During my many years in uniform, I often wondered why there wasn’t a National Museum of the Surface Navy. The National Museum of the Navy in Washington, D.C., covers the service’s history in general, and there are separate museums for naval aviators, submariners, SEALs, Seabees, and most other Navy communities. The Marine Corps has its extraordinary museum in Quantico, Virginia. The surface navy always has been the face of our great nation, providing visible, pervasive, and persistent presence around the world—where was the museum recognizing its contributions?
Then, in 2019, the Naval History and Heritage Command licensed the Battleship Iowa Museum to become the National Museum of the Surface Navy. The USS Iowa (BB-61), the premier artifact for that museum, is answering all bells.
Why a battleship?
A battleship is the perfect setting for the surface navy to tell its story. During the buildup to World War I, 13-year-old Marjorie Sterrett contributed her dime allowance and then helped raise 200,000 more dimes from other schoolchildren to build a battleship named America. To Marjorie and the youngsters of America, a battleship symbolized what was great about our country.
For President Theodore Roosevelt, the battleships were his “Big Stick.” For President Ronald Reagan, they represented “Peace through Strength.” During the 20th century, battleships served as unequaled symbols of U.S. power and resolve. The Iowa was activated three times, serving in World War II, then in the Korean War, and finally during the Cold War.
Each year the Iowa hosts some 425,000 visitors and provides STEM education for 20,000 students from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Most of the 350,000 volunteer hours spent restoring and maintaining her were provided by veterans who found a new calling and a home on board. American Legion Post 61 was stood up in 2017 to formalize these veterans’ relationship with the ship. In 2019, the Battleship Iowa chapter of the Surface Navy Association was stood up to emphasize her significance to the surface navy.
Why Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is truly a maritime city. The USS Iowa is permanently docked in the Port of Los Angeles, one of the busiest ports in the world and once home to the storied U.S. battleship fleet. Sited there, the new Surface Navy Museum will be able to reach millions of Americans who need to learn about the U.S. surface navy. As an added benefit, the site is close to San Diego, home of the second largest concentration of surface warships in the country, as well as the Commander, Naval Surface Force. The Battleship Iowa Museum already routinely hosts surface navy junior officers attending the Basic Division Officer Course and chief petty officer selectees for instruction in the history and heritage of the surface navy.
The ten-year, three-phase plan for the physical expansion of the Battleship Iowa Museum will start with a move to the anchor location for a redeveloped Ports O’Call village on the Los Angeles waterfront. A veterans’ park and 5,000-seat amphitheater will be built overlooking the ship. Next, 15,000 square feet of additional exhibit space will be cleared on board by removing berthing spaces. (Ocean explorer Robert Ballard’s new “Lost at Sea” exhibit has been installed in the existing 5,000 square feet of cleared berthing spaces.) Finally, a building ashore will provide an additional 20,000 to 50,000 square feet of exhibit space.
At the Battleship Iowa Museum, we are building a world-class museum for all past, present, and—most important—future surface navy sailors and the American people.