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Jonathan Williams, president and CEO of the Pacific Battleship Center and president of the L.A. Fleet Week Foundation, received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Department of the Navy earlier this month during the Surface Navy Association’s 34th National Symposium in Arlington, Va.

Jonathan Williams, president and CEO of the Pacific Battleship Center and president of the L.A. Fleet Week Foundation, received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Department of the Navy earlier this month during the Surface Navy Association’s 34th National Symposium in Arlington, Va. (Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) — Jonathan Williams has received the U.S. Navy’s most prestigious civilian award for his work to bring the USS Iowa to the Port of Los Angeles and establish it as a Navy-licensed museum.

Williams, president and CEO of the Pacific Battleship Center and president of the L.A. Fleet Week Foundation, received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Department of the Navy earlier this month during the Surface Navy Association’s 34th National Symposium in Arlington, Va.

“It’s really a capstone on a lot of years,” Williams, 46, said of the award that was publicly announced on Monday, Jan. 24. “I think about all the people and supporters and friends and the community and the crew — everybody involved. I’m embarrassed at some level to receive it because really it’s a collective effort. But I’m deeply honored.”

The award was presented to Williams by Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro on Jan. 12. It is the Navy’s highest award for non-military civilians.

Williams helped bring the ship to the Los Angeles waterfront in 2012 — and has worked to grow its stature.

“Jonathan has transformed the historic ship into a world-class museum that brings history to life,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Mike Shatynski, chairman of the Board of the National Museum of the Surface Navy, “and has made it a community platform that provides programming that gives back to the public through education, veteran and community programs.”

Williams has overseen the Battleship Iowa and taken it from a floating tourist attraction to full museum status with educational and veteran outreach programs nationwide, and helped establish it as the host of the annual LA Fleet Week. The Navy recognized him for the leadership and vision he provided for the efforts from July 2008 to 2021.

The National Museum of the Surface Navy will formally open on Oct. 13, 2025, on the 250th birthday of America’s Surface Navy.

USS Iowa

USS Iowa (Facebook)

Williams became involved in early efforts to salvage the World War II battleship, which had been languishing in storage in Northern California, and bring it to the Port of Los Angeles for preservation. He then established the USS Iowa as a Navy-licensed national museum that provides direct and indirect support to the Navy and has become a top tourist attraction in Los Angeles.

According to the award citation, it is due to his extraordinary vision and leadership that “the Battleship Iowa Museum and LA Fleet Week have become the example for ship museums and fleet weeks in recognizing the U.S. Navy and its critical role in serving our country and the world.”

Long-term plans for the Iowa include a possible move for the ship, from its current berth near the World Cruise Terminal to a spot in the Southern Pacific Slip about a mile south and closer to the new waterfront development, West Harbor, due to open next year.

This year’s LA Fleet Week will offer some new attractions, tying the event more closely to its LA location, with some new links to Hollywood. This year’s event will be held on Memorial Day Weekend — concurrent with New York Fleet Week.

The Los Angeles event, which previously has been held on Labor Day weekend, began in 2016.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka added his praise for the award.

“It’s a recognition of his hard work over the past decade to create a popular and meaningful historic attraction,” Seroka said, “his talent in curating the Battleship Iowa experience and his commitment to bring a National Museum of the Surface Navy to the LA Waterfront.”

Past recipients of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award include legendary actor Tom Hanks for his work in various films, including “Greyhound”; Sybil Stockdale for her support of POWs and their families during the Vietnam War; and Joe Rosenthal for his iconic photo of Marines raising the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima during World War II.

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