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Hawkeye fans set single-day visit record for USS Iowa

Thousands of Iowans flock to historic battleship docked in Los Angeles

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SAN PEDRO, Calif. — The most visits the battleship USS Iowa got on a single day, crew members said, was about 2,000.

Then Thursday happened.

“We were expecting 3,000 to 4,000 people,” said Richard Landgraff, founding member of the Pacific Battleship Center. “We didn’t know the entire state of Iowa was coming.”

On the eve of Friday’s Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game, throngs of University of Iowa faithful in town to watch their Hawkeyes play in the game turned out to show their colors at the recently-restored U.S. Navy battleship, docked along the Los Angeles waterfront.

Landgraff estimated 7,000-plus black-and-gold-wearing tourists stepped aboard or rallied near the battleship, originally commissioned in 1943 to serve in World War II, the Korean War and during the Cold War.

A line to board the battleship-turned-museum stretched through a massive parking lot of more than 2,100 spaces — all full — and wrapped along a main city drag, taking visitors hours to get through.

But fans passed the time by sharing stories about their travel travails, their Hawkeye connections, their hopes for Friday’s Iowa vs. Stanford game, and — in some cases — their military experiences.

Dennis Killion’s brother was a veteran who served on the USS Princeton during World War II.

“He told me I had to come here,” said Killion, 63, of Red Oak, who gladly complied. “This is awesome.”

He was talking both about the grandeur of the battleship and the massive crowd gathered there to celebrate the Hawkeyes.

UI band members made an appearance, playing the fight song on several occasions — with a singalong reception from the top of the ship to those waiting in line along the street.

Over beers, burgers or tacos, Iowa-connected families and friends cheered their reunion, and the reason for it.

“We have eight tickets in our party,” said Doyle Newton, 81, who was born and raised in Iowa, now lives in Florida, and earlier this week reunited with members of his family who traveled to the game via San Diego, Atlanta, and Las Vegas.

“We have always been Iowa fans,” he said, motioning to the crowded ship. “But I think there are too many sailors on that boat.”

The Pacific Battleship Center received the USS Iowa for display at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro in 2011, and its restoration began a month later. In May 2012, on its 75th anniversary, the USS Iowa was towed under the Golden Gate Bridge for final placement along the Los Angeles waterfront. It opened to visitors on the Fourth of July of that year.

Landgraff, who has helped restore four battleships including the USS Iowa, is originally from Milwaukee but said the Iowa enthusiasm is infectious and he’ll be cheering for the Hawkeyes when they take on Stanford.

“Oh you better believe it,” he said. “I consider Iowa my second home state.”

Mike Krezek, 77, of North Carolina, said he was born and raised in Des Moines, graduated from the University of Iowa in 1960, and served in the reserves and National Guard from 1961 to 1969. He has been to many Hawkeye bowl games, including two featuring Iowa. in 1959 and 1991.

“We saw them win a Rose Bowl (in 1959), and we’re going to see another one,” he said.

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