Nightly News   |  July 04, 2012

Historic battleship finds new home

The USS Iowa will open its decks to the public this weekend in San Pedro, Calif. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> a big celebration today for another kind of war hero , what may be the greatest american battleship that ever went out to sea, uss iowa , key part of world war ii campaign in the pacific. it's now made its final voyage and will open to the public this weekend as an extraordinary museum. nbc's mike taibbi reports from san pedro , california.

>> reporter: when the iowa was christened, first lady eleanor roosevelt on hand, no hand wringing over the fact that the battleship era was almost over . there was still a great war to fight and win. when the iowa led the pacific fleet in the final engagements leading to japan's surrender, young sailors like john were stunned the moment they joined the crew.

>> i couldn't believe the size of that ship. boy, what did i get into here.

>> reporter: what he and 25 other sailors got into was the flagship of the last and most powerful class of battleships ever built, three football fields long, 58,000 tons, 40 miles an hour speed, and 16 inch guns with 25-mile range. with the iowa providing gunships, japanese resistance yielded in one engagement after another until the wars end in tokyo bay september 2nd , 1965 . by definition every great ship has not just a history but a personality, too. you can learn the iowa 's history through all the conventional means. but to get the personality part, you really have to be here. you can be here. on the iowa 's vast deck, beneath it's gun turrets , because the iowa here in san pedro saved from the scrap heap for one final berth. you may hear from younger vets who didn't see war but served during the iowa 's darkest moment in 1989 . the accidental explosion in turret 42 that killed 47 men.

>> the ship is in my heart.

>> reporter: older vets who survived enemy fire but haunted today by memories of war most gruesome.

>> after tide came in, there was bodies out in the water. it was horrible.

>> reporter: so many stories and this majestic physical creation, emblems from the last days of seaborne battleship warfare.

>> we're bringing a close to a class of ship that no longer sail the seas.

>> we felt safe on it.

>> reporter: a nation felt safer, too. mike taibbi , nbc news, san