When I first visited the Battleship Iowa, there was one thing I couldn't get out of my mind: It would be really fun (and interesting) to spend the night there.
A couple of months later, I found myself on the darkened flight deck, under a waxing gibbous moon, by the glow of blue and red LED lights (so-colored in honor of Veterans Day)...
...and the creaks and moans of the shipping container cranes of the Port of LA.
Everything sure does look different at night.
Part of that was because it was empty in those "after" hours, our group of overnight visitors having the entire historic, retired warship to ourselves.
We peered into dimly-lit hatches...
...and carefully descended backwards down steep stairs into the bowels of the ship.
On this private adventure, we ventured off the path of the normal public tour route, stepping into the officers' galley...
...and lounge areas...
...where 1980s-era furniture intermingles with World War II-era macramé.
And then there's the brig, the cellblock where captives are thrown in alongside unlawful combatants and misbehaving sailors.
This is really how you see how sailors in WWII, the Korean War, and the Cold War lived and worked, be it in the tailor shop (which was something of a dry cleaner for officers' Navy blues)...
...the barber shop (whose chairs are still outfitted with ashtrays)...
...or the dentist's office.
While necessary, those occupations and tasks weren't quite as sexy as being at the helm of a command center...
...in a war room filled with knobs and radars and red telephones and secret boxes.
Of course, the ex-USS Iowa has been decommissioned, so it's been painted a few times and cleaned up, no longer having to protect us from the deep waters of the remote Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
But the lower you go, the more you can see the ship in its unrestored condition, unfit for public consumption.
Signs warn of asbestos and PCB-based transformer oil.
And these are the steepest staircases yet, where low overhead abounds...
...and higher-than-usual knee-knocker door thresholds, since the potential full-load water line was so high (at my eye level).
Despite the ship's decommissioning, there are still lights to be lit and levers to be adjusted, buttons to be pushed and valves to be turned. After all, though the Iowa no longer sails, it still, to some degree, runs.
And that was evident as we tried to sleep in the tight quarters of the berths, listening to the rat-a-tat-tat of expansion and contraction, water or other fluids running through pipes, and the hum of decades-old electronics. It was pitch black after our 10 p.m. "lights out," but the ship was still very much alive.
At 6 a.m., we awoke to the lights being flicked on and a call of "Reveille" (the spoken word of it, not the actual bugle song). We emerged out onto the deck to catch the sunrise and wave at the early birds on deck of the Ruby Princess, a grand-class cruise ship coming in to dock at the World Cruise Terminal.
Our bellies filled with eggs, pancakes, and bacon, and our hands cupping hot coffee, we gathered one final time to reflect on our experience...
...and ask questions of "Battleship Larry," who has clocked in over 1000 hours of volunteer service -- on both the Iowa and the Missouri at Pearl Harbor -- a number that will most certainly go up once he retires.
As a maritime museum, the Battleship Iowa is owned and run by a non-profit organization called the Pacific Battleship Center -- but it couldn't host these kinds of tours and create its displays and interactive experiences without the help of its volunteers, many of whom are veterans (and some of whom actually served on this ship).
As our one night in our coffin-like bunks showed, life at sea wasn't easy for a sailor. They worked hard, slept little, and risked their lives. But for those who love to shoot at things and blow stuff up, they wouldn't have it any other way.
Photo Essay: USS Iowa, The Last of the Battleships
Photo Essay: An American Warship Docks in LA
Brooklyn Navy Yard Tour