Crew visits to namesake state ramp up as USS Iowa attack submarine nears christening

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Soon, the USS Iowa won't just be a piece of history.

Any Iowan who has toured the state Capitol is familiar with the World War II-vintage battleship that bore that name: The 18 1/2 foot, 1,350-pound shipbuilder's model of the now-retired vessel has occupied a place of honor just off the rotunda for more than 50 years, aweing generations of children on school field trips.

Now, a 377-foot, 7,000-ton submarine, nearing completion at General Dynamics Electric Boat, is set to carry on the legacy. Christening of the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine as the USS Iowa is expected early next year, with former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack wielding the champagne bottle at the company's Groton, Connecticut, shipyard.

More: U.S.S. Iowa gun barrel to go on display near ship's former home in Virginia

As the christening nears, the SSN 797 Commissioning Committee — which uses the ship's current official designation — is ramping up activities to both raise money for the privately sponsored event and introduce the 130-plus-member crew to Iowans.

Two of those events are scheduled in the next few days. From 4-6 p.m. Sunday,  crew members will be on hand for a meet-and-greet at the new Des Moines taproom of Big Grove Brewing, a committee sponsor, at 555 17th St. Then on Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds, accompanied by crew members and the sub's commanding officer, Matthew Powell, will appear at a 1:30 p.m. ceremony at the Iowa State Fair, where Reynolds will declare August USS Iowa month.

Petty Officer First Class Flynn Davis holds a patch for the USS Iowa next to a shoulder patch for the submarines Pre Commission Unit during a visit by members of the USS Iowa PCU to the Iowa City Veterans Administration hospital in 2019.
Petty Officer First Class Flynn Davis holds a patch for the USS Iowa next to a shoulder patch for the submarines Pre Commission Unit during a visit by members of the USS Iowa PCU to the Iowa City Veterans Administration hospital in 2019.

"We're trying to get as many people involved as we can as we build up interest," said Mathew Tanner, a Cedar Rapids native who is a test engineer at Electric Boat and executive director of the commissioning committee.

A contingent of USS Iowa crew rode in the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa in July and crew members appeared at Waterloo's Irish Fest earlier this month and visited that city's Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, which memorializes the five Sullivan brothers from Iowa, all U.S. Navy sailors who died in the World War II sinking of the USS Juneau.

More: Crews working to repair hull of WWII ship named after Iowa's Sullivan brothers

Tanner said the commissioning committee has assembled a network of Iowa families that host the Iowa crew during visits.

"We want them to get face-to-face with that friendly Iowa atmosphere we have," he said.

The committee's goal is to ensure a robust turnout of Iowans for the christening. And the events won't end there. Once christened, the Iowa will set out for up to eight months of sea trials. When those are satisfactorily completed, she will be commissioned in a full-dress ceremony as a U.S. Navy vessel, Tanner said.

The new Iowa, the 24th of 37 planned Virginia class submarines, will have an important distinction as the first of the $2 billion vessels specifically equipped to accommodate female crew members, Tanner said.

The USS Iowa battleship, launched in 1942, is now a floating museum at the Port of Los Angeles in California.
The USS Iowa battleship, launched in 1942, is now a floating museum at the Port of Los Angeles in California.

It will be the third U.S. Navy vessel to bear the name. The most famous, of course, is the battleship, the first of its class, launched 80 years ago this month in 1942. Its final decommissioning came in 1990 and it's now a floating museum at the Port of Los Angeles in California (to which anyone with an Iowa driver's license can get free admission).

The first USS Iowa, launched in 1896, was a battleship that saw action in the Spanish-American War.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how many Virginia class submarines are planned.

Bill Steiden is the business and investigative editor for the Register. Reach him at wsteiden@registermedia.com.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Crew visits to build interest as USS Iowa attack sub nears christening