By: Mary Young
U.S.S. Missouri, the last and greatest of
the Iowa-class battleships, rests proudly at anchor in Pearl Harbor. A
symbol of the Allied victory in World War II, the “Mighty Mo” faces the submerged remains of the U.S.S. Arizona – the bows of
the two ships just 300 feet apart. Every day, about 1,000 visitors shuttle
across Ford Island Bridge to visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial, as it
is now known. They come to hear sea stories, stand on the deck where the
peace treaty was signed and try to imagine what it was like to live on
Late on Friday afternoon, as the last
shuttle bus leaves, life aboard the Missouri
becomes a reality for participants in the Battleship Missouri
Overnight Encampment Program.
The program, open to Scouts and school
groups ages 10 to 18, combines an on-site experience of history and sea
tradition with the fun of a campout. Between 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. the
next morning, when they disembark, the youngsters become part of the
ship’s crew – eating in the mess hall, sleeping in berthing, and
taking part in shipboard activities and drills. “They learn without
knowing it,” said Steve Kooiman, the Association’s education manager.
“And they get a new respect for what these guys had to put up with.”
Kooiman is an affable man in his late 30s, a
retired Navy signalman chief who came to work for the U.S.S. Missouri
Memorial Association about a year ago. He started as a part-time tour
guide. “I’ve always had a love of history, especially World War II
naval history,” he said. “Then this education job came up, and I
thought if I enjoy giving tours, I’ll really enjoy this. So I applied,
and I was fortunate enough to get it.”
Every new tour
guide interviews with Kooiman before beginning training. People skills are
essential, he said, but he looks for specific personality traits in guides
who accompany the encampment program. “They have to enjoy interacting
with kids, and they have to have fun,” he said. “If they come in
feeling that it’s a job they have to do for money, I don’t want them
here at night.”
of the Day
To begin, the group musters on the pier.
Kooiman issues dog tags and duty assignments, and then he sets the ground
rules. “I give them a safety brief and explain that we’re a museum,
we’re not Disneyland,” he said. “We can have fun, but we respect the
ship.” Racks are assigned and gear is stowed. Then the group takes a
guided tour of the ship, including some areas that are off-limits to the
The evening schedule starts with dinner –
hearty meat-and-potatoes fare – and duty assignments such as clean-up
and the lowering of the flag. The crew takes part in a fire drill and
activities that promote leadership and teamwork, such as a scavenger hunt
and K.P. duty.
Julie Biondine attended a recent encampment
as a chaperone for Oahu’s Boy Scout Troop 176.
“It was fabulous,” she said. “I mean,
they kept us busy until midnight.”
Late in the evening, a
movie is shown topside on the fantail. Then it’s time to
hit the racks. Adults – the association requires an adult-child ratio of
1:10 – sleep on the bottom bunks. Female and male berthing are in
separate areas but all of the beds are narrow and stacked three high.
Kooiman said, “I’ll get them in those racks and they’ll be
complaining and I say, ‘That’s why they call it service. They don’t
call it ‘hey, let’s go have fun.’ They call it ‘service.’”
The crew doesn’t spend all night in the
sleeping quarters, though; each participant stands watch for one hour at
some time during the night.
Randy Small, an eighth-grader at Mililani
Middle School, took the midnight to 1 o’clock watch. “The guide took
us on a tour outside,” said Randy. “We went upstairs and we saw where
they kept all the missiles and the ammunition and everything.”
Walking the Missouri’s silent decks at
night makes an impression on the adults, too. Randy’s mom, Liane, said,
“To see it in a different light, whereas at night everything looks
different . . it was a little creepy, you know.”
early with reveille, breakfast, and cleanup. The crew musters
once more for inspection and certificate presentations prior to
of the U.S.S. Missouri
Learning about the Mighty Mo’s unique
place in history is an important part of the encampment experience. It was
on the Missouri’s deck, on Sept. 2, 1945, that General Douglas MacArthur
accepted the unconditional surrender of Japan. Missouri had played an
important role in the Pacific war, notably the battles of Iwo Jima and
Okinawa. The battleship was to serve in two more wars – Korea and the
first Gulf War – before its final decommissioning.
One of the aft decks still bears the scars
of a kamikaze attack a few months before the end of World War II. A lone
pilot, coming in toward the starboard side, approached so low that the
ship’s big 5-inch guns couldn’t get a shot. He was hit by a hail of
smaller gunfire, but the plane slammed into the side of the ship, breaking
in two and sending debris over the anti-aircraft guns. As the front half
of the plane flew along the length of the ship, it dropped fuel and started
a fire. The fire was quickly extinguished; the plane’s payload fell into
the water, unexploded. The next day, acknowledging the Japanese
pilot’s ultimate sacrifice
for his country, Missouri’s Captain William M. Callaghan directed that
he be buried at sea with honors.
Korean War, the Missouri conducted bombardment missions and other
operations. Following the war, the ship was decommissioned for the first
time and went to Bremerton, Wash. For the next 29 years it was a popular
attraction in Bremerton, with about 100,000 visitors boarding the ship
a buildup of the fleet in the early 1980s, Missouri underwent a $475
million modernization that took two years to complete. It was
recommissioned on May 10, 1986 and would go on to serve in Operations
Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
U.S.S. Missouri Memorial
Decommissioned for the last time on March
31, 1992, the Missouri was returned to Bremerton. The famous ship was
involved in one last battle, over its final destination. Groups in
Bremerton, San Francisco and Honolulu campaigned with the Navy to be the
battleship’s permanent home. The nonprofit U.S.S. Missouri Memorial
Association prevailed, and it has been the caretaker of the battleship
since it arrived here in June of 1998.
Although the Mighty Mo is berthed on federal
property, the association is not supported by government funding. The
association pays fair market value for its pier rental and all utilities.
Expenses are covered by revenues derived from daily admissions, retail and
concession sales and donations.
The overnight program was made possible with
an initial grant from the Hawaii
Tourism Authority. Now the program pays for itself, according to
Kooiman. Rates are $59 per child, $69 per adult. (Kamaaina rates are
available) A minimum of 40 participants are required for an encampment.
Kooiman hopes to expand the program to
include adult groups. “My goal is
that everybody that wants to do it will have an opportunity to do
it,” he said. The adult program would be designed for corporate staff
members to develop team building and camaraderie.
Liane Small agrees that the program should
be offered to adult groups. “I think everyone should do it,” she said.
“It’s just an awesome experience, just to be in a historical ship like
For her son and other Scouts, “It’s
something they won’t forget because they get the dog tag and the
certificate at the end of the program,” she said. “They can look at
the certificate and remember, yeah, they slept on the Missouri.”