USS Iowa's guns now for show as it opens to the public in San Pedro

Pacific Battleship Center

The USS Iowa berthed at its new permanent home in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif., in June. The decommissioned ship will now be a museum.

Will Stone for NPR

Mike McEnteggart served on the USS Iowa for four years. He moved to Los Angeles to help when he heard the ship was being refurbished.

Jeremy Bonelle/Pacific Battleship Center

The USS Iowa berthed at its new permanent home in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif., in June. The decommissioned ship will now be a museum.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

LA City Councilman, Joe Buscaino, (bottom row, left) waves to onlookers on shore as the USS Iowa is towed on June 09, 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Naval officers disembark from the USS Iowa after the ship was towed to Pier 87 in San Pedro, CA. The retired battleship will open to the public as a floating museum in July 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Dockworkers secure the USS Iowa just after arrival at Pier 87 in San Pedro, CA. The retired battleship will open to the public as a floating museum in July 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Naval officers "man the rails" as the USS Iowa approaches it's final berth in San Pedro, CA on June 09, 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

USS Iowa veterans, Robert Dedic, 1944-46, and Ellsworth Knutson,1946, visit aboard the retired battleship as it reaches it's final resting place in San Pedro, CA on June 09, 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Dickie Simmons, center, checks out USS Iowa paraphernalia before disembarking at the ship's new resting place in San Pedro, CA.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Naval officers "man the rails" as the USS Iowa approaches it's final berth in San Pedro, CA on June 09, 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Dickie Simmons shows his patriotism aboard the USS Iowa as the ship was being towed to it's final berth.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

US Naval Sea Cadets listen for orders on "manning the rails" as the USS Iowa approaches it's final resting place at Berth 87 in San Pedro, CA.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

High school members of the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps visit amongst themselves during the towing of the USS Iowa to it's final berth on June 09, 2012.

USS Iowa

Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Guests tour the interior of the USS Iowa during the towing of the retired battleship to it's final berth in San Pedro, CA.


The USS Iowa battleship — the retired "crown jewel” of the Navy's historic ships — is officially opening to visitors at Berth 87 in San Pedro. The 887-foot battleship opens Saturday as an interactive floating museum.

Valen Watson, a volunteer aboard the ship, says she hopes the USS Iowa will be a boon for the community.

“One of the things I'm most excited about is the fact that we're the only battleship on the Pacific Coast, and I think it will re-energize the military history of our town."

On a gray morning, former USS Iowa crewmember Mike McEnteggart shows off the ship's main deck. McEnteggart first arrived on the Iowa in 1985 — he was 20 years old and fresh out of boot camp.

Across McEnteggart's shoulder is a tattoo of the battleship and "BB-61," the ship's technical name. He leans back on the barrel of a 67-foot gun turret. He served on the ship for four years, and the Iowa was decommissioned for the final time in 1990.

Now the ship begins its second life, and McEnteggart is back to help.

The Iowa's curator is Dave Way. Down below, he travels through the ship's tight passageways to the captain's cabin that once housed a famous passenger.

"This was President [Franklin] Roosevelt's cabin that he used during the crossing over to North Africa to attend the Tehran conference with [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill and [Soviet Premier Joseph] Stalin," he says.

The leaders planned D-Day in that 1943 meeting. Way stands inside a modest room. Just through the doorway, there's a bathtub that was installed for Roosevelt. It looks a little small for a president, though.

"Well, the one thing you pick up on walking around the ship is creature comforts are secondary. Everything is built around delivering the ordinance to the target," Way says.

After World War II, the Iowa served in the Korean conflict. In the early '80s, the Reagan administration used the ship as part of its Cold War-era strategy.

In his four years on board, McEnteggart never saw combat. Still, he remembers one particularly uneasy encounter with a Russian battleship in the Atlantic.

"They came so close to us once. I bet she wasn't even 100 yards off us," he says.

Most of the Iowa crew was on the main deck that day, and the Russian crew was on theirs.

"We were looking at them and they were looking at us ... we didn't want to fight," he says. "You know, nobody wanted it. It was like 'Oh, they're men just like we are.' "

For McEnteggart, returning to the Iowa is primarily about honoring the memory of some former crewmates. In 1989, an accidental explosion in the second turret killed 47 men and endangered the entire crew. McEnteggart helped put the fire out.

"That's why I'm here today," he says.

When he heard they were restoring the ship, McEnteggart left his home in New York and moved to work on the Iowa. He's back on board and taking his duties as seriously as ever. Even though it won't be leaving port again, McEnteggart plans to stay with the 70-year-old ship for as long as it needs him.

Tickets cost $18. Admission is free for children under 6 — and for visitors to the Southland from Iowa.

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