As a sailor who spent eight months on an aircraft carrier I have always been fascinated with battleships and their big guns. During the week my daughter got married in Hawaii I visited the Arizona Memorial, of course, but I also got to tour the battleship USS Missouri.
The only other battleship I had seen and painted was the USS Olympia, docked in Philadelphia. The Olympia is actually a called a “protected cruiser.” It was the flag ship of Commodore George Dewey during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Built at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, it was nicknamed the Queen of the Pacific. It is 344 feet long and carried a crew of 33 officers and 395 enlisted men. It was later outfitted with 5-inch guns.
American battleships in the Spanish American War weren’t much bigger that the C-6 Olympia. By comparison BB-4 Iowa was 360 feet long, though it was about 20 feet wider at the beam. Those battleships were classified as “pre-dreadnaught.” Its guns were bigger at 8 inches.
Like so many other old naval vessels, the Iowa was renamed and eventually became a practice target.
From the Spanish American War we gained Guam and Puerto Rico. We also took possession of the largely unclaimed atoll of Wake Island.
My great Uncle Jack Warren served in the Spanish American War. He was in the Army, where he served in the Philippines, which revolted against the Americans in 1899 until a peace treaty in 1902.
By comparison to the Olympia and the first battleship Iowa, the USS Iowa (BB-61), commissioned in 1943 served first in the Atlantic and was 887 feet long and 108 feet wide and featured nine 16-inch guns. It is on display in the Los Angles waterfront—San Pedro.
The last battleship, however, is the USS Missouri (BB-63). It is an Iowa Class battleship. It was commissioned in June 1944. Despite its late appearance it saw extensive action in the Pacific War, including shooting down Kamikaze planes and knocking out shore batteries and industrial targets in Japan itself.
Six other battleships (in addition to the Iowa and Missouri) are floating museum pieces throughout the country, but the Missouri is special because it was the scene of the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2, 1945.
It was also the sole battleship kept in the fleet after the end of the war. Because it was named after President Harry Truman’s state and was christened by his daughter, he overruled his Navy secretary and kept it in service. Truman and his family boarded he Missouri after signing a treaty in Rio de Janeiro and rode it back to Norfolk, Va. It only took 12 days. Iowa Class battleships travel at nearly 40 mph.
The Missouri was still in commission when the Korean War broke out. It supported Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s daring landing at Inchon Bay.
In 1955 the Missouri was put in the reserve fleet in Bremerton, Wash. Then in 1984, as part of President Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship Navy it was towed to Long Beach, Calif. for re-commissioning. It was outfitted with anti-ship Harpoon missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles. It also received upgraded radar, electronic warfare and Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems Gatling guns for defense against anti-ship missiles.
Both the Missouri and the Wisconsin, BB-64, participated in the 1991 Gulf War. The 16-inch guns can hurl a 2,700-pound armor-piercing shell 20 miles.
A year later it was decommissioned again, headed for the mothball fleet in Washington State. In 1998 the Missouri was towed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and in January 1999 it opened as a museum.
The USS Arizona, sunken Dec. 7, 1941, is the Alpha and the Missouri, where the Japanese surrender was signed Set. 2, 1945, is the Omega of World War II (Germany had surrendered May 7, 1945).
They both remind us of the sacrifice and determination of the generation that fought the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany. We owe our comfortable life to them. These memorials remind us the struggle against the forces of evil, against those who would attack our freedom and attack our allies cannot be ignored. Cannot be shrugged off as “Peace in our time” or “Building bridges at home.” Cannot be sloughed off as somebody else’s problem.
I’m entranced by battleships, but I also think about my father who served in Alaska during WWII and then during the Berlin Airlift. I think about my Uncle Tom Raffety, who survived the Pearl Harbor attack on Hickam Field and went on to serve in the European War and then back to the Pacific War.
We all appreciate the freedom they ensured for us, as well as those from the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. Challenges still face us. I am confident a new president will stand up for freedom like the crew of the USS Missouri did.
America will always be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”