Grout's USS Iowa exhibit deepens state's bond with legendary battleship

Posted by Pat Kinney on Monday, April 15, 2019

SAN PEDRO, Calif. – The Grout Museum District is honoring the State of Iowa’s namesake warship – and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.

The District’s Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum is building and opening a new permanent exhibit on the battleship USS Iowa, anticipated to be open in May.  It is part of the Sullivan Museum’s most significant improvements since it opened in 2008 -- including new interactive video screens about the Korean War.

Construction of the USS Iowa exhibit began this week – exactly 30 years after one of the most poignant chapters in the nearly 80-year history of the American juggernaut.

It earned nine battle stars for its service in World War II and the Korean War. The battleship also served during the 1980s. That was when the ship suffered its greatest tragedy. On April 19, 1989, an explosion inside one of its big gun turrets during a training exercise killed 47 sailors.


The Battleship Iowa Museum at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.

It was a very bad day, but not the only day in the ship’s long service to its country, according to David Canfield, an Iowa crew member that day. He is now vice president and chief information officer of the Battleship Iowa museum. The ship itself is now a dockside museum at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.  

Dave Canfield, vice president and chief information officer of the Battleship Iowa Museum

The Battleship Iowa Museum has provided considerable support to the Sullivan Museum’s exhibit. Canfield reflected on the ship, its service and the 1989 disaster with Grout staff visiting the ship.

The 1989 turret disaster “is a big part of why I’m here,” said Canfield. He’s a 22-year Navy veteran who left employment in Silicon Valley to work at the battleship museum, which opened in 2012.

Photo of the turret disaster

“I did 11 years in Navy special warfare. April 19 is not the only bad day that I had in the Navy. But it was the first bad day,” Canfield said. “And you tend to hang all of your emotion on that. It’s the 30th anniversary this year. My phone is blowing up with shipmates of mine who are going to come out here for the first time.”

The anniversary is observed on the ship annually on Friday, April 19. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will attend this year’s 30th anniversary commemoration.

“There are a lot of us that have lived with a long time with a special kind of survivors guilt,” Canfield said. “I like to bring my shipmates on board. A lot of them have not been on board in 30 years. And we’re able to walk through that day and say, ‘Look. I’m not just preserving your ship. I’m not just a guy who runs the museum. I was there. I lived it. I felt it. I smelled it. I fight the same demons. I shed the same tears.’

“It’s part and parcel of who we are,” Canfield said. “But it’s just a moment in a much larger picture. April 19 is just a moment of that time in the ‘80s. It is part of the story of the ship. The accident should not be forgotten; must not be forgotten. We should memorialize the 47 who were lost. We should even honor those who weren’t lost. Because we’ve carried that burden for 30 years. But it’s a moment in time.

“I have had maybe a dozen or more shipmates I’ve been able to walk through and seen the burden roll off of their back,” he said. “Being able to place that into the context of a larger life, a larger story, is incredibly helpful to them."

Having an exhibit in Iowa at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum is similarly significant, Canfield said.

“The first thing I would say to Iowans is ‘thank you’ “ because without the $3 million raised by Iowans nearly 10 years ago to preserve the ship as a museum, “we would not be here,” Canfield said.  “I’ve heard Iowans refer to us as their flagship, and I’m very proud of that. The connection between the state and the ship is inseparable. I think it should be inseparable. “

Regarding the Grout’s upcoming exhibit, he said, “I love that. Because it allows somebody who cannot set foot on the ship to experience a little bit of that. For you guys to have an exhibit like that allows this ship to have reach back into the state of Iowa so that people have that touchstone. That’s super important.

“To have a museum in the state that makes that connection –I think that’s great for the people of the state of Iowa. I think that’s what we would want to connect with,” Canfield said.

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