California American Legion post now aboard the USS Iowa

During its 50 years of service from 1940 to 1990, speed, big guns, heavy armor and endurance earned the USS Iowa the designation of the "World's Greatest Naval Ship." The battleship is a floating interactive maritime museum in the community of San Pedro, Calif., which is near Los Angeles, and now it’s home to American Legion Post 61. The effort to transfer Post 61 from its original home in Sacramento to aboard the USS Iowa was a passionate effort by California Legionnaires, the staff of the Battleship USS Iowa Museum, and San Pedro community leaders.

On Nov. 9, the new officers of Battleship Iowa American Legion Post 61 carried the colors up the gangplank for the first time and were joined by district and department leadership for the inaugural post meeting on the ship. A celebration of two and half years of hard work and dedication took place with nearly 40 people crowded into the chief’s mess.

“We were motivated to move on the ship because it was such a historical figure in the military,” said David Dobens, Post 61’s first vice commander. “We just thought it’d be really cool to be on the ship.”

Junior Past Department Commander Art Castro, a Navy veteran in the San Pedro community, is happy to see the Legion embracing his motto of “Full Throttle.” He had a large hand bringing the Post 61 Legion Family to the ship.

“We owe a lot to Art Castro, who was elected department commander this last year, who for health reasons had to resign, but he was the workhorse behind this coming here,” said Richard Ramirez, commander, 19th District.

Castro got involved with a group called the San Pedro Veterans Alliance that wanted to form an American Legion post and he made it one of his goals during his time as department commander. Now, the Legionnaires who worked so hard with him celebrate a part of his legacy.

“This group has brought life back to this grand old ship, Navy pride is beaming,” Castro said. “This was a labor of total commitment from all of us.”

Post 61 was in the process of turning in its charter while located in Sacramento, but the move to the San Pedro allows its members to continue serving veterans, their family and the community.

“Tonight is an accumulation of practically years of hard work, negotiations, just coming together,” said Anthony Jacoby. “Tonight is a celebration. We get to see our finished product.”

Nick Rosa, 4th area membership chairman and 19th District junior past commander, is excited about the potential for membership growth among the veterans in and outside of the community. For its first year, Post 61 is well on its way to exceeding its membership goal of 70 members.

“This is the first American Legion post in the whole United States that meets on the battleship. That’s pretty exciting,” Rosa said. Post 61 currently has a total membership of 42, including transfers. “We are 28 members to our goal, and we’re just starting out.”

“This post is going to be really big. I imagine us to be in the ward room,” said Terry Bonich, commander of Post 61. “Who knows where from there. It just depends. It depends on how much we sell this post.”

San Pedro is very involved in the programs and activities of the Battleship Iowa and now The American Legion will be as well. The battleship hosts many events throughout the year that attract veterans from near and far. “All we have to do is put our recruiting booth out there and everybody wants to be a member of the Iowa,” Rosa said. “So I say, ‘full speed ahead.’” The post is open to accepting members and they have already had interest in people from all over the country who want to be part of the legacy of the USS Iowa.

Ships are awarded ribbons and medals much like servicemembers. On the bridge of the USS Iowa are 14 different ribbons earned over nearly 50 years of service, which included time in World War II and the Korean War. The USS Iowa is often referred as the Battleship of Presidents because no other ship in American history has hosted more U.S. presidents. In 1943, it carried President Franklin Delano Roosevelt across the Atlantic to a wartime summit with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan viewed ships that participated in the naval review near the Statue of Liberty in New York City. And in 1989, President George H.W. Bush attended a memorial service with the crew and families of the Iowa in Norfolk, Va.

When the Iowa returned Roosevelt back to the United States in 1943, his departing address to the crew included, in part, “… from all I have seen and all I have heard, the Iowa is a ‘happy ship,’ and having served with the Navy for many years, I know, and you know, what that means.”

Being a part of the community, an advocate for veterans and now home to American Legion Post 61, the USS Iowa indeed appears to be a happy ship.