USS Missouri joins Arizona on 'Battleship Row'

The USS Arizona -- sitting solitary, silent and hallowed on Battleship Row for almost 60 years -- is not alone anymore.

The battered ship, resting on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, has become a national symbol, the sunken memorial to the Americans who died during the Japanese attack on Oahu and Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It is the most sacred U.S. Navy monument on Earth, the final grave for the 1,177 sailors and Marines who perished aboard during the attack.

Now, anchored near the Arizona is the USS Missouri, the second most-famous battleship of World War II, official designation BB-63.

Like the Arizona, the Missouri sits next to a pier at Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. For the "Mighty Mo" -- the ship's famous nickname -- a berth in Pearl Harbor marks the end of an illustrious career that spanned more than a half-century and service in three wars.

Today, the Missouri's huge 16-inch guns are silent, pointing symbolically toward the Arizona. It is poetic that these two U.S. warships should end up next to each other. The Arizona was sunk at the beginning of the U.S.-Japanese conflict, and it was aboard the Missouri that the Japanese signed the formal surrender ending World War II four years later.

On Jan. 29, in ceremonies aboard ship, the Missouri was officially opened to the public as a floating museum -- 55 years to the day after it was launched. Along with the Arizona and the other Navy relic of the war anchored at Pearl Harbor -- the submarine Bowfin -- the Missouri is fated to become part of one of the major tourist attractions in Hawaii.

It was a long voyage from Brooklyn, where the Missouri was built, to Pearl Harbor, half an Earth away. The Mighty Mo was the last battleship launched by the United States, entering service in 1944. It was christened by Margaret Truman, the daughter of the newly elected vice president, Harry Truman, a former U.S. senator from Missouri. After going through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, it was involved in the invasions of Okinawa and Iwo Jima and attacks on the Japanese homeland.

On Sept. 2, 1945, a month after the U.S. atomic attacks at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese formally surrendered aboard the Missouri. The site of that ceremony -- now called the "Surrender Deck" -- is marked by permanent plaques and is a major stop on public tours of the ship. (An elevator has been installed to allow wheelchair access to the Surrender Deck and other areas of the ship.)

The end of World War II also saw the end of the "Battleship Age" and the beginning of the "Carrier Age," meaning the demise of most of the Navy's battleships.

Most were scrapped, a few were mothballed, some were used as targets for U.S. atomic tests. Among those saved -- just in case of future need -- were the Missouri and its sister ships -- the New Jersey, the Iowa and the Wisconsin.

By 1950, the Missouri was the only U.S. battleship on active duty, and in September of that year was involved in the invasion of Inchon at the beginning of the Korean War. Later, the other three Iowa-class ships were also called back for the war.

In 1955, the Missouri was decommissioned and put into the mothball fleet at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Wash. While there, it was visited by as many as 180,000 tourists a year.

There it sat until 1986, when the Navy (and President Ronald Reagan) decided to create a 600-ship navy and recommissioned the Missouri and several other battleships. The recommissioning ceremonies took place in San Francisco on May 10, 1986.

San Francisco desperately wanted the Missouri home-ported at Hunters Point, but in the end, the ship ended up at Long Beach.

In 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Missouri -- along with the Wisconsin -- was sent to the Persian Gulf. Near the beginning of the hostilities -- Jan. 17, 1991 -- the Missouri fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraqi targets, and in February, fired its 16-inch guns for the first time since Korea.

The Mighty Mo fired its weapons in anger for the last time at targets in Ra's al Khafji, Saudi Arabia, occupied by the Iraqis. The ship fired 209 rounds from its 16-inch guns, which are capable of sending a 2,000-pound shell 23 miles.

The Missouri was decommissioned again in 1992. A number of U.S. cities wanted to claim the battleship, but in the end, the Navy donated it to the USS Missouri Memorial Association in Honolulu in 1998.

There has been some resistance to putting the Missouri near the Arizona, with some veterans and Navy personnel feeling that the Arizona, as a sacred site, should not share honors on Battleship Row with another ship, no matter how famous. (The name "Battleship Row" came about because the Navy's World War II Pacific-based battleships were normally lined up in rows along Ford Island -- where the Japanese found them tightly packed during the attack.)

The Missouri sits about 300 yards from the Arizona. The Navy has given permission for the ship to remain there for three years, when it will be moved to another spot farther away, but still next to Ford Island.

The official Navy position is more congenial, noting that the Missouri, in conjunction with the Bowfin and the Arizona, is part of a rich historical experience.

For their part, Missouri supporters are hoping that in the end, given what is expected to be intense public interest, the Navy will leave the Missouri where it is.

"Look at the big guns," Tom Pinet, the Missouri's tour program manager, said. "The way they point, they're symbolically protecting the Arizona. The last thing we want in the world is to turn this into Disneyland. We all respect the Arizona."

The U.S. Park Service, which is in charge of the Arizona Memorial, is upbeat about the Missouri's arrival.

In a news release issued before the opening ceremonies, the Park Service noted that "each of the three (ships) are coming together to service a single critical purpose -- to sustain the rich history of this very special place -- the living history of Pearl Harbor."

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