The USS Missouri (BB-63), moored at Bremerton's Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 1954 to 1984, was the last battleship commissioned by the United States Navy and the second battleship to bear the name Missouri. She was launched in 1944 toward the end of World War II at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn, New York. A formidable vessel with numerous guns mounted in gun turrets, "Mighty Mo" saw action on the Eastern Front and at the end of the war was chosen as the stage for the signing of Japan's formal surrender to the Allied Powers. This occurred in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, ending the war. She arrived in Seattle in September 1954, and was given the grand welcome. Moored at Bremerton for 30 years, she was that city's number one tourist attraction. In 1984, she was towed to the Long Beach (California) Naval Yard, renovated and fitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles, and in 1986 reactivated. In 1992, she was decommissioned for the second time, eventually entering the Navy's ship donation program. After a controversial decision-making process, in 1998 the Missouri was towed to Pearl Harbor, where she serves to commemorate the Japanese surrender. She is moored beside the memorial to those lost on the USS Arizona when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor -- together the two represent the beginning and the end of the war.
A Ship Built For War
Launched January 29, 1944, at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn, the "Mighty Mo" is the last battleship commissioned by the U.S. Navy and the second battleship to bear the name Missouri. The Iowa-Class battleship has a length of 887 feet, a beam of 108 feet, a displacement of 45,000 tons (unloaded) and a maximum speed of 33 knots.
In 1944, the warship’s armament consisted of nine 16-inch guns in three triple turrets with a range of 23 miles, twenty five-inch guns in 10 twin mounts with a range of nine miles, 80 40mm guns in twenty quad mounts, and 49 20mm guns in single mounts. The formidable appearance of the USS Missouri did much to project an image of strength and invincibility. The battleship was chosen to be the stage for the signing of Japan’s Formal Instrument of Surrender to the Allied Powers in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, ending World War II.
Seattle's Grand Welcome
On Wednesday morning, September 15, 1954, the battleship Missouri arrived in Puget Sound from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Virginia, and moored at the Seattle Naval Station, Pier 91 on the Seattle waterfront. “Mighty Mo” was scheduled for a one-day layover in Seattle before joining the reserve fleet at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton.
Even though the weather was cold and raining, the Missouri was greeted by several thousand people, among them Greater Seattle, Inc., the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Navy League, and Seattle Seafair royalty. The 13th Naval District Band and Jackie Souders’ orchestra took turns playing music while the vessel docked. After the welcoming ceremony for the 1,100 officers and men, the Missouri was opened to the public for a last close-up look at the famous vessel. More than 7,500 visitors swarmed over the ship to experience one of the Navy’s last operational battleships.
Early Thursday morning, September 16, 1954, the Missouri departed Seattle in the fog, and sailed to the Bangor Naval Depot to unload ammunition. On September 18, 1954, the battleship sailed to Bremerton and moored at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to prepare for her last public openhouse. A side trip through Commencement Bay for Tacoma residents had to be canceled due to fog.
On September 22, 1954, the Missouri went into dry dock where the ship was prepared for its assignment to the reserve "mothball" fleet. The vessel was sealed and dehumidification machinery installed to prevent deterioration while in storage. Now, the only area visitors would be allowed to access was the "surrender deck" where a bronze plaque had been embedded in the teakwood decking, marking the spot where Japan surrendered to the Allies. A historic display, which included copies of the surrender documents and photos, was affixed to the bulkhead.
On January 10, 1955, the Missouri was taken out of dry dock and moored at the last pier of the reserve fleet berthing in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. On February 26, 1955, decommissioning ceremonies, transferring the ship to the Pacific Reserve Fleet, were held in the wardroom, due to cold, snowy weather. The Missouri was officially assigned as the command ship for the 36 decommissioned vessels in the Bremerton Group’s "mothball" (reserve) fleet.
While moored in Bremerton, the Missouri proved to be a popular tourist attraction, logging about 180,000 visitors a year. In 1977, the battleship was used for a reenactment of the Japanese surrender in the movie MacArthur staring Gregory Peck. And in 1983, the ship was used several times as a prop for the television mini-series Winds of War, staring Ralph Bellamy and Robert Mitchum.
Goodbye to Bremerton
In early 1984, the Defense Department decided that the Missouri would be moved to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a $467 million overhaul and reactivation. The ship was scheduled to rejoin the Navy’s active fleet in 1986 as the third of four renovated battleships. On April 30, 1984, the "Mighty Mo" closed her career as Bremerton’s number-one tourist attraction and preparations were made to make the ship ready for the voyage to California. About 85,000 people visited the Missouri during its last four months, 8,000 of them on the final day.
On May 14, 1984, Foss tugboats pulled the Missouri away from the Bremerton pier and out toward the open waters of Puget Sound. The "Mighty Mo’s" departure was even more spectacular than her arrival 29 years before. It was replete with fireworks, bands, balloons, a flotilla of pleasure craft, a sky full of news-media aircraft and thousands of spectators. Tugboats towed the Missouri through Rich Passage to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There, the Navy salvage ship USS Beaufort took over for the 11-day voyage to Long Beach, accompanied by a Navy tug for emergencies.
The deactivated USS Missouri carried a riding crew of 20 sailors for the trip. A portable generator supplied power to the wardroom so the crew could heat meals in microwave ovens and have lights, but they had to drink bottled water and use portable toilets brought aboard for the voyage. The crew slept in the officer’s staterooms using sleeping bags on any available bunk. The battleship arrived at Long Beach on May 25, 1984.
A New Battleship for a New Age
At the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, some guns were removed, replaced by 32 nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles, 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and four Vulcan Phalanx Gatling Guns that launch a wall of bullets to stop enemy missiles. But, the ship’s engines and guns were only slightly changed from their original World War II design.
On May 10, 1986, the USS Missouri was recommissioned in San Francisco and sent on an around-the-world shakedown cruise, returning to Long Beach on December 19, 1986. This trip made her the first battleship to circumnavigate the world since President Theodore Roosevelt’s "Great White Fleet" of 1907-1909.
In July 1987, the Missouri was sent to the Persian Gulf for six months to protect American flagged oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran crisis. During 1988, the battleship participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RimPac) exercises off the coast of Hawaiian Islands involving the Armed Forces of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the United States. After the exercises, the Missouri visited Seattle and Bremerton from September 17-23, 1988, as part of a West Coast tour, the first since departing Puget Sound in 1984.
In 1991, the "Mighty Mo" was deployed to the Persian Gulf War where she launched 28 Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi-held targets and participated in land bombardments with her 16 inch guns. The ship returned home without a casualty.
After the war, the Missouri returned to the Long Beach Naval Station, via Australia, for her last West Coast tour. In July and August 1991, the battleship visited Seattle during Seafair, and also visited Vancouver, British Columbia and San Francisco. The "Mighty Mo's" final mission was a visit to Hawaii on December 7, 1991 for the 50th Anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The ceremony on the Missouri was attended by U.S. President George Bush and his wife, Barbara. A few days later, the vessel began her return voyage to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in southern California for decommissioning.
Back to Moth Balls
The end of the Cold War in 1989 and declining defense budgets sent the four Iowa class battleships, the USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri, overhauled in 1984 for $1 billion, back into mothballs one-by-one. Fittingly, the Missouri, the last battleship built, would be the last to leave service. On March 31, 1992, while moored at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, the USS Missouri was decommissioned for the second time and reentered the reserve fleet.
She was subsequently towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, arriving without fanfare on Sunday, April 12, 1992. After several months of deactivation work, the battleship was moored at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility on Sinclare Inlet, closed to the public.
In 1995, the Missouri, which had been largely neglected since deactivation in 1992, suddenly became the object of considerable attention. The Chief of Naval Operations reported that the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey recommended the four mothballed Iowa-class battleships be declared excess to the Navy’s requirements and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. On January 12, 1995, Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton removed the Iowa, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Missouri from the Navy’s list of mobilization assets. This meant the 50-year-old dreadnoughts were now available, under the Navy’s ship donation program, to become memorials and museums. The Missouri was considered the most desirable in the group because of her history as the surrender ship.
The Office of Naval Sea Systems Command, overseeing the donation program, advised competitors that each community would have to convince the Navy it had a solid business plan to move the ship, refurbish it, moor it at an all-weather site and operate it at a profit.
The Navy set a deadline of November 1, 1995 for bids on permanent homes for the Missouri and the three other Iowa-class battleships.
Bremerton Battles for Her Battleship
For Bremerton civic leaders, the potential loss of the Missouri came as a shock. The Navy’s top brass had stated earlier there were no plans to retire or move the vessel for 33 years. Now Bremerton was forced to compete with other communities for the ownership of the famous battleship. Initial estimates to create a USS Missouri memorial were $7 to $10 million, plus another $1 million for operating costs. U.S. Representative Norm Dicks (D-Bremerton) said the local community probably couldn’t afford the cost of the venture. But local businessmen and political leaders formed a 25-member organizing committee, which included Secretary of State Ralph Monro, U.S. Representative Dicks and Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton, to explore the possibility of bidding for the "Mighty Mo."
Shortly after the Navy delisted the warship, the USS Missouri Memorial Association (MMA), based in Honolulu, Hawaii, submitted a 137-page proposal to the Navy and claimed to have raised $6.5 million for the project. The MMA proposed the Missouri be berthed near the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the two ships representing the beginning and end of the war with Japan. San Francisco and Long Beach also formed committees to bid for the Missouri. Pressure on the Bremerton’s "Save the Missouri" Committee was mounting.
Save the Missouri
Bremerton’s "Save the Missouri" Committee proposed mooring the Missouri along the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard waterfront just south of the Washington State Ferries Terminal. Visitors could walk to the ship on a floating walkway connected to a proposed waterfront park adjacent to the ferry terminal. San Francisco wanted to tie-up the Missouri at an existing pier at the Treasure Island Navy Base, creating a Naval Maritime Historical Center. Long Beach wanted to moor the battleship next to the Queen Mary as a ship museum.
Bremerton’s "Save the Missouri" Committee hoped to raise $6 million in public and private donations to construct the new Missouri mooring, create a park along the shipyard waterfront and renovate the ship for tours. The $6 million budget included an estimated $1.5 million for the first year of operational expenses, including sewer and electricity costs, insurance and anti-corrosion efforts. The USS Missouri would need to attract 300,000 visitors a year to meet all projected expenses.
In the spring of 1995, the "Mighty Mo" was moved from her moorage in Sinclare Inlet, back to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard pier she had occupied for 30 years prior to her reactivation in 1984. The Missouri was opened to the public on May 30, 1995. Visitors got access to the surrender deck and the wardroom where a large photo display highlighted the ship’s long history. On September 2, 1995, ceremonies commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II, were held on the Missouri’s surrender deck, attended by 7,500 people. The ship was closed to the public on September 4, 1995, after receiving 216,149 visitors.
Meanwhile, Kitsap County and the Port of Bremerton agreed to commit $6 million to the campaign to make Bremerton the Missouri’s permanent home. "We now have the resources to submit an application (to the Navy) to compete for the Missouri" U.S. Representative Norm Dicks said (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). And on Oct 31, 1995, the "Save the Missouri" Committee express-mailed its 250-page, $6 million proposal to the Navy.
During the 1996 legislative session, Governor Mike Lowry, hoping to save the Missouri for Bremerton, urged the state legislature to approve a $3 million contribution to the fight. Lawmakers from both parties had proposed contributing state dollars to help Bremerton, but a partisan dispute over the funding source doomed the plan. Senate Democrats had proposed contributing $2.5 million from the state construction budget toward the project. But House Republicans wanted to tie the money to elimination of a state tax on fuel for ferries. The first $3 million saved from the tax exemption would be paid by the ferry system to the Bremerton project. On March 7, 1998, house and senate leaders were frantically trying to resolve their differences when a midnight deadline forced them to adjourn for the1996 session leaving the funding issue unresolved.
In June 1996, a Kitsap County delegation, lead by U. S. Representative Norm Dicks, who had convinced the Navy to return the Missouri to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard when it was decommissioned in 1991, traveled to Washington D. C. to lobby the Secretary of the Navy to keep the historic battleship in Bremerton. But on August 21, 1996, Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton announced the decision of the Navy to move the Missouri from Bremerton to a permanent home in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. Dalton said the choice was made after weighing technical, financial, and public interest factors.
During a post-selection briefing held by Navy officials, U. S. Representative Dicks learned the Navy changed their rating system by adding weight for historical value and public affairs without telling participants. Dicks asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the Navy’s decision-making process.
In June 1997, the GAO reported significant problems in the way the Navy chose Hawaii as the display site for the Missouri. In fact, Bremerton won the competition for the Missouri based on the Navy’s original criteria for making the decision. In the last days of the site-selection process, the Navy suddenly announced two more criteria and gave all the applicants only two weeks to explain how they would meet them. Applicants weren’t told that the new criteria, public affairs benefit and historical significance, would be worth 75 percent of the final score and the original criteria only 25 percent. After new criteria were added in the final stages of the competition, Honolulu’s application received the highest score and knocked Bremerton out of first place. The Navy did not challenge GAO’s findings.
By law, Congress had only a few weeks left to approve or disapprove the Navy’s decision to award the Missouri to Hawaii. U. S. Representative Dicks immediately sent a letter to Navy Secretary Dalton asking him to reopen the selection process, claiming the original decision was fatally flawed. Despite the appeal, Secretary Dalton denied the request, stating the GAO review contained nothing that would warrant reopening the process. Dicks conferred with congressional leaders about the possibility of a legislative reversal of Dalton’s decision, but there was not enough support in Congress to overturn the Navy’s decision. Dicks threw in the towel.
U. S. Senator Slade Gorton (R-Washington), outraged at the Navy’s lack of objectivity and indifference to fairness, pushed for legislation to force a reopening of the evaluation process. Gorton tried to attach the provision to reopen the site-selection competition to the bill authorizing the Defense Department’s programs for the coming year. But on July 8, 1997, in a narrow 53-46 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment to require Navy to reopen the competition and sanctioned the Navy’s decision to donate the "Mighty Mo" to the USS Missouri Memorial Association in Hawaii.
In January 1998, the Navy opened the Missouri for the public’s last opportunity to visit the famous battleship before leaving for Hawaii. Open for only 3 weekends, the "Mighty Mo" received 24,000 visitors.
On March 4, 1998, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton signed the ship donation contract officially transferring the famous battleship to the USS Missouri Memorial Association.
On May 20, 1998, Members of the Bremerton-based "Missouri on the Mainland" (MOM) filed a suit in U. S. District Court in Tacoma challenging the legality of transferring the battleship to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, a private, nonprofit group, claiming the donation was illegal. The group, however, did not seek an injunction to block the move. In December 1998, U. S. District Court Judge Franklin D. Burgess ruled that MOM had no standing in the case and the lawsuit was dismissed.
On to Pearl Harbor
On Saturday afternoon, May 23, 1998, tugboats carefully guided the Missouri away from the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, through Rich Passage into Puget Sound, where she was attached to the Sea Victory, a Crowley Marine salvage tugboat, with a half-mile long towing bridle. The 149-foot, 40-ton Sea Victory towed the huge 887-foot, 45,000-ton battleship at about 6 knots, up Puget Sound, through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and into the Pacific Ocean, beginning the 2,639-mile voyage to Hawaii.
This marked the end of an era for Bremerton, "Mighty Mo’s" home port for 36 years (1954-1984 and 1992-1998). The famous battleship had always been this economically depressed city’s number-one tourist attraction and the dollars would be sorely missed.
A Last Farewell
Before leaving the West Coast forever, the Sea Victory towed the Missouri up the Columbia River to Astoria, Oregon, for a fresh-water hull cleaning and a last farewell. The ship arrived on Tuesday, May 26, 1998 with much fanfare. More than 125,000 people visited the "Mighty Mo" during her week-long stay in the resort city, leaving behind a bonus of $7 million in tourist dollars, a fact that did not escape the attention of Bremerton city leaders.
On Wednesday, June 3, 1998, tugboats eased the Missouri out of the Columbia River and reattached the half-mile long towing bridle to the Sea Victory for the 22 day voyage to Hawaii. The two ships arrived in Hawaiian waters without incident on Monday, June 22, 1998. The "Mighty Mo" was escorted from Diamond Head by dozens of pleasure boats, fishing vessels, jet propelled water skis and news-media helicopters along with a welcoming fireworks display. The huge dreadnought was gently guided into Pearl Harbor and delicately docked at Ford Island, only 1,000 yards from the USS Arizona Memorial. Although moving the vessel to Hawaii cost $800,000, plus a $1 million refurbishment to create the museum, the USS Missouri Memorial Association was confident the battleship would instantly become a major tourist attraction.
On January 29, 1999, the 55th anniversary of the Missouri launching at the New York Naval Shipyard, the battleship was officially opened for visitors. The USS Missouri Memorial Association runs the museum ship under the auspices of the National Park Service. The "Mighty Mo" established herself as the perfect complement to the USS Arizona Memorial, symbolizing the beginning and end of World War II.
USS Missouri Chronology
- January 29, 1944 --Launched at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn, NY.
- June 11, 1944 -- The USS Missouri is commissioned at the New York Naval Shipyard.
- June 12, 1944 - August 1945 -- Service in Pacific as Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey’s 3rd Fleet flag ship.
- September 2, 1945 -- In Tokyo Bay, Japan surrenders unconditionally to the Allied Powers, ending war in Pacific.
- September 29, 1945 -- Assigned to naval shipyard at Norfolk, VA., for overhaul. A Bronze plaque, commemorating Japan's surrender, is installed on the surrender deck.
- August 19, 1950 -- First Korean War tour of duty.
- August 4, 1952 -- Second Korean War tour of duty.
- April 6, 1953 -- Returns to Norfolk, assigned as a training ship.
- February 26, 1955 - Decommissioned and assigned to Bremerton Group, U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet.
- September 15, 1954 -- Arrives in Puget Sound, docks at Seattle Naval Station, Pier 91.
- September 16, 1954 -- Bangor Naval Depot to unload ammunition
- September 18, 1954 -- Arrives at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decommissioning.
- February 26, 1955 -- Decommissioning ceremonies, transferring the ship to the Pacific Reserve Fleet.
- May 14, 1984 - Towed to Long Beach Naval Shipyard for modernization.
- May 10, 1986 -- Recommissioned in San Francisco; departs for around-the-world shakedown cruise.
- July 25, 1987 -- Assigned to the Persian Gulf during the Iran crisis, to protect American flag oil tankers.
- January - February 1991 -- Assigned to Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Storm
- July - August 1991 -- Final West Coast Tour. Visits Seattle during Seafair.
- December 7, 1991 -- In Hawaii for the 50th Anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor
- March 31, 1992 -- Decommissioned at Long Beach for the second time and towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton
- April 12, 1992- Arrives at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Moored at the Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility.
- January 12, 1995 -- Stricken from the Navy’s list of mobilization assets and enters the Navy’s ship donation program.
- May 20 - September 4, 1995 - Ship open to public tours; receives 216,419 visitors.
- September 2, 1995 -- Ceremony aboard the Missouri marks the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender that ended World War II, attended by 7,500 people.
- January - November 1995 -- Interested communities submit proposals for permanent ownership; Honolulu, Bremerton, San Francisco and Long Beach submit bids.
- August 21, 1996 -- Navy announces Missouri will be permanently docked at Pearl Harbor.
- January 1998 -- Ship reopened for the last public tours in Bremerton, receives 24,000 visitors.
- March 4, 1998 -- Navy Secretary Dalton signs the ship donation contract officially transferring the battleship to the USS Missouri Memorial Association.
- May 23, 1998 -- Departs Bremerton for Astoria, Oregon, for visit and hull cleaning.
- June 3, 1998 -- Departs Astoria, towed by Sea Victory to Pearl Harbor.
- June 22, 1998 -- Arrives in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; docked at Ford Island.
- January 29, 1999 -- On the 55th anniversary of the Missouri’s launching at the New York Naval Shipyard, the battleship is officially opened for visitors