The Mighty Move
• Photo gallery: USS Missouri enters drydock
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
ABOARD THE USS MISSOURI — Just as the battleship Missouri left historic Battleship Row for the first time in 11 years yesterday, volunteer David Horen quickly polished the brass ring encircling the covered plaque marking the spot where a Japanese delegation officially surrendered aboard the Mighty Mo, ending World War II.
Four tugboats nudged, pulled and towed the Missouri from Ford Island's Pier Foxtrot 5 just after sunrise yesterday as Horen hastily shined the ring with Brasso and a scrub pad and covered his handiwork with cardboard and blue painter's tape.
"It needs to be protected," said Horen, 61, who served as a signalman aboard the destroyer USS Goldsborough during the Vietnam War. "I want to make sure this doesn't get dinged up in drydock. It's history."
It's that kind of sentiment for the last battleship in the U.S. fleet that drew about 70 active-duty sailors and 30 VIPs to the historic teak decks of the Missouri yesterday.
Riding the Missouri for the two-mile trip from Foxtrot 5 to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard's Drydock 4, the largest of the shipyard's four drydocks, meant boarding the ship before sunrise and staying onboard for 11 hours while nearly 53 million gallons of seawater drained from the drydock at a rate of one foot every three minutes.
Just before 3 p.m., with about seven feet of water remaining in the drydock, shipyard supervisors finally let the passengers off the Missouri. The portions of the hull that have been underwater were seen covered in barnacles, with a melon-sized hole in the fore starboard side letting seawater spew out like a fountain.
"If only the ship could talk, she'd probably say she needs some TLC," said Tobias Langcaon, 76, who served on the Missouri from 1952 to 1955, including the tail end of the Korean War. "After 60-some years, even a person needs a facelift. This is the time for her. I'm very happy to see somebody is taking care of her and I can imagine when she goes to drydock, when she comes back here, to see what a beautiful girl comes back."
Many of the people who rode the Missouri did not mind the lack of running water or electricity, or the hours spent watching the water level drop inside the drydock.
"It's worth it," said Larry Cavanaugh, 61, a retired Marine from Chicago who comes to Ford Island every winter to sand the Missouri's teak decks. "I want to give back to this great ship."
Alexander "Sandy" Gaston was the first person to donate to the effort that brought the Missouri out of mothballs in Bremerton, Wash., and to Pearl Harbor in 1998 as a memorial and museum.
"It's a great honor to be on board," Gaston said. "The Missouri is a national treasure."
A couple hundred more military members along the docks around Pearl Harbor and about 50 tourists near the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center craned for a glimpse of the Missouri as it headed toward $18 million worth of repairs — primarily three months of sanding and painting.
The trip by the Mighty Mo — its only movement since 1998 — drew a couple of veterans who had served on it, as well as a service member who witnessed firsthand the awesome firepower of another U.S. battleship.
Each of the Missouri's nine 16-inch guns could fire a 2,700-pound shell 23 miles.
"It is an unexplainable feeling. It is really a shaking," said Langcaon, who served as the captain's steward. "When they fired this, if you were inside the ship and if you were not at battle stations, (it was) mandatory, when they count down to fire, you put your earplugs in place, you put your arms across your stomach and you bend (slightly forward)."
The position was intended to protect sailors against the concussion of the blast, Langcaon said.
Ken Robb, 62, who works at the Defense Information Systems Agency on Ford Island, and is a Vietnam War veteran, told a similar story of the power of a battleship.
He was at the pier, along with a handful of others, watching the four tugs turn the battleship counterclockwise to head bow-first to Drydock No. 4.
As the Missouri glided past the end of Ford Island at 7:18 a.m., Robb said, "Since I'm retired Navy, this goes back a lot of years to see a battlewagon under way. The last one I saw was the New Jersey — that was steaming under its own power off the coast of Vietnam."
Robb was in the Mekong Delta on the USS Sacramento, an oiler and ammunition store ship that was supplying the New Jersey as it fired on enemy forces.
"Brings back a lot of memories," Robb said of the Missouri move. He remembers all nine of the New Jersey's 16-inch guns firing.
"In fact, I've got a picture of it in my office," he said. "What it (the ship) does is slide sideways in the water when that happens. Imagine 42 feet under water sliding sideways."
"That's something you never forget, when you see one of these (fire) broadside," Robb said. "You never forget it because your whole body shakes."
The 887-foot Missouri, the last battleship ever built for the U.S. fleet, is famous for its "surrender deck" marked with the brass plaque where a Japanese delegation unconditionally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, officially ending World War II.
But its military service spanned five decades and three wars, including the "liberation of Kuwait."
Navy Petty Officer James Stoddard volunteered to man the Missouri's lines and spend all day on board yesterday because, "How many times you get to ride a battleship?" Stoddard asked. "I don't see them making any more in the future."
Near the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center on shore, Navy veteran Dave Miller, a 62-year-old tourist from San Diego, showed up before sunrise with his wife, Ruth, also a retired sailor.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence to see it moved," Dave Miller said. "It's important to us who served. It's important to us for history's sake. It's the last battleship."
Jason Morrison, a naval architect and engineer who works in the shipyard, helped put together the plan for the docking blocks the Missouri rests on. Each of the 310 concrete-and-wood blocks inside the drydock weighs 8,000 pounds.
Morrison said crews had to adjust the trim — the back end of the ship sat 111/2 feet deeper than the front — as well as a slight list. The trim normally would have been balanced out by fuel and ammunition, but that was removed from the Missouri.
If an adjustment wasn't made, the battleship's uneven weighting could have broken some of the docking blocks, he said.
Crews identified certain tanks that could be filled with water to balance out the ship, and it took about three weeks to flood those spaces, Morrison said.
"It was a beast," Morrison said of the drydocking preparation. "It was probably five times the work (compared with usual drydockings) and there's a lot of uncertainty. You are working with 60-year-old drawings in some cases."
At 11 a.m., the steel caisson was in place, allowing shipyard workers to start dewatering the drydock.
The steel caisson, a hollow steel wall-like barrier, is 150 feet long, 18 feet wide across the top, and 60 feet tall.
Seawater can be pumped out of the caisson so that it floats, and prior to the Missouri's arrival, the caisson had been floated to one side outside the drydock.
Capstan winches reeled in heavy rope to guide the caisson into place, with the rope screeching as the tension increased.
At least a dozen shipyard workers were involved in the process on each side of the 139-foot-wide drydock.
More than 550,000 gallons of seawater are allowed to enter the caisson to sink it in place and provide a barrier so the drydock can be emptied.
According to the shipyard, the Missouri is the largest ship ever positioned in the 1,088-foot-long and 155-foot-wide Drydock 4. It took more than 100 men and women to secure her lines.
Several hundred workers from BAE Systems Ship Repair will spend the next three months sandblasting and repainting the Missouri; installing an underwater hull anti-corrosion system; replacing the rope mooring lines with chains; replacing plumbing, sewage and electrical systems; installing humidity monitors for the ship's 600 tanks; and adding a new tent on the battleship's fantail for parties and other revenue-generating events.
Roger Kubischta, president of BAE Systems Hawaii Shipyards, said the Missouri work will be conducted 24 hours a day six to seven days a week.
The area from the main deck of the ship to the top of the drydock will be tented in barrier material to keep sandblasting sand inside the dock, Kubischta said. Sections of the superstructure will be sanded by hand.
Michael A. Carr, president and chief operating officer of the USS Missouri Memorial Association, stood on the Missouri's "flying bridge" during the two-mile trip and marveled at the precision with which the various shipyard crews coordinated the move, which included men and women pulling the Missouri into drydock by hand and using laser measuring tools that precisely positioned the Missouri over the docking blocks.
"These people have obviously done this a number of times," Carr said.
The Mighty Mo is barred by its agreement with the Navy from firing up its engines inside Pearl Harbor, so it proceeded without any power or running water during its move.
Michael A. Lilly, 64, a retired Navy captain, former Hawaii attorney general and current member of the Missouri Association's board of directors, wore his brass "surface warfare" insignia belt buckle as a reminder of his Vietnam War service.
"This is historic," Lilly said as tugboats pulled the Missouri through Pearl Harbor at a speed he estimated at 4 to 5 knots. "We haven't been under way since June 1998."Advertiser Staff writers Mike Gordon and William Cole contributed to this report.