Posted tagged ‘War’

Reflections: The USS Missouri

December 3, 2011

As I approached the Navy checkpoint to Ford Island on January 7, 2010, I was still trying to fathom that an island existed in the middle of Pearl Harbor, HI. This great harbor appeared too small to hold the history this area proclaims. This day I was to witness one of its treasures, the USS Missouri (BB-63), travel from dry-dock to its moorings. My US Air Force sponsor sat next to me as we crossed the bridge and I caught sight of the Arizona Memorial. My thoughts wandered back to the ceremony, a scant thirty days prior, commemorating the heroism and losses of that day.

Before embarking on this trip I researched the USS Missouri’s history. It was the last of four Iowa-class US battleships built and is the only one remaining. She was ordered on June 12, 1940, commissioned June 11, 1944 and decommissioned March 31, 1992. The nickname, The Mighty Mo, pays tribute to the strength of the vessel and the men with whom she earned 11 battle stars. She saw three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Gulf War. Perhaps the Mo is attributed to MO, the abbreviation for Missouri, as the last four battleships were named after states. Perhaps this attribution is to another meaning lost in common memory but cherished by those that served with her. Should our memories lose these details that bring richness to life, may we not forget the larger points and meanings of history past. As I read more, I saw through adult’s eyes, not the child of high school history class, the furious naval and air battles across the Pacific. Stepping back further to view World War II as a whole, I saw the cost of conflicting ideologies struggling for co-existence or supremacy.

My grandfather was a P-38 pilot, 34th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. The European theater, with the Army and Army Air Corps, is my primary reference for World War II. Milton Bradley’s abstract simplification provided enjoyment as a child; however, it and my readings could not prepare me for the massive physical scale of sea power. The brutal effectiveness of the naval maneuver “Crossing the T” took new meaning as Mo’s silhouette came to bear. The ship’s narrowness was surprising to me. Its relative size can be read about but did not prepare me for a ship almost the length of three football fields yet only about 100 feet wide. Watching the USS Missouri slide into its mooring awed me in a way the static monument cannot.

The primary, traditional armaments of the Iowa-class battleship, the 5” and 16” guns, had been augmented with modern defensive and offensive firepower for deployment to the Persian Gulf before being decommissioned. My childhood’s four-peg representation insignificantly describes the raw military power for which only the Stratofortress seems a timely, adequate comparison.

Scheduling for the day did not permit an on-ship tour to view the plaque commemorating September 2, 1945. This day marked the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Harbor and the end of World War II. I plan to return and walk through the history, spoken and not, steeped into the teak deck. On that visit I hope to view it beyond that of a tourist inundated with tidbits, the needles of a single tree. I hope it is with a reverence for, and a desire to explore, the forest of difficult choices made during that time. Do I display that responsible decisiveness in my life today? Do I willingly get lost in an endless thicket of instant distraction? Do I understand the lessons learned and paid for with the lives of millions? As the world becomes increasingly interdependent, these questions wander about my mind.

The age of the Battleship may have ended due to the advancement of airpower, newer technology and a changing world. As I scan the harbor, the Navy’s new weapons sit in the shadow of what once defined naval power. The USS Missouri is a small part of the ingenuity, determination and mettle of Brokaw’s Greatest Generation; the greatest tribute I can provide is to carry the baton of their values epitomized through actions. Eleanor Roosevelt held in her wallet a prayer whose eloquence summaries that charge for me: “Dear Lord, lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember to ask and to answer “am I worth dying for?”

As I leave Ford Island humbled, I catch sight again of the Arizona Memorial now silhouetted with the USS Missouri; The Mighty Mo’s bow stands watch over the fallen Sailors, guns raised in silent salute. I am struck by the honor paid both to the beginning and end of the US military involvement in World War II: a stark reminder of the cost and strength of the American spirit. May we never forget the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” What do I choose to do today with that freedom?

– A Grateful American