The Fight For A Battleship Is Over -- USS Missouri Already Being Missed In Bremerton

BREMERTON - It's a circle closing: The fabled battleship that has come to symbolize victory in World War II will return to the spot where the war began for the United States.

And while this makes perfect sense to many, particularly the Navy, for the people of Bremerton the USS Missouri's final journey across the Pacific to Pearl Harbor will be one of deep loss.

"I've been hoping and hoping she would stay here," said veteran Mel Schmuck of Poulsbo, echoing the sentiment of countless others who fought to keep the Missouri in Bremerton.

With several cities, including Bremerton, vying to be the final home of the Missouri, Navy Secretary John Dalton said yesterday he decided in favor of Honolulu after evaluating the technical, financial, historical and public-interest aspects of the varied proposals.

"This was a very tough decision, since all the proposals were so excellent and impressive," he said. "I'm genuinely sorry the Navy doesn't have a USS Missouri to give to each of these cities."

The battleship is being given to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, which hopes to have it brought to Pearl Harbor, 6 miles west of Honolulu, and ready for visitors by Oct 1.

Plans call for docking the Missouri on the spot it first occupied when it was deployed as part of the Pacific fleet - opposite the monument to the Arizona, sunk in Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

For all its rich history, the Missouri is best known for the day Japanese Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu and Gen. Douglas MacArthur boarded the ship in Tokyo Bay to sign Japan's unconditional surrender, ending the war in the Pacific.

Schmuck was just 22 when the surrender took place. An electronics technician, he was below decks during the ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945.

"It's kind of tough to see it leave," he said.

Bremerton's Mayor Lynn Horton agreed.

"It's been part of our community for a long time," she said yesterday.

Scarred by the suicide crash of a Japanese kamikaze plane, the Missouri is loved by the thousands of servicemen who served on its teak decks. The ship saw action in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and, most recently, the Gulf War.

The Missouri, New Jersey, Iowa and Wisconsin are the four Iowa-class battleships built during World War II. Battleships once were considered the stars of the Navy's fleet, able to fling projectiles weighing up to 2,700 pounds up to 25 miles from their huge 16-inch guns.

Bob Schwenk of Long Beach, Calif., an original crewman who served 3 1/2 years aboard the Missouri, said nobody had enough fire power to sink the vessel.

"We could have taken seven torpedoes in one spot and never sank the ship," he said.

But luck played its part, too, he acknowledged, recalling the day the kamikaze pilot steered into the ship. The plane's left wing hit 8 feet below the main deck on the starboard side, he recalled, and the body of the pilot skidded across the deck.

"God, we were lucky," he said. "If that plane had been 8 feet higher. . . . We were a lucky ship."

In November, Bremerton submitted its 2-inch-thick proposal for permanently mooring the Missouri. Kitsap County and the Port of Bremerton had guaranteed $6 million for the project. Expenditures of about $1.5 million a year were to be raised by a projected 370,000 annual visitors.

"We fought hard and did our best and came in second," said U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash, who helped to lead the crusade to keep the "Mighty Mo" in Bremerton, where it has been berthed for more than 30 years.

But Bremerton competed against the Memorial Association of Pearl Harbor; San Francisco; and Long Beach. All submitted strong proposals to the Navy, officials said.

Dicks said he is already scheming to get Bremerton another battleship.

He believes lobbying could persuade the U.S. Senate to make Bremerton the permanent home for the New Jersey, a similar battleship mothballed alongside the Missouri.

"I don't think we should turn up our nose," Dicks said. He also said the city would make a bid for the Iowa berthed in Norfolk, Va.

"The Navy has said that if Bremerton wants to apply for the Iowa, we'd have a very good chance of having it donated to us," he said.

Many veterans groups feel Pearl Harbor is just too far away for the Missouri, Dicks said.

Angelo Goffredo, president of the USS Missouri Association in New York, agreed. He said the decision surprised him. He thought San Francisco was "an ideal location geographically."

"We wanted to make sure that our children and grandchildren will be able to see the Missouri," he said. "It's (Pearl Harbor) going to be a little bit inconvenient, especially for us old-timers."

The loss of the Missouri is expected to cost Bremerton income from tourism. The city also will lose a huge part of its identity, already steeped in naval tradition.

Nicole Mularski, 26, said a look at all the vacant businesses in downtown Bremerton shows that the city needs an attraction.

"I think they are killing Bremerton," she said of yesterday's announcement. "It just seems that they (city officials) are just letting downtown die and not making an effort to keep the ship. They aren't encouraging the fight to keep the city alive."

"It's not right," added Bremerton taxi driver Scott Glenn, 45. "All Hawaii had to do is make a bid on it and they get it?"

Barbara McGinnis, who works at the Pirates Cove restaurant, said the Navy's belief that the ship would get more visitors at Pearl Harbor isn't true.

"More people can afford to come here than can afford to go to Hawaii," she said. "Now, what about the poor people? If they were going to move it, I would have rather seen it go to San Francisco."

Laurel Kuklinski, 26, visited the Missouri more than 11 times, often taking high-school exchange students to the ship's decks.

"It was a great history lesson for many of the students," Kuklinski said. "Especially the Japanese students who might have been taught something different about the ending of World War II."

But Bremerton resident Dale Pryor, 63, who served more than five years aboard the USS Intrepid during the Korean War, was among those who approved of the ship's final port.

"I think Bremerton will miss it," he said. "But I think Pearl Harbor is an appropriate place for it. People will be able to go to one place to see the beginning and the end of the war."

"I always thought it would be something nice to have the beginning and the end of World War II in one location," added fellow resident Ed Snider, 64.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

----------------- Missouri timeline -----------------

June 11, 1944 - The USS Missouri, which takes three years to build, is commissioned at the New York Naval Shipyard.

June 12, 1944-August 1945 - Assigned to World War II service in Pacific.

Sept. 2, 1945 - In Tokyo Bay, Japanese Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu surrenders unconditionally on behalf of his country, ending war in Pacific.

Sept. 29, 1945 - Assigned to naval shipyard at Norfolk, Va., for overhaul, used to train reserve crews and midshipmen.

March 1946 - Assigned to Mediterranean on goodwill mission.

September 1947-March 1948 - In New York Naval Shipyard for overhaul; later used for training.

Jan. 17, 1950 - Runs aground in Hampton Roads, Va.

Aug. 19, 1950 - First tour of Korean War.

March 28, 1951 - Assigned to Atlantic Fleet to train midshipmen and officers.

Aug. 4, 1952 - Assigned to second tour in Korea combat zone.

April 6, 1953 - Returns to Norfolk as training ship.

Feb. 26, 1955 - Decommissioned and assigned to Bremerton Group, U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet.

May 1984 - Towed to Long Beach Naval Shipyard for modernization.

June 1986 - Recommissioned in San Francisco; departs for around-the-world shakedown cruise.

January-February 1991 - Assigned to Persian Gulf.

November 1991 - Returns to Long Beach; is assigned to Hawaii as host ship for 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack.

March 31, 1992 - Decommissioned at Long Beach; towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, where it rests at the Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility.

Sept. 2, 1995 - Ceremony aboard the Missouri marks the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender that ended World War II. Ship open to public tours during summer of 1995.

Aug. 21, 1996 - Navy announces Missouri will be permanently docked at Pearl Harbor.

------------------------------------------------------------------ Information courtesy of Angelo Goffredo, president of the USS Missouri Association. ------------------------------------------------------------------