Monday, August 31, 2009

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) | The “Mighty Mo,” the World War II battleship best known for hosting the formal surrender of Japan in 1945, is heading to the shipyard for repairs.

The USS Missouri, now a decommissioned vessel called the Battleship Missouri Memorial, will leave its historic spot at Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor in October.

The move will come shortly after the vessel hosts a ceremony Wednesday marking the 64th anniversary of Japan’s surrender. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Democrat, and retired Lt. Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson, newly sworn in as assistant secretary of defense, are scheduled to speak at the event.

At least 20 World War II veterans are expected to attend, including 89-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor Edward F. Borucki of Southampton, Mass.

“It’s a sentimental journey,” Mr. Borucki said, who lost 33 shipmates when a Japanese torpedo and bombs hit the USS Helena.

The 65-year-old ship is in good shape, but it still needs to go to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for repairs because rust is protruding from peeling paint in some areas and the teakwood deck is warped and bent in others.

The warship’s exterior is due to be sanded down and repainted in a $15 million overhaul paid for by memorial reserve funds and a Department of Defense grant.

“Rust never sleeps, as they say,” said Michael Carr, the memorial’s president. “It’s a big job. It has to be done.”

Most of the work will be done after the 887-foot ship is put into a closed dock and the water around it is drained. This will allow workers to paint the entire hull, even parts that are normally submerged. However, some of the repairs have already begun pierside. Tourists visiting the ship now can see scaffolding encircling the ship’s mast.

Memorial officials have started warning Hawaii tour operators they’ll be shut down for three months starting in mid-October. The historic ship is due to return to Pier Foxtrot 5 in early January and resume welcoming visitors shortly after. More than 400,000 visitors tour the vessel each year.

Today, the ship is moored just a few hundred yards away from the USS Arizona, a battleship that sank in the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with more than 1,100 sailors and Marines on board. Visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial - a white open-air structure straddling the sunken hull of the Arizona - have a view of the Missouri’s bow.

“The juxtapositioning of us in such proximity with the Arizona is a really startling and dynamic symbol of the beginning and the end of World War II, and all the sacrifices that were made in between,” Mr. Carr said.

Japan surrendered Sept. 2, 1945, during a solemn ceremony in Tokyo Bay that lasted just 20 minutes. Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed for the Allied powers, while Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Chester Nimitz signed for the U.S., and Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, chief of the Army General Staff, signed for Japan.

Copies of the surrender documents are on display today on the deck where they were signed.

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