USS IOWA (BB 61) springs from a distinguished line of namesakes. The first IOWA, a 3,200-ton gunboat, dates back to 1864. The second, an 11,000 tonner, fired the first shot at Santiago Bay in the Spanish-American War and took the Spanish Admiral prisoner. Construction of the third IOWA was canceled under the terms of the Washington Treaty. The present IOWA was conceived as the first of the 45,000-ton class of battleships on the drawing boards of the nation's marine and naval architects in the late 1930s.
The famed battleship, USS IOWA, was ordered on July 1, 1939, commissioned on Feb. 22, 1943, and served our country for almost 50 years. She was designated the "World's Greatest Naval Ship" because of her big guns, heavy armor, fast speed, longevity and modernization flexibility, which allowed her to keep pace with technology.
Also known as the Battleship of Presidents, USS IOWA was outfitted in WWII to be the flagship that carried President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic in 1943 for meetings with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. A bathtub was installed on the IOWA as a convenience for President Roosevelt, making it the only U.S. Navy warship with a bathtub built for a president.
USS IOWA also was re-commissioned in 1984 by Vice President George H.W. Bush who would later be the USS IOWA's Commander in Chief from 1989 until she was decommissioned in 1990. In addition, the USS IOWA was the flagship for President Ronald Reagan for our nation's Celebration of Liberty in New York City on July 4, 1986.
On April 19, 1989, USS IOWA was conducting a firing exercise approximately 260 nautical miles northeast of Puerto Rico when 47 sailors were killed in an explosion in the Turret 2 Gun Room. This tragedy remains the largest post-World War II peacetime loss of life in U.S. Navy history. The USS IOWA was decommissioned for the third time in October 1990.
The Iowa Class battleships participated in every conflict including and since World War II up to and including the first Gulf War in 1991. The Navy and Marines aboard USS IOWA were among the last "Battleship Sailors" and the battleship now takes its place among other famous ships. The American technological advances in naval ship design truly made the Iowa Class battleships the most powerful ships in the world for its time.
USS IOWA earned nine battle stars for World War II service and two for Korean War service. The ship also was awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and was four-time recipient of the coveted Navy “E” Ribbon.