USS Iowa serves as party host to Hawkeye faithful

Pep Rally held at venerable World War II battleship

SAN PEDRO, Calif. — By noon Thursday, thousands of Iowa fans clad in black-and-gold crammed the decks of the USS Iowa. At 12:13 p.m., it officially became a Hawkeye party.

AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blared from loud speakers aboard the vessel as a tailgate reminiscent of those on football Saturdays along Melrose Avenue swirled around it. The decommissioned World War II battleship allowed anyone with an Iowa driver’s license free entry for the afternoon pep rally. Thousands stood in lines encircling the adjacent parking lot to get a glimpse at one of history’s greatest warships.

The USS Iowa was commissioned in 1943 and became known as the “Battleship of Presidents” for toting President Franklin Roosevelt to his meetings with world leaders Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. It also saw plenty of action in the Pacific against Japan in World War II. At war’s end, the ship sat alongside the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay at the official Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. One Naval officer — who declined to be named — said the USS Iowa originally was supposed to be the ship for the official surrender. But President Harry Truman, who hailed from Independence, Mo., was partial to the USS Missouri.

Ernest Thompson, a 98-year-old First Class Navy Officer from 1936 through 1945, met several Iowa fans while discussing his role in World War II and his view of its official end. Thompson was on watch and was relieved shortly before the ceremony took place. He ate his breakfast, changed into his whites and then watched history aboard the USS Missouri.

“I was on the port side of the ship and the surrender was the starboard side,” Thompson said. “I could see all the dignitaries come on board, (General Douglas) MacArthur and all of those.”

The USS Iowa also fought in the Korean War but was not part of the Vietnam or Gulf wars. It was decommissioned in 1990 and now sits as a museum in the Port of Los Angeles.

Thursday, it served as a party host for fans of its namesake. Its guns fired at 12:30 p.m., which led to cheers and an immediate rendition of the “Iowa Fight Song.” Shortly thereafter, the I-O-W-A chant filled the ship. The USS Iowa may never serve in another war, but it showed Thursday it still has plenty of spirit.

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