The ship survived Iwo Jima, drug wars, the Mariel boat-lift, and one of the most-horrific North Atlantic storms of the 20th Century.

But at age 69, the fabled Zuni/Tamaroa is confronting a more formidable adversary - the sedentary life.

While moored at a marine yard near Norfolk, Va., in late May a major leak flooded the engines, and a forward bulkhead partially collapsed, according to Harry Jaeger, who is leading the battle to save the ship.

Jaeger runs the Zuni Maritime Foundation, which dreams of restoring the ship - named the Zuni during its naval career, and the Tamaroa, or Tam, when the Coast Guard took it over - as a museum and educational vessel.

The foundation is trying to raise $500,000 for the rescue operation, but it might take more than double that amount, said Tim Mullane, owner of American Marine Group, which has provided a temporary haven for the vessel.

Jaeger said the current owner, listed as Zuni/Tamaroa L.L.C., of Wilmington, plans to sell the steel ship to Mullane, who in turn would sell it for scrap metal.

Mullane said that he was in no hurry to take ownership and that he wants to give the foundation a chance to raise the rescue money. He added, however, that the operation would be a daunting one.

Practically, he said, it simply isn't possible to save every historic ship. He would be more inclined to invest money in a ship such as the Olympia, the 19th Century museum ship moored in Philadelphia, he said.

The Zuni/Tamaroa had a storied past, both with the Navy and Coast Guard.

It is the lone survivor of the 800 U.S. ships involved in the Iwo Jima invasion and won four battle stars in World War II. As the Tamaroa, it was a drug-fighting vessel and played a key role in the boatlift in Mariel, Cuba, in 1980.

In October 1991, it was enlisted to rescue a crew on a rescue mission, itself, during the so-called 'perfect storm; in the North Atlantic.

After an an Air National Guard helicopter with five men aboard had been forced to splash down, a Coast Guard helicopter was repelled by the ferocious storm. The Tam, 90 miles off Long Island, executed the daring rescue.

One of those on board the Tam during the storm was Bill Napolitano, who lives in Maine. Napolitano continues to try to raise money to save the ship.

Said Napolitano: "I'm not going to quit."

For information, go to http://www.zunitamaroa.org/.

Contact Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or twood@phillynews.com