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Naval History of Iowa

By Phyllis Tolzmann, Communication and Outreach branch, Naval History and Heritage Command

Despite being thousands of miles from America’s ocean coasts, a rich stream of naval heroes and heritage pours from Iowa’s heartland all the same.

For starters, at least 26 U.S. Navy ships, past and present, represent Iowa’s people and places. Possibly the most famous Iowan ship, USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), is an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer. It’s the second ship to honor the service of the Sullivan brothers George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al Sullivan from Waterloo, Iowa. The brothers all chose to serve together on USS Juneau and were tragically killed in action while serving as Sailors when the USS Juneau sunk on November 13, 1942.

Navy ships also recognize Iowan’s numerous Medal of Honor recipients such as Admiral Frank F. Fletcher from Oskaloosa and his nephew Frank J. Fletcher of Marshalltown who fought together during the Battle of Vera Cruz in 1847.

Also recognized are scientific thinkers such as Dr. James Van Allen; a naval officer-turned world-renown scientist from Mt. Pleasant who helped develop a radio-proximity fuse which increased the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire (considered one of the most important technological innovations of WWII).

Want even more Navy? There are several places in Iowa you can see our Navy’s presence like the NAS Ottumwa museum which honors the hard work and sacrifices of more than 4,000 graduates who became naval aviators there during World War II.

And did you know that Iowa State Teacher’s College (now known as University of Northern Iowa) was host to the first indoctrination school for United States Naval Women’s Reserve? Often referred to as WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), these women arrived in December of 1942 ready to serve their country!

Soon, Iowan’s can boast up-and-coming ships the USS Iowa (SSN 797) – a planned Virginia-class submarine, which is the fifth U.S. Navy vessel named in recognition of the 29th state as well as the USS Sioux City (LCS 11) a Freedom-class littoral combat ship expected to join the fleet in 2017.

Help us share Iowa’s naval history – share the infographic below!