The proud USS Missouri seems to
guard the stricken USS Arizona
on Battleship Row.

The Missouri's teak decks are
dominated by nine 16-inch
guns in three massive turrets.

How far can you throw a Volkswagen? (Opening photo: The bridge, sporting the ship's battle decorations, is flanked by twin five-inch gun turrets.) 

Looming to your left, as the trolley bus crosses the bridge to Ford Island, is a ship that can throw nine of them — a long way, too.

When the USS Arizona died at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS Missouri was just being born at the New York Naval Shipyard.  Now, just a few hundred feet from the Arizona Memorial on Battleship Row, the “ Mighty Mo ” is available for public visits.  Together, the two famous ships serve as reminders of where World War II started for the United States, and where it ended.

After three years of construction, the USS Missouri (BB-63) entered service in 1944, the third of four Iowa-class fast battleships.  Sent to the Pacific theater, she was a mainstay in the bombardment of Iwo Jima and Okinawa before the Army and Marines wrested those islands from hard-fighting Japanese troops.  On September 2, 1945, the surrender documents were signed onboard the Mighty Mo in Tokyo Bay.  President Truman, a Missouri native, couldn’t bear to let the vessel be mothballed as her sister ships were after the war, and she served in the Korean War before being decommissioned in 1955.

Behind the tour guide is an
aluminum gunpowder cansister
for the main guns.

The word “dreadnought” means, literally, “fear nothing.”  It was an apt nickname: while today’s warships use high technology to avoid damage, the heavily armored battleships were built to take hits as if they didn’t care.  The Volkswagen analogy is a popular one, since the Beetle weighed about the same as a shell for one of the Missouri’s nine 16-inch guns — and the ship could throw those shells up to 23 miles.  At that range, the gun crews could reload and fire two more salvos before the first one reached its target.  Few targets could withstand such an onslaught, as the shells could penetrate up to 32 feet of reinforced concrete.  Despite this fearsome power, aircraft carriers had become the new capital ships by 1942, and the Missouri and her sisters were the last battleships the U.S. built.

During battle, the technician writing
on the back of this status board would
be nearly invisible in the dim light.

The brute strength of the Iowa-class dreadnoughts made them a symbolic choice for the U.S. military renaissance of the 1980s.  Recommissioned in 1986, the newly modernized Missouri served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, launching cruise missiles and unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.  On December 7 of that year she was in Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary of the Day of Infamy.  She proved such a popular attraction that after her second decommissioning in 1992, a private group began a successful effort to get the majestic ship returned to Pearl as a museum exhibit.

And what an exhibit!  Besides the enormous guns and sleek hull lines, you can see the bridge with its incredible interior “citadel,” original and updated crew berthing, the darkened Combat Engagement Center , the officers’ wardroom, and many other spaces.  You can have lunch in the crew’s mess while you rest up for another stroll on the teak decks topside.

When called to battle stations, huge
numbers of sailors must pass rapidly
through the ship's passageways.

My group’s tour guide told us an amusing story about the table used for the signing of the surrender documents.  The British offered a lovely antique wooden table from one of their ships, and it was duly brought over to the Mighty Mo, where it was determined to be too small.  Now out of time, the battleship’s officers hastily brought a stained, beat-up folding table from the mess decks and covered it with a nice tablecloth.  Almost immediately after the solemn ceremony, the table on which history’s most terrible war ended was back in the mess, under the elbows of hungry sailors.  Fortunately, someone grasped the table’s historic significance, and it reportedly has been at the U.S. Naval Academy ever since.

Inside the bridge is the "Citadel," with 17"
of armor to protect the crew during battle.

Because the Missouri is not a national park like the Arizona Memorial, it is completely supported by ticket fees and donations from the public.  New areas of the ship are being opened as preservation funds allow.  The Mighty Mo is one of several historical exhibits in Pearl Harbor and a perfect excuse to visit the beautiful island of Oahu.

Cable TV is replete with wonderful documentaries on our proud ships and the battles they fought, and new books are still adding to the literary collection.  The web site is a fount of information on the great battleship.  However, these sources alone can’t give you the smell of the paint and the grease, and they don’t let you hear the Stars and Stripes snapping in the breeze.  For that, you need to be there.
By Rob LaGrone, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.