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Battleship Missouri Recommissioned in S.F. : The 'Big Mo' Is Ready to Cruise Again

May 11, 1986|RUTH SNYDER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — After 30 years in mothballs and a stint as a floating museum, the battleship Missouri was recommissioned Saturday to the sound of naval bands, a 19-gun salute, solemn speeches and a few catcalls of protest.

Speaking from the historic main starboard deck, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur received Japan's unconditional surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, marking the formal end of World War II, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger called the recommissioning "a day to celebrate the rebirth of American sea power after years of dangerous neglect."

Weinberger called the 887-foot battleship, which has been modernized at a cost of $475 million, a key part of President Reagan's plan to bring the Navy's strength up to 600 ships. The recommissioning, he said, was "one of the greatest satisfactions of my tenure."

Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who fought a political battle to have the ship home ported here, called the recommissioning "a profound statement for peace."

"Peace cannot be achieved by banners and slogans . . . but by vigilance. Weakness invites war," the mayor told 1,654 officers and enlisted men and 12,000 guests aboard the ship, docked in the shadow of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

A hundred yards away, a "Peace Navy"--about 20 small boats decked with banners that read "No to gunboat diplomacy" and "Give peace a chance"--patrolled waters around the ship's bow. A lone trumpeter played the theme to the "Mickey Mouse Show."

Weinberger recalled Gen. MacArthur's words on the day of the Japanese surrender 40 years ago: "It is my hope that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge, a world dedicated to the dignity of man. Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always."

But, said Weinberger, "The world has not lived up to his hopes, nor to the prayers and expectations of those proud seamen who worked Missouri's turrets and tended her boilers so that their sons might never know of war."

Margaret Truman Daniel, who christened the ship on Jan. 29, 1944, recalled the original launching of the Missouri. "I never did get the smell of champagne out of my (coat)," said the daughter of President Harry S. Truman.

Navy Secretary John Lehman dismissed criticism that the 58,000-ton dreadnought is an outdated relic that would just be a floating target despite updated weaponry. "It certainly is from another era," he said, "but it has the most modernized computerized weapons system that exists in anyone's navy."

The French Exocet missile, used by Argentina to sink a British ship during the Falkland Islands fighting, would bounce right off the Missouri's armor plating, he said.

The most dramatic moment of the ceremony came when Weinberger placed the ship in commission. On the command of Capt. A. Lee Kaiss, the crew, which had been standing on shore, ran in formation up the four gangways and took position aboard the ship.

While the Navy band played Sousa marches and "Anchors Aweigh" above the No. 2 16-inch gun, the crew set things in motion. The ship belched smoke and whistled, sirens went off and the turrets rotated, momentarily pointing the big guns at the crowd. A gun salute was fired over the bay.

Plan Met Opposition

Despite the pomp, the effort to revive the ship as one of five recommissioned battleships has been a heated one. A divided San Francisco Board of Supervisors fought for more than a year over Feinstein's plan to have the ship based here.

In 1984 San Franciscans voted by a 75% majority to support a nuclear freeze. Many critics of home porting the Missouri claim that the ship will be armed with nuclear missiles. The Navy, however, has refused to confirm that, saying only that the ship will have nuclear "capable" weapons.

A more recent tiff centered around who would keep the silver punch bowl bought in 1904 by the state of Missouri for the original vessel. Since the decommissioning of the Missouri in 1955, the 297-piece silver service has been on display at the Missouri governor's mansion.

Last-minute negotiations resulted in a compromise: The entire silver set would be returned to the ship. In return, the Navy agreed to lend the state the punch bowl set for formal occasions.

This week, the ship will head back to Long Beach for final work. Meanwhile, San Francisco will construct shoreside facilities for the ship's permanent berth at Treasure Island Naval Base. The Missouri is to return to San Francisco in late 1988 or 1989.

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