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USS Iowa: Restored

The USS Iowa, a restoration project of Lucien and Etienne Runge, both raised in Dickinson, sits in its final home June 9 at the Los Angeles Harbor in California.1 / 2
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Two Dickinson men have brought a decaying World War II ship back to life, and the present will get to meet the past starting Saturday.

"We've always been interested in Navy and Army and Marines," R2A Architecture Vice President Lucien Runge said from his Costa Mesa, Calif., office, adding he wanted to restore the ship for all the people who served on it.

Lucien and R2A CEO Etienne Runge are the architects of record for the USS Iowa project. They have worked on the ship for four years to turn it into an interactive museum and memorial for those who served.

The USS Iowa was built in 1940 and was designated the "World's Greatest Naval Ship" due to its big guns, heavy armor, fast speed and longevity. The ship served the U.S. for 50 years as a flag ship throughout World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War, Lucien said.

Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush made appearances aboard the ship, he added. No other ship hosted more presidents, earning it the nickname "Battleship of Presidents."

"Originally, that ship was supposed to accept the surrender from the Japanese, but about 170 miles out from the Port of Tokyo, it was told to turn around and steam away because the (USS) Missouri was going in," Lucien said.

The ship was decommissioned for the third and final time in 1990.

The ship was rusting away and was in danger of sinking into the San Francisco Bay, Lucien said. It was taking in water at a rate of 1 foot per year.

"It had been left in a state of neglect," he said. "It looked like hell."

Pacific Battleship Center President Robert Kent approached the Runge brothers about acquiring the USS Iowa from the U.S. Navy to return it to its former glory.

After four years of renovations, getting donations and receiving blessings from the Navy and multiple interest groups, the ship was finished and taken to its final home at Pier 87 at the Los Angeles Harbor in San Pedro, Calif., according to the Pacific Battleship Center.

"We met with vets that were literally crying in front of us when they found out that this is what we were doing," Lucien said. "They were so happy that we were saving their ship from the waters of San Francisco."

Lucien was always interested in art, his mother, Celeste Runge, said Wednesday.

"Before he decided to be an architect, he said to me, 'Mommy, I want to be an artist,'" she said. "I said, 'It's good to be an artist, but you don't get rich as an artist.'"

Lucien and Etienne are twins, she added. They grew up in Dickinson with six siblings. They graduated from Trinity High School and then went to North Dakota State University for architecture.

Celeste served in the British Army during World War II while patriarch Marvin was in the U.S. Air Force. The two couldn't be prouder of their twin sons.

"They are very honest kids, and they work hard," Celeste said.

Bringing the ship back to life was long and hard, but Lucien said hundreds of people across four generations made the grand opening possible.

"The project becomes more and more real," he said. "It's like a magnet. It attracts more and more people. It became this magnificent donation of time and effort and manpower."

The ship will be open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PDT. Lucien plans to attend.