The Navy’s once-mighty fleet of battleships plied the seas with more than 2,600 sailors, and a few Marines. The leathernecks weren’t just aboard to keep the sailors in line. In true character as riflemen, Marines assigned to battleships’ Marine Detachments manned some the ship’s 10 five-inch guns. Not quite the firepower of the main massive 16-inch gun turrets that gave battleships their famous, and lethal, silhouette, the twin gun mounts were formidable naval guns nonetheless.
The Iowa, a 887-foot battleship commissioned in 1943, now sits at Berth 87 in the Los Angeles port of San Pedro, Calif., where in July it began its new life as a floating museum and flagship for the Pacific Battleship Center. The Iowa, hull number BB-61, was decommissioned a final time in 1990, and for most of the years since it has rested with some of the mothballed fleet in San Francisco Bay. Just today, Sept. 21, Marines returned to the Iowa, this time to leave their mark on the ship yet again: An eagle-globe-and-anchor emblem affixed to Mount 55.
It’s been a generation since Marines walked the teak weather decks of the mighty Iowa. But now the battleship is getting restored closer to its wartime image, and telling the Iowa’s story is a big part of the Pacific Battleship Center’ s mission to educate the public about Iowa and other battleships throughout the Navy’s history. So the placement of the EGA, the Marine Corps’ official emblem, on the gun mount will also remind museum visitors that Marines, too, played a key role and made significant contributions over the years aboard the warship.
“The Marine Detachment always manned one of the five-inch mounts, and the mounts were identified with the Marine Corps emblem. Each battleship had one mount manned by Marines,” said Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade commander and deputy I Marine Expeditionary Force commander at Camp Pendleton, Calif., who spoke at the ceremony unveiling the emblem. “It’s just exciting to be able to participate in this.”
The Iowa, the first in a class of 45,000-ton battleships, has had a long and storied history, witnessing the formal end to World War II in Tokyo Bay — the “Battleship of Presidents” had hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt back in late 1943 — and surviving through two decommissionings and years spent mothballed before the Navy recalled the ship to service in 1984. The Marines who manned the gun mounts on the Navy’s battleships were trained and learned to operate the guns at Sea School at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Spiese recalled. The museum group, with the help of Navy historians and former crew members, identified one of Iowa’s gun mounts that Marines had manned, and volunteers painted the EGA using a stencil.
“You put the emblem on it, and it brings life back to the ship,” said 1st Lt. Garth Langley, a 1st MEB spokesman. Several former Marines who served aboard Iowa joined in the ceremony. “For them, it’s a very nostalgic moment,” he said.