U.S.S. Missouri Becomes A Museum

U.S.S. Missouri

U.S.S. Missouri | Courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial

U.S.S. Missouri Museum
Aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” January 29, 1999
By Heidi Chang

One of the world’s most famous battleships, the USS Missouri, is being launched today for the second time. The Missouri originally was launched from the New York Naval Shipyard on this date 55 years ago. She’s not headed for combat. Today the battleship will become a floating memorial and museum based at Pearl Harbor.

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Battleship Missouri Memorial

Courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial

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The Missouri made its final voyage to Hawaii last June, heralded in by a traditional conch shell tribute, as well as a rousing Marine band. Thousands turned out to welcome the historic ship to its new home in Pearl Harbor, including two retired Marines, Al Wickens and Bob Gwaltney, who raised a toast to the old battleship’s last day at sea.

“To our lovely ship that has come home,” said Wickens, toasting with champagne. “It was startling to see how many people came down to see this old relic pulled into our harbor. We at looked at her with fond, memories, and we looked at her with the rust and scars. And we understand that we’re old too, and we have all those rust and scars upon us.”

Battleship Missouri Memorial and U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

Battleship Missouri Memorial and U.S.S. Arizona Memorial | Courtesy Battleship Missouri Memorial

 

The Missouri is now moored on Pearl Harbor’s historic Battleship Row. It’s near the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which commemorates the 1941 bombing that brought the U.S. into World War II.

That war officially ended on the deck of the Missouri, with the Japanese surrender to General Douglas MacArthur.

Gen. MacArthur on the U.S.S. Missouri

Gen. MacArthur on the U.S.S. Missouri | Courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial

 

Today, that historic occasion is still replayed in old newsreels featuring Gen. MacArthur’s famous speech: “‘Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always.’ These proceedings are closed. The final U.N. Victory has been won. The war is over, Peace is here.”

The Missouri was the last of the Iowa Class ships and the last battleship built for the U.S. Navy. Henry Walker Jr. served a year and a half aboard The Mighty Mo. “She was indeed the world’s greatest battleship, not by reason of her construction, which was pretty much identical to the other three. But because of the connections with history that she had.”

Walker says he’ll never forget the impact of the ship’s powerful 16-inch guns, which launched shells weighing as much as a Volkswagon Beetle. “And when they did shoot, it was a tremendous concussion, a tremendous blast. And it would knock my tin hat off, would unbutton my shirt, and untie my shoe laces every time it happened,” recalls Walker. “So after a time I’d just leave shirt unbuttoned, my hat off and my shoe laces untied, because, whhooom, every two minutes these tremendous guns would go.”

Mighty Mo's Guns

Mighty Mo’s Guns | Photo courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial

 

The ship went onto action in both the Korean War and the Persian Gulf. In 1992, the Missouri was decommissioned and mothballed in Bremerton, Washington. But soon, she was in the middle of another battle– a tug of war among four cities over the ship’s final port. In the end, Hawaii won.

Admiral Robert Kihune

Admiral Robert Kihune | Courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial

 

A victory that was particulary sweet for retired Admiral Robert Kihune, now the president of the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association. “I never normally talk about the fact that I’m the first Native Hawaiian that has ever made three star rank,” says Kihune. “But it is something that I’m truly proud of because of the fact that it was the World War II Veterans, that have really sacrificed much to ensure that other ethnic groups like myself could continue on and reach levels that I am very proud to have reached.”

Visitors to the Missouri Memorial will begin the trip with a short shuttle bus ride, where they’ll listen to World War II era newsreels and music. Once on board, they can take in various exhibits or simply walk the decks. The ship is the length of three football fields, longer and wider than the Titanic.

USS Missouri Museum

Photo courtesy of the Battleship Memorial Museum

 

Tour guides like Lee Collins, will be on hand to provide bits of history, like the story of the Kamikaze pilot who crashed into the ship. “The aircraft was cut in half and the right side of the airplane half the fuselage, the entire flipped over and ended up in the air about a hundred feet and flew about 150 feet forward where it landed on the deck,” says Collins.

The pilot’s body was recovered and buried at sea with full military honors, despite protests by some crewmembers. “There were some people on the ship that said, ‘Wait a minute that’s the enemy.’ And the captain talked to everyone and said that’s a very brave enemy and he’s a warrior, and he’s warrior who lives up to the same core values that we have, and that’s sacrifice, courage and commitment. And that warrior had given his life fighting for his country. And he deserved that,” says Collins. “And I think that is so special. And that’s going to be a big display here.”

The Missouri Memorial Association receives no federal funds, but has raised some 8 million dollars in donations and loans to begin the restoration. It hopes to raise 25 million to complete the memorial.

USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor

Battleship Missouri Memorial is moored next to the USS Arizona Memorial. The USS Carl Vinson enters Pearl Harbor in the background | Courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial

 

U.S.S. Missouri Museum won a Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter First Place Award for Public Service Reporting in 1999.

Related

Battleship Missouri Memorial
Mighty Mo celebrates its 69th birthday and 14th anniversary as a memorial (Hawaii Tales Blog)

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