in Norfolk, Va.
Crowley Marine Services of Seattle will tow the Iowa to
California, just as it towed the New Jersey. But the Navy
is paying to move the Iowa, while the state of New Jersey
had to spend about $2 million to bring the New Jersey to
its namesake state.
The difference is that the Iowa is still in the Navy's
inactive reserve fleet, while the New Jersey was removed
from the fleet and donated as a museum to the Home Port
Alliance, the nonprofit organization directing the
Congress made a special $3 million appropriation so the
Navy could tow the Iowa to California, said Navy
spokeswoman Rita Wilks. A California nonprofit group,
Historic Ships at Memorial Square, hopes to turn it into a
museum some day in San Francisco Bay.
"However, that is impossible right now because Congress
also has mandated the Navy keep two battleships in reserve
as mobilization assets, and one of them is the Iowa," Wilks
The second is the Wisconsin.
As Navy assets in the inactive reserve fleet, the Iowa
or Wisconsin could be mobilized for future duty. The Navy,
however, has no plans to do so.
The commandant of the Marine Corps and groups such as
the U.S. Naval Fire Support Association believe there
should be an active battleship because the firepower of its
nine 16-inch guns - the largest naval guns in the world -
are not duplicated by missiles or other weaponry, and are
especially useful for protection of Marine invasion
The trip of the 887-foot Iowa through the Panama Canal's
locks, with only inches to spare on either side, is
expected to take three days because the ship is without
power. Its arrival in Suisun Bay is scheduled for April
19 - coincidentally the anniversary of the turret
John Schultz of Virginia Beach, Va., a former Iowa
radioman and president of the 4,000-member Veterans
Association of the USS Iowa, helped set up a Web site to
follow the ship's progress.
"The Navy is graciously moving the ship to San
Francisco," said Schultz, 36. "The East Coast has a
battleship glut and there is no place for her there. San
Francisco wants her and the Navy will put here there. What
When it arrives in California, the Iowa will not be open
"We will only be able to drive by her and look," Schultz
said, "but we will wait and hope the Navy donates her
before all her World War II crew members are gone."