Friday, November 13th, 2009
Every day, old ships are moved to dry dock for repair. But when the old ship is the venerable U.S.S. Missouri, news bureaus around the world take notice.
At dawn on October 14, 2009, a crowd gathered on the shore just to watch the famous World War II battleship move through the water. Slowly, tugboats turned the 887-foot ship and towed it two miles to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Dry Dock, where three months’ work and $18 million will give the rusting, aging vessel a more seaworthy appearance.
Since 1998, the U.S.S. Missouri has been moored near the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which marks the place where the Arizona rests at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Arizona was destroyed by the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, an event that marked the entry of the United States into World War II. The U.S.S. Missouri sailed into Tokyo Bay on August 29, 1945, to serve as the site for Japan’s formal surrender.
The casualties of war didn’t end with the surrender. Today, many veterans suffer from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma as a result of their work on ships and in shipyards. As we struggle to care for ailing veterans, however, we should not forget to honor the service they gave to their country. Building the great ships of war was a vital part of that service.
The Mighty Mo was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Margaret Truman, President Harry Truman’s daughter, christened her when she was launched in January, 1944. Her main battery —16 in (410 mm)/50 cal Mark 7 guns, which could fire 2,700 lb. armor-piercing shells a distance of 20 miles — supported the Marines landing at Iwo Jima. She also played a critical role in the invasion of Okinawa. A kamikaze left a dent in her side that is visible to this day. But she is best remembered as the place where World War II formally, finally, came to an end.
After World War II, the other Iowa-class battleships were decommissioned. But President Truman ordered that the Missouri remain active, partly because of his personal fondness for the ship. The Mighty Mo saw action in the Korean War. Then, in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had her decommissioned, and for nearly thirty years she was moored at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
President Ronald Reagan chose to bring the Missouri back to active duty in 1984. She was towed to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard and updated with the most advanced weaponry of the day. Her last wartime service was to provide naval support for Operation Desert Storm, Kuwait, 1991. In that effort she launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, but she also fired her big 410 mm guns for the first time since Korea.
Mighty Mo was decommissioned again in 1992 and taken back to moorings in Puget Sound. In 1998 she was towed to Pearl Harbor and moored with her bow facing the last resting place of the Arizona.
Lawrence Downes wrote for the New York Times that the Missouri, once the world’s deadliest instrument of total war, is now “a gathering place for tourists, sailors and schoolchildren. Her main duty now is to preserve the great moment that took place on her deck, so different from today, when a global war with a beginning and a middle finally came to an end.”
— Barbara O’Brien
(Photo of U.S.S. Missouri: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Mark Logico/Released; October 14, 2009)