Vets try to save USS Iowa


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The battleship USS Iowa braved combat in World War II in the Pacific and faced North Korean forces in the Korean War, and the vessel’s voyage is far from over.

For the last two decades, the 71-year-old craft has remained unused. Currently docked near San Francisco, its fate is uncertain.

Now, many in Iowa are raising funds to preserve the craft and turn it into a museum — a lasting monument for the fading history of WWII.

Mike Meldrum, who served on the USS Iowa from 1985 to 1990, said returning to the ship would be akin to a high-school reunion. He said he wants to show his son where he “worked and slept for five years.”

“I want to set foot on the deck again, and the only way that’s going to happen is if it’s a museum,” said Meldrum, the executive vice president of the USS Iowa Veteran’s Association.

In April 2010, then-Gov. Chet Culver signed a resolution supporting efforts to make the USS Iowa a permanent museum and establishing a dedicated fund in the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to support these endeavors. The goal is to raise roughly $20 million, but officials said they haven’t yet raised a substantial amount.

So dedicated veterans continue to raise money on their own. Retired Navy reservist and sonar technician Master Chief Donald Boyle was on board the ship in 1984 when it was re-commissioned and returned for active duty and Reserve training once a year.

Last year, he held a pizza fundraiser through his Ames veterans’ group. Though he would “love to see the USS Iowa as a museum,” he admits there are difficulties with securing funds.

“There’s a lot of politics,” he said. “A lot of people want it; a lot of people don’t.”

A museum wouldn’t only benefit veterans. Debra Shattuck, a University of Iowa American Studies teaching assistant, said it would serve as an educational resource.

“Ships such as the USS Iowa are a way of passing down our heritage and a reminder of what sacrifices were made to have our democracy and our way of life endure,” she said.

Shattuck, a retired Air Force officer said that despite the large expense, it’s worth the investment.
Shattuck’s father, John Fakan, works at the USS Cod Submarine Memorial in Cleveland. Fakan said funds for states to maintain battleships as museums have decreased by as much as 50 percent in recent years because of the economy.

Fakan, who works closely with the Historical Naval Ships Association, said the USS Alabama, stationed in Mobile, Ala., requires $1 million in upkeep each year and needed around $10 million to initially set up the ship as a museum.

“People from WWII know very well that she is an important national treasure from that era, but the generations nowadays don’t have that same feeling,” he said, noting that tourists’ ticket revenue could never keep up with the cost of maintaining the vessel.

Though the USS Iowa’s final resting place is still unknown, Boyle said he would love to have the ship preserved closer to the state of Iowa.

“I wish they could’ve gotten it to the Great Lakes,” he said. “But it didn’t make it.”

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