October 23, 2014

U.S.S. Iowa sailors board battleship docked in LA

U.S.S. Iowa towed under the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to its new home.

Many of the sailors who served on the U.S.S. Iowa were back on board the historic ship on the 4th of July, for ceremonies marking its permanent status as a museum at the Port of Los Angeles.

George Cavanaugh lives in Cedar Rapids. He grew up in Ottumwa and served on the Iowa during the Korean War. “I was an MM3,” he said. “Machinists Mate Third Class.”

He was in Los Angeles yesterday, on board the ship, reminiscing about his time on board as a sailor.

“You get used to whatever your surroundings are and it was a great experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “I try to pass it to all my kids and grandkids.”

His son, Chuck, accompanied him to California for Wednesday’s dedication.

“Being in a place where he hasn’t set foot on in 58 years is a pretty moving experience, especially on the ship whose namesake is our home state,” Chuck Cavanaugh said.

John Wolfinbarger is now 88 years old and while he can’t say he enjoyed his time at war, the ship was a home away from home.

“We were like a family. We got along. We pulled jokes on on another. I can tell you some of them,” he said, with a laugh.”Well, some of them I don’t think I better tell you.”

Wolfinbarger served on the ship as a fireman.

“In World War II, I don’t think they had a gun or a bomb or anything that could sink this ship,” he said.

An on-board explosion in one of the U.S.S. Iowa’s gun turrets in 1989 led to her retirement as a battleship. Wolfinbarger is thrilled that the ship has been rescued from the salvage yard.

“Absolutely wonderful because every time, all those years when I (saw) the word ‘Iowa’ I thought of my ship,” he said.

Fred Hodder served on the ship from 1951 to ’54.

“I used to say that it was like living on the island Iowa because you’d look out of the front of this island and there came different ports and different countries — lickety split,” Hodder said. “It’s very nostalgic to us who served on it.”

Hodder brought something along yesterday to return to the ship. It was the captain’s ashtray which Hodder hid in his belt the day he left the ship in 1954.

“After 56 years of that ashtray being on my desk, I’ve just returned it where it deserves to be,” Hodder said.

Governor Branstad was in California for the ceremony to celebrate the U.S.S. Iowa’s museum status, but he choked on a carrot, vomited and was taken to a Los Angeles hospital to be checked out. He’s fine and due to come back to Iowa this evening.