Fleet Week on the Battleship IOWA

The Battleship Iowa–the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship”–will be the centerpiece of this year’s Fleet Week, the annual celebration honoring the United States Sea Services and the men and women who serve or have served in the armed forces.

Fleet Week kicks off May 24-27 with neighborhood activities in LA and Orange County and then will be centered in and around the Iowa (250 Harbor Blvd., San Pedro), where there will be myriad activities including military displays and equipment demonstrations of helicopters and tanks, aircraft flyovers, competitions ranging from cook-offs between Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Army teams to dodgeball games. There will also be plenty of live entertainment and food.

An Expo adjacent to the Iowa will have more than 80 exhibitors as well as serve as the location where visitors can board shuttle buses to take them to tour active duty ships berthed in San Pedro’s Outer Harbor. Though security considerations do not allow for the Navy to announce which ships will be available in advance, last year’s active duty tours included the WASP class, Landing Helicopter Dock, USS Essex, as well as the Transport Dock Ship, USS Portland.

Lines to catch shuttles will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., first come, first served.

“Last year, we had about 65,000 people come and we’re expecting at least as many this year,” said Jonathan Wiliams, President & CEO of the Pacific Battleship Center. “The Iowa will be at the center of all of it, with the Expo, great food, lots of events as well as the great things we have to offer on a daily basis.”

The Iowa is marking its 80th year since being commissioned in 1943. Seeing action in both World War II and the Korean War, the ship was renowned for its devastating 16-inch guns, inspiring the nickname “Mighty I” as well as “Big Stick,” referencing Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

In addition to its armament, the ship’s overall design–engines that produced exceptional speeds, modernization flexibility allowing it to keep pace with evolving technology–led to it being referred to as the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship.”

And the ship offers several tours delving into these facets, with the Gun Tour offering a behind-the-scenes journey down hatches, up ladders and into the lives of battleship sailors, culminating with an awesome view of the machinations of those 16-inch guns. The Engineering Tour allows visitors to see and hear about the design and operation of the anchor windless room, engine and boiler room as well as access to passageways previously off-limits to the general public.

In addition to a self-guided tour, the Iowa also offers its Presidents Tour, a reference with the ship, which hosted five Chief Executives, being referred to as The Battleship of Presidents. The tour focuses on being outfitted to transport President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic to meet with Winston Churchil and Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference.

“The Presidents Tour really gives a lot of context to a lot of the artifacts from FDR’s times,” Williams said. “The gun tour is very popular, a lot of people look forward to being able to go into the turret and see what it’s like to serve in the whole gunnery experience.”

And the Iowa experience has been enhanced, recently, by the addition of an escape room scavenger hunt experience as well as Vicky’s Doghouse Cafe, a gourmet hot dog kitchen on the ship’s fantail, serving a variety of innovative hot dog creations as well as sides, salads, beers and wines.

“For people who haven’t been here for a while, they’ll be happy to find all the history is still here with, I think, more material and information to give them more context for what they’re looking at,” Williams said. “In addition, we’ve added things to make the experience more fun, more enjoyable. We’re absolutely excited for people to experience this once again during Fleet Week.”

About the Author
Steve Lowery