Thousands visit battleship USS Iowa as museum opens in L.A.

LOS ANGELES Sat Jul 7, 2012 7:00pm EDT

The battleship USS Iowa approaches the Ital Contessa cargo ship as it is moved to its final berth in the Port of Los Angeles, where it will become a floating museum, in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles, California, June 9, 2012. REUTERS/David McNew

The battleship USS Iowa approaches the Ital Contessa cargo ship as it is moved to its final berth in the Port of Los Angeles, where it will become a floating museum, in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles, California, June 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David McNew

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Thousands of visitors climbed aboard the USS Iowa - its sides draped in red, white and blue ribbons - as the storied battleship that served during World War Two and the Cold War opened as a museum on Saturday at the port of Los Angeles.

A B-25 bomber, a P-40 Warhawk and a P-51 Mustang flew over the ship in a triangle formation to mark the first day of public visits.

The 887-foot-long (270-meter) Iowa was commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1990. It was mothballed in a Northern California port until it could be towed to Los Angeles this year to serve as a museum.

The battleship underwent a $7 million restoration that included $3 million from the state of Iowa.

During World War Two, the Iowa ferried President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the perilous Atlantic waters to a historic meeting with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

It was known as "The Battleship of Presidents" and also as "The Big Stick" for its actions in combat in the Pacific Ocean.

Visitors on Saturday scaled gangplanks to board the ship, where some viewed the specially built bath installed on board for Roosevelt, who was partially paralyzed and could not use a shower.

Paul Chiappinelli, 86, served as a Navy radio man during World War Two though not aboard the Iowa. "This is the real thing to me, made me feel good to be here today," he said. "I've been waiting for this day."

Joe Nishimura, 78, served aboard the Iowa in 1953 when he was 18 years old and received gunnery training as it sailed in the Atlantic Ocean. He said superiors made life "pretty miserable" with all the requirements placed on him.

But on Saturday, working his post as a volunteer aboard the ship, Nishimura admitted to feeling nostalgic. "You forget all the bad things and only remember the good," he said.

About 1,500 visitors bought tickets in advance to see the ship before it opened and over 1,000 other guests purchased tickets at the counter on Saturday before getting on the 175-foot-tall (53-meter) ship.

Pacific Battleship Center, the group that brought the Iowa to Los Angeles from northern California, had called the ship the last of its kind that had not been sunk, scrapped or turned into a museum.

The museum will be open daily, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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