Floating Fortress

A ship on an educational mission

By: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

There’s no mistaking Pier Foxtrot-5 in Pearl Harbor. Even from a distance, the Battleship Missouri, berthed in that spot, casts an imposing silhouette.

In Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, six years of bloodshed that spanned the globe ended in 20 minutes on the Missouri’s teak deck. With her mammoth guns lowered and silent, Japanese dignitaries and leaders of the Allied forces signed the Formal Instrument of Surrender at a cloth-draped table from the ship’s mess hall. World War II was officially over.

That momentous event took place a decade before I was born, but just looking at the Missouri filled me with awe. This is not a Hollywood prop, I thought. This is a real battleship that engaged in real combat. This is where history was made.

A formidable floating fortress, there’s no question the Missouri was built for battle. Phil Lingenfelter, who led my group’s Chief’s Guided Tour, spouted statistics as easily as if he were reading items on a grocery list. Launched on Jan. 29, 1944, he told us, the Mighty MO was an extraordinary feat of engineering housing four 24,400-horsepower turbine engines, 90 miles of piping, 15,000 valves and 900 electric motors.

Nearly three football fields long and 20 stories high, she carried enough weaponry to level a city. Steel armor more than 17 inches thick in some areas lined her sides. It was amazing she could float, let alone carry a crew of 2,800 sailors and marines and skim the waves at a swift (for her size) 40 mph.

The Missouri served during the last eight months of World War II.

“She also completed two tours of duty in the Korean conflict and was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm in 1991,” Lingenfelter said. “Her current mission is one of education.”

On our hour-long tour, he pointed out the ward room, which features displays of wartime photos, a scale model of the Missouri and a History Channel documentary on the ship; the Combat Engagement Center (CEC), which houses weapons systems used during Desert Storm; and a dent on the starboard side, the result of a failed kamikaze attack off Okinawa in April 1945.

We walked through the enlisted men’s sleeping quarters, filled with bunk beds stacked three high; peeked at “officers’ country,” a handful of single staterooms reserved for the ship’s top-ranking officers; and admired the 16-inch guns, which, Lingenfelter said, “fired projectiles that weighed as much as a small car and could pulverize a target 23 miles away.”

Every stop conjured up vivid images of life aboard a battleship at war. I imagined long rows of uniformed troops standing at attention on deck, the tension in the CEC as missiles were fired and young men falling asleep with letters from their girlfriends clutched by their hearts.

We concluded our tour on the Surrender Deck.

“When the unconditional surrender was signed,” said Lingenfelter, “700 planes flew over the ships in Tokyo Bay in a flyby that was so low, crew members of the Missouri later said they thought the mast sections of the ship were going to be scraped.

“As the planes started to turn,” he continued, “the sun broke through the skies over the bay for the first time that morning, bathing the scene in light and warmth.

“I guarantee if you were on any of the over 200 ships that were there, you didn’t doubt for a minute that the worst carnage in human history had finally come to an end,” Lingenfelter said. “I’ve told this story many times and seen people cry not just war veterans, but young people who were born years later. I get choked up myself because it reminds me of what Missouri symbolizes freedom, honor, courage, truth, everything we value as Americans.”


Battleship Missouri Memorial
63 Cowpens St.
Honolulu, HI 96818

The Chief’s Guided Tour is offered on demand between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., daily, except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cost is $22 per person; $14 for children ages 4 to 12. Missouri also offers Explorer’s and AcoustiGuide tours (call for details). All tours are commissionable and negotiated on an individual basis.


Security measures prohibit visitors from carrying purses, fanny packs, backpacks, camera bags, diaper bags or luggage aboard Missouri. Cameras and camcorders are allowed. A storage facility by the parking lot fronting the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park is available for visitors’ use from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., daily. Fee is $3 per bag.
Shuttle buses provide transportation between this lot and the Missouri.

To avoid crowds, the best time to go is between 9-10 a.m., and 2:30-4 p.m. Wear sunscreen and sturdy, comfortable walking shoes. Dresses, skirts, platform shoes and high heels are not advisable as tour goers have to ascend and descend vertical ladders.

Missouri has a lift that can transport wheelchairs and mobility-impaired guests to the Main Deck where an elevator goes one level up to the Surrender Deck. The only part of the Chief’s Guided Tour that’s not handicapped accessible is the Combat Engagement Center. There are no public restrooms on board.

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