The USS Iowa, which survived two wars and a fiery explosion, was decommissioned Friday, with relatives of some of the 47 crewmen killed in the 1989 blast among those on board. "I was on her when they commissioned her, and I wanted to be on when they decommissioned her," said Bob Smith, 65, a retired truck driver from Webster, Mass., who served aboard the battleship in World War II.
"It's hard to see her go into mothballs. I'll start counting the days until she comes out again," said Dr. Jack B. Martin, one of several former crewmen who predicted the Iowa would return to service someday.
"This world isn't at peace yet," said Martin, 70, a World War II veteran who is an optometrist in Clarinda, Iowa.
Adm. Jerome L. Johnson, vice chief of naval operations, said the battleship may be called back to active duty.
"If we need her again, she will be there," Johnson said at the ceremony.
The ship will be moved to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth for decommissioning work before it goes into mothballs at the Philadelphia Naval Yard next year.
Shortly after the ship was commissioned in 1943, it carried President Franklin Roosevelt to a war conference. For the trip, the ship was outfitted with a bathtub and to this day remains the only Navy ship with one.
After protecting aircraft carriers during Pacific battles, the Iowa was decommissioned in 1949. Two years later, it was returned to service for the Korean War.
The ship was back in mothballs from 1958 to 1984, when it was recommissioned as part of the Navy buildup to a 600-ship fleet.
After the explosion in one of the gun turrets in April 1989 off Puerto Rico, the ship returned to sea within two months. Officials estimated repairs would cost $13-million, which led to the decision to mothball the ship.
The battleship USS New Jersey will be decommissioned in February, leaving the Navy with two battleships, the USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri.