Landing Mo took
mighty long time
The dream of a floating battleshipBy Gregg K. Kakesako
museum is becoming a reality
It began with a lunch at Waialae Country Club in February 1994, that grand plan to permanently berth the USS Missouri here as a floating museum. Businessman Ed Carter paid the tab.
As retired Adm. Ron Hayes recalled recently: "I think we conned Ed (Carter) to lunch after talk started that the Iowa-class battleships might be available.
"It struck me that this famous battleship would make a major contribution to Hawaii. It would serve the Navy if it was maintained well and would portray the Navy in a good light and stress the importance of the Navy."
Now, more than four years later, after battles with federal agencies and in the halls of Congress, three Navy veterans on Monday will see their dream of a floating battleship museum become reality when the Missouri glides through the Pearl Harbor channel to its final resting place at Ford Island.
After that 1994 lunch, Hayes used a Washington, D.C., business trip to feel out U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who was to become a pivotal player in Hawaii's fight against the odds to bring the battleship here, as well as other members of Hawaii's congressional delegation.
"We got a lot of encouragement and decided to form a board," said Hayes, a four-star admiral who headed U.S. Pacific Forces from 1985 until his retirement in 1988.
"We allowed ourselves six months to get this job done and four years later, it's finally finished."
Also at the Waialae lunch was Harold Estes, a 21-year Navy veteran and former president of the local chapter of the Navy League.
"These guys were sitting around talking about it," said Estes, 84, "and I said why don't we just do it."
"The ships then were just laying in mothballs and were being wasted. I had been through this process with the USS Bowfin and I believe, and I will always believe, that ships lying in mothballs that will never be used again should be turned into museums."
The desire to berth the 887-foot battleship at Pearl Harbor was not a new one. A decade earlier in 1984, the Navy League, retired Navy personnel and community leaders led by then-Gov. John Waihee successfully lobbied the Pentagon to get the newly recommissioned Missouri stationed at Pearl Harbor.
That was targeted for 1988, and the Navy constructed a massive pier -- Foxtrot 5 -- at Ford Island in anticipation of the move. But budget realities in the post-Cold War era ended that dream, and the Missouri was decommissioned in 1992.
Roy Yee, current president of the USS Missouri Memorial Association and whose family business involved shipboard work and overhauls, was active in both campaigns.
"The idea then was to get more ships homeported here," said Yee, 54, recalling the Homeport Hawaii Task Force effort in 1984.
"If Pearl Harbor was full of work, we believed some of it would overflow into the private sector. You have to remember that President Reagan at the time was talking about a 600-ship Navy."
Carter, who retired from the Naval Reserve as a commander in 1971, said the USS Missouri Memorial Association from "the beginning was firmly committed that the ship should be a museum in Pearl Harbor.
"That's what we promised Dan (Inouye), that it would first and foremost be a memorial," Carter added. He also said that without Inouye's support, the Missouri would still be on the mainland.
"Dan was our champion in Washington," Carter said. "Whenever we needed help, we went to Dan."
Other people cited by Carter as major players in what initially was a volunteer effort were developer Jerry Kremkow; Mike Lilly, former president of the local chapter of the Navy League; retired Vice Adm. Bob Kihune; retired Navy Capt. Al Ross, who helped shepherd the association's application through the Pentagon; and former state Rep. Fred Hemmings.
Inouye's interest in the Missouri as a memorial dates back to December 1991 during the battleship's last visit to Hawaii for the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"I realize many, many people will visit her," said Inouye, who lost his right arm fighting the Germans in 1945. "But it should not be a tourist attraction. Just as those who built the Tomb of the Unknowns didn't plan on it being an attraction. It's a memorial. You go there to pay your respects."
In September 1995, Kremkow stepped down as head of the Missouri Association after trying unsuccessfully to steer it toward a more commercial venture by berthing it at Aloha Tower rather than in Pearl Harbor.
Yee, Carter and Hayes all agree the hardest part of their endeavor was dealing with the bureaucratic process surrounding historical preservation issues.
"The other surprise," said Hayes, "was the resistance of the National Park Service."
Park Service officials were fearful that berthing the Missouri "just a battleship length" away from the USS Arizona Memorial, whose operations it oversees, would detract from the grave site.
Hayes said he was surprised because the members of his group would never "tolerate anything that would detract or degrade or have any negative impact on the Arizona." Since then, the Park Service, the Navy and the association have worked out an agreement aimed at heading off any noise or other problems.
There also were attempts by Washington state's congressional delegation to keep the Missouri in the Puget Sound area.
"It was an enormous threat," Hayes said. "But Sen. Inouye came to our rescue."
"It's been 14 years of pain and misery," said Yee. "But in the end, it's worth it."
Mos arrival just a startBy Gregg K. Kakesako
for Missouri Association
Sometime next year the USS Missouri Association hopes to move most of its operations to the wardrooms of the battleship as it sits moored at Ford Island.
"Wouldn't that be some address?" said Roy Yee, president of the association.
Yee, one of eight paid staffers, expects the association to grow to nearly 40 in the near future as it moves toward its goal of converting the battleship into a floating museum.
The group is now housed on Nimitz Highway near Pier 35, sharing office space with KEMS, a marine electronics firm owned by Yee's family.
Possible aloha shirts with a battleship motif, ball caps, posters with varying designs and other Missouri memorabilia are scattered throughout the Nimitz office. "We are already getting phone and mail orders for Missouri memorabilia and we aren't ready," Yee said.
A lot of the interest was generated by the USS Missouri's successful one-week layover in the Oregon resort town of Astoria this month, where more than 57,000 tourists visited the battleship. An additional 60,000 tourists traveled to the city on the Columbia River but weren't able to get on the ship.
Association Chairman Ed Carter said the association was mainly a volunteer effort until late 1995 when Yee, involved since 1984 in two efforts to bring the Missouri here, was hired.
The association is now working with $8.1 million in loans secured from various groups and state agencies to tow the battleship from the Pacific Northwest and prepare it for its January opening. These included $5.5 million in pledges from a local banking consortium, headed by Bank of Hawaii's Larry Johnson; $1 million from the Hawaii Business Roundtable; $1 million from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and $600,000 from the local chapter of the Navy League.
The association also is preparing to undertake a national $25 million fund-raising campaign.
It hopes to accommodate requests for promotion, retirement and change-of-command ceremonies within its refurbishment schedule.
"What we want to do," Yee said, "is to continue traditional Navy ceremonies and events. Prior to the opening, however, we have to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis and ensure they don't get in the way of the process of preparing the ship."
Once the Missouri is open for public display, Yee said the association will incorporate these ceremonies into its daily operations.
"We want to do this to bring life to the ship. These ceremonies can be part of the visitors' experiences."
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