Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The USS Iowa (BB-61) joined in battles from World War II to Korea to the Persian Gulf. It carried President Franklin Roosevelt home from the Teheran conference of allied leaders, and four decades later, suffered one of the nation's most deadly military accidents.
Veterans groups and history buffs had hoped that tourists in San Francisco could walk the same teak decks where sailors dodged Japanese machine-gun fire and fired 16-inch guns that helped win battles across the South Pacific. Instead, it appears that the retired battleship is headed about 80 miles inland, to Stockton, a gritty agricultural port town on the San Joaquin River and home of California's annual asparagus festival. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a former San Francisco mayor, helped secure $3 million to tow the Iowa from Rhode Island to the Bay Area in 2001 in hopes of making touristy Fisherman's Wharf its new home. But city supervisors voted 8-3 last month to oppose taking in the ship, citing local opposition to the Iraq war and the military's stance on gays, among other things. "If I was going to commit any kind of money in recognition of war, then it should be toward peace, given what our war is in Iraq right now," Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said. Feinstein called it a "very petty decision." "This isn't the San Francisco that I've known and loved and grew up in and was born in," Feinstein said. San Francisco's maritime museum already has one military vessel _ the USS Pampanito (SS-383) An attack submarine that sank six Japanese ships during World War II and has about 110,000 visitors a year. Officials in Stockton couldn't be happier. They've offered a dock on the river, a 90,000-square-foot waterfront building and a parking area, and hope to attract at least 125,000 annual visitors. After the Korean war, the Iowa was decommissioned and placed in reserve in a Philadelphia shipyard for three decades. In 1988, it was recalled to duty escorting oil supply ships safely in and out danger in the Persian Gulf. In 1989, 47 sailors were killed in an explosion that tore through a gun turret during a training exercise. The warship, decommissioned by the Navy in 1990, is currently anchored with a mothballed fleet in Suisun Bay, near the mouth of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. San Francisco's rejection of such a storied battleship is a slap in the nation's face, said Douglass Wilhoit, head of Stockton's Chamber of Commerce. "We're lucky our men and women have sacrificed their lives ... to protect our freedom," Wilhoit said. "Wherever you stand on the war in Iraq ... you shouldn't make a decision based on philosophy." Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., has sponsored legislation authorizing the ship's permanent move to Stockton. Feinstein has countered with a bill to open bidding to any California city. The two versions will have to be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee considering the Pentagon spending bill.