The sea and the sky were gloomy gray, but Brian Moss and Dick Blair were beaming with delight and emotion Wednesday, as the storied battleship of their past came into focus off Long Beach.
Blair was in a crowd of television cameras and reporters but had a solitary moment where he teared up. Brian Moss had driven alone from Santa Clarita to the San Pedro waterfront to board a boat ferrying media out to meet the historic USS Iowa. Through the haze of early morning, the battleship arrived at what will be its permanent home.
The two vets -celebrities of the morning as the foremost onboard experts - bounded out of the cabin to catch their first glimpse. And the ordinarily jaded press corps seemed sentimental and happy to bear witness to the moment.
Blair, from Lancaster, served on the battleship Iowa from 1952-56. Moss served as a radio operator aboard the ship from 1952-53. The ship's many enthusiasts had been tracking the battleship's progress from Richmond, Ca. online (and you still can).
It's been nearly seven decades since the battleship first appeared in local waters, operating out of Long Beach in the wake of World War II.
Young Patch videographer Ronald Dam was covering his first military ship experience, and was struck by the USS Iowa's massive scale. He also observed that the pair of veterans said something he could not hear, and the media pack of about 60 burst out laughing and clapping.
The vets-- and the media boat were to pull within 100 yards of the battleship, and circle it to see it in 360-glory.
"It felt really magnificent. It was just humongous," said Dam, who could only liken it to boarding the Queen Mary. "When I saw it, I really felt all of the history, everything that it's been through. It just seemed so majestic sitting there in the gray."
That sense of awe and wonder are what ship fans, the Pacific Battleship Center and civic boosters are banking on as they prepare to convert what it calls "the world's best and last available battleship" into a floating museum that will open in July.
"We try to be unbiased and not show too much emtion," Dam said afterward, "but everyone was very upbeat and happy that these two vets got to see the ship again. I liked how the vets didn't focus on tragedy, on others dying, but the glory days of serving. I thought that was very special."
Check back soon as Dam finishes editing his videotape of the U.S.S. Iowa's return after seven decades to Long Beach.
A bit more local trivia:
San Pedro and Los Angeles Harbor History quotes newspaper accounts that describe Long Beach as the Iowa's home port in a periof of the 1950s, during which time the ship became an object of affection for many Southland residents. But it was particularly popular in Long Beach, which has long been dubbed "Iowa by the Sea" due to its large population of Midwestern transplants.
On "January 13, 1952: 5000 Iowans and former Iowans flocked aboard the Iowa at the shipyard in Long Beach. The ship's crew hosted an open house for members of the Iowa State Society of Long Beach."