Built into the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor is the tale of a vessel that wasn’t even there at the time. Within the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, among the memorials and exhibits dedicated to the Japanese attack on December 7th, 1941, you’ll find a peculiar vessel. You’ve read up on the history of Pearl Harbor several times but have yet to hear her mentioned in any of the accounts of the attack – so where did this “Mighty Mo” come from?
While it’s true the USS Missouri (BB-63) had no part in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the ship symbolizes the hope and victory that the devastation ultimately led to. Where did the Missouri come from and what part did she serve in World War II? Let’s find out with these fast facts about the ship affectionately called the Mighty Mo.
The Significance of the Missouri
The Missouri was absent from Pearl Harbor, specifically because she wasn’t launched until nearly three years after the attack, so what makes her significant enough to have her own place of pride at Pearl Harbor?
The Missouri may arguably be the most memorable battleship of World War II. On September 2nd, 1945 , the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific Douglas MacArthur, British Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir Bruce Fraser, Chinese General Hsu Yung-Ch’ang, Soviet Lieutenant-General Kuzma Nikolaevich Derevyanko, Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey, French General d’Armee Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, Canadian Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, Dutch Vice Admiral Conrad Emil Lambert Helfrich, and New Zealand Air Vice Marshal Leonard M. Isitt boarded the USS Missouri for a momentous occasion.
At 0856 on that day, the Foreign Minister of Japan, Mamoru Shigemitsu, boarded the ship for a 23-minute surrender ceremony, which marked the official end of the war. Allied sailors watched as MacArthur and the Japanese representative both signed the Instrument of Surrender. The Missouri will forever be known as the battleship where Japan signed its surrender, earning her a place in the harbor that also served as the starting point of World War II for the United States.
The Last Battleship
Launched in 1944, the Missouri was an Iowa-class battleship that, by the start of the Cold War, had started to have a diminished purpose. The Mighty Mo and her sister ships—the Iowa (BB-61), New Jersey (BB-62), and Wisconsin (BB-64)—were slowly becoming obsolete, being replaced by nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.
The Missouri was American battleship to have been built.
Beyond World War II
Though the Missouri served a unique duty at the end of World War II, that didn’t exempt her from taking part in future American conflicts. Before being decommissioned for the first time in 1955, she took part in bombardment missions during the Korean War.
After Korea, the battleship was decommissioned for 31 years. In 1986, she was brought back into service and modernized. In 1991, her new armament was put to use during the first Gulf War. and, during the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, hosted President George H. W. Bush for the anniversary ceremony.
There’s much more to be learned about the USS Missouri—inside and out—which you can do during a tour at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.