Friends old and new join in Mighty Mo's journey home
• Photo gallery: Mighty Mo shipshape, back home
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
PEARL HARBOR — Following a three-month, $18 million makeover, the USS Missouri returned to Pearl Harbor's Pier Foxtrot-5 yesterday afternoon looking shipshape and "shiny as a new penny," in the words of Michael Carr, president and CEO of the USS Missouri Memorial Association, which owns and operates the ship.
The Mighty Mo pulled into the pier at 2:30 p.m., a short distance from the USS Arizona Memorial.
The two historic battleships represent start-to-finish bookends for America's involvement in World War II — from the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, to Japan's surrender aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, which brought an end to the war.
Yesterday, nearly 1,000 passengers were aboard for the two-mile journey in which the 55,000-ton vessel was towed from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
As an original Missouri crew member, Art Albert occupied a place of honor among the passengers and crew yesterday. Albert, 82, served aboard the battleship from its beginning in 1944 until December 1947.
Pinned to his shirt yesterday was a fading copy of the keepsake surrender card he and other crew members were given at the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay. He keeps the original card locked in a safe, he told a gathering of interested onlookers after he and his wife, Sherry, had disembarked.
Albert also spoke about being wounded during a Japanese kami- kaze attack on the Missouri on April 11, 1945.
"I was going up the ladder to the G2 Station when (we were) hit on the starboard side," recalled Albert. "Messed up both my legs. I've had 15 operations on two knees."
Albert, from Hattiesburg, Miss., has visited the Missouri nearly every year it has been docked in Hawai'i, and plans to attend future festivities on the ship. But he said being aboard once more while it was on the move had been special.
As the Missouri was being secured at the pier, virtually all those on board lined the decks of the 877-foot vessel to smile, shout and wave to friends and relatives on the pier.
One waving passenger was Army Staff Sgt. Eric Opheim of Mililani, who was standing midship on the main deck when he was spotted by his 3-year-old daughter, Anneka.
"Look, Kaia! — it's Daddy!" she screamed excitedly to her 1-year-old sister. "Hi Daddy!"
Opheim's wife, Kerri, was also all smiles. She said she wasn't sure how her husband had been selected to be part of the Missouri's final water adventure for many years to come.
"He just told me at the beginning of the week that he was going to be 'manning the rails.' I said, 'What's that mean? You're Army, not Navy,' " Kerri Opheim said.
Part of what made yesterday's journey special was a joint re-enlistment ceremony for more than 100 military personnel, while the ship was in tow.
Virgilio Martinez Jr. was one of five crew members from the USS Paul Hamilton who became honorary battleship members during the rare re-enlistment opportunity.
"It was an exciting honor to re-enlist on this great battleship while it was on the water," said Martinez, who continued the celebration on the pier with his shipmates after they had come down the gangplank. Everyone aboard received a piece of teak wood from the ship's deck as a remembrance.
Passenger Nettie Stillwell of Kailua, who was the repair-work fundraiser for the USS Missouri Memorial Association, said she intended to frame her piece of deck and proudly hang it on the wall.
"I wanted to go on this ship no matter what," said Stillwell, who was delighted with the results of her efforts. "This is my ship. And she looks wonderful. She's just as pretty as a picture."
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who was instrumental in bringing the Missouri to Hawai'i, spoke at a VIP ceremony that included representatives from the shipyard and BAE Systems, the company that did the preservation work. Inouye told the gathering that the Missouri — which sat deteriorating among America's mothball fleet in the mid-1990s — will now stand as "a memorial for generations to come to remember what the men and women in World War II did."