Opinion

Remembering the movement of the Mighty Mo

It will be 10 years on May 23 since the USS Missouri was towed out of Bremerton on its journey to its new home in Pearl Harbor in a shameful exhibition of the Navy kowtowing to legislative clout and using chicanery to do it.

There aren’t many of us left in the original 18 who formed the Missouri on the Mainland group that fought for two years to keep the Big Mo here. We met every Thursday morning for two years and pulled every string possible in vain.

Our reasoning was simple. With an estimated 7,044,000 living World War II veterans at the time plus millions of men and women who worked on the home front to win the war, why not put the ship where it is the most convenient for them to visit?

Numerous cities wanted her, led by San Francisco, Long Beach and Pearl Harbor, but Bremerton had a head start since she was already here. The Bremerton Port Commission offered to put up $2 million to go with Kitsap County’s $4 million for the $6 million guaranteed to establish a permanent home if the Navy decided this was the place. Gov. Mike Lowry offered $3 million to signify the state’s backing. So what happened?

The various legislative leaders argued over where the money should come from, whether the bill should start in the House or the Senate and whose name should be on it. In the end the only bills with money in them for the Missouri died in the Senate. Local donors, other than Missouri on the Mainlanders, cooled off in their enthusiasm.

It didn’t help us that former President Truman said leaving the Missouri in Bremerton was like keeping it in a closet. Neither did it help when nearly 200 former Missouri crewmen were treated like poor relations when they came here for the 50th anniversary of the signing of the surrender document. The executive assistant to the PSNS commander seated the visitors in the parking lot instead of on board as they asked. He first denied their request to hold a reunion on board, then OK’d it for 7 a.m. and was persuaded to move it to 10. They deserved no special privileges, he said, because they were “fortuitous” enough to be on board 50 years before. They, of course, were outraged and publicly opposed Bremerton as the Big Mo’s final resting place.

The Navy set up criteria for making the award. But when Bremerton came out on top, the Navy added some more criteria and altered the method of scoring which put in the fix so Pearl Harbor got the most points.

And who just happened to be senator from Hawaii but Daniel Inouye, who also was chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee before which the Navy and other branches of service tremble. Inouye lost an arm in World War II so he is a genuine war hero. He’s like Lola. What Inouye wants, Inouye gets. He slipped $200,000 into the Los Angeles earthquake relief bill for papaya growers in Hawaii whose crops were destroyed in Hurricane Iniki. “Small amount, small papayas,” he told the committee. “You don’t mind, do you?” Of course they didn’t. Whatever you want, Dan.

Fellow congressmen said that when Inouye wanted something, it seemed important not to embarrass him. Besides, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton liked Hawaii’s proposal whereby the Missouri would be moored near the Arizona as “bookends” and called the “Beginning and the End” of the war exhibit. It didn’t matter that more Japanese tourists would tour the Missouri than Americans since they are Hawaii’s largest tourist group.

I got up in the middle of the night to see the Missouri pass by my house in 1998 but she slipped by me unseen, like a thief in the night. Just as well. That’s what her award by the Navy to Hawaii amounted to. Thievery. Chicanery at the highest levels.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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