USS Missouri to get Pearl Harbor shipyard makeover

Monday, August 31, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — The "Mighty Mo," the World War II battleship best known for hosting the formal surrender of Japan in 1945, is heading to the shipyard for repairs.

The USS Missouri, now a decommissioned vessel called the Battleship Missouri Memorial, will leave its historic spot at Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor in October.

The move will come shortly after the vessel hosts a ceremony on Wednesday marking the 64th anniversary of Japan's surrender. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and retired Lt. Gen. Wallace "Chip" Gregson, newly sworn in as assistant secretary of defense, are scheduled to speak at the event.

At least 20 World War II veterans are expected to attend, including 89-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor Edward F. Borucki of Southampton, Mass.

"It's a sentimental journey," Borucki said, who lost 33 shipmates when a Japanese torpedo and bombs hit the USS Helena.

The 65-year-old ship is in good shape, but it still needs to go to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for repairs because rust is protruding from behind peeling paint and the teak wood deck is warped.

The warship's exterior is due to be sanded down and repainted in a $15 million overhaul paid for by memorial reserve funds and a Department of Defense grant.

"Rust never sleeps, as they say," said Michael Carr, the memorial's president. "It's a big job. It has to be done."

Most of the work will be done after the 887-foot ship is put into a closed dock and the water around it is drained. This will allow workers to paint the entire hull, even parts that are normally submerged. Some of the repairs have already begun at the pier, however. Tourists visiting the ship now can see scaffolding encircling the ship's mast.

Memorial officials have started warning Hawaii tour operators they'll be shut down for three months starting mid-October. The historic ship is due to return to Pier Foxtrot 5 in early January and resume welcoming visitors shortly after. More than 400,000 visitors tour the vessel each year.

The Missouri was last in dry dock in 1992, just after it was decommissioned for the second and last time. It's been moored at Pearl Harbor for the past decade after local supporters beat out groups in Bremerton, Wash., San Francisco and Long Beach, Calif., for the right to host the memorial.

The "Mighty Mo" was launched in 1944 and fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It was decommissioned in 1955 but revived in the 1980s, after which it fired the first shots of the Gulf War in 1991.

Today, the ship is moored just a few hundred yards away from the USS Arizona, a battleship that sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with over 1,100 sailors and Marines on board.

Visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial — a white open-air structure straddling the sunken hull of the Arizona — have a view of the Missouri's bow.

"The juxtapositioning of us in such proximity with the Arizona is a really startling and dynamic symbol of the beginning and the end of World War II, and all the sacrifices that were made in between," Carr said.

Japan surrendered Sept. 2, 1945, during a solemn ceremony in Tokyo Bay that lasted just 20 minutes. Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed for the Allied powers, while Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Chester Nimitz, signed for the U.S.

Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, signed for Japan.

Copies of the surrender documents are on display today on the deck where they were signed.

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Charles Dudley Jr August 31, 2009 | 5:24 a.m.

My cousin served on this grand vessel while it was in action off of Lebanon. He said when it fired a broad side it was like the rumble of a freight train going by.

I hope this ship will be preserved for as long as it can be feasible as a reminder to all of us of our victory at sea and on land.

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