ONE day in February 1994, Ronald Hays, a retired four-star admiral who had headed all U.S. forces in the Pacific, said to Harold Estes, a retired chief boatswain's mate, something like: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get the Missouri here?"
How the USS Missouri
came to Hawaii
Four-star admirals have innate respect for chief boatswain's mates as the people who really get things done in the Navy.
Estes had served 20 years in the Navy, loving it with every breath he took, and had first served on the battleship California, later sunk at Pearl Harbor.
"Sure thing, (or something like that)," Estes told the admiral. Estes quickly added that they had to get Edwin Carter involved.
Estes, out of the Navy since 1954, had worked earlier with Carter on getting the deactivated submarine USS Bowfin brought to Pearl Harbor as the centerpiece of a submarine memorial complex.
Estes had gone for business community help to Lowell Dillingham, president of Dillingham Corp., then one of the biggest business conglomerates in Hawaii. Dillingham referred Estes to one of his key vice presidents, Carter, with the added word that Carter knew how to get things done.
Carter recalls he arranged to drydock the Bowfin in a Dillingham shipyard and accept in payment a promissory note. He told Dillingham the note might turn into a big charitable contribution by the company. But it didn't. The Bowfin caught on, and the note was paid off in full.
Later, Carter, who had been a Naval Reserve ensign at the end of World War II and later advanced to commander rank in the Reserve, called on Estes to open an office for the Honolulu chapter of the Navy League to help boost membership.
Carter conditioned his acceptance of the chapter presidency on Estes becoming its new and first paid executive. He, too, had a respect for chief boatswain's mates. Together, Carter and Estes took membership from 900 to nearly 2,000, starting it on a path now nearing 6,000.
When Estes called Carter about the Missouri, Carter invited Estes and Hays to lunch at the Waialae Country Club. "Cheap lunch," Carter recalls. "Nobody ordered booze."
The trio -- the admiral, the chief boatswain's mate and the naval reservist --agreed it might really be possible to get the deactivated Mo here. Hays was going back east anyway. He volunteered to talk to our congressional delegation (all approved) and to the vice chief of naval operations, Stanley Arthur, who had been a fighter pilot over Vietnam with Hays.
Arthur approved, too. He related that a Japanese delegation had startled him by asking to have the Missouri towed to Tokyo Bay in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the surrender ceremonies on the battleship.
Arthur said something like: "How come?" The Japanese replied that they saw the Missouri as a sign of a new beginning. The surrender, they said, opened the door to democracy, more freedom and prosperity for Japan.
This concept blended with the luncheon group's idea that Japanese visitors will be among those heavily attracted to visit the Missouri when it opens as a museum ship at Ford Island, and becomes a "bookend" to the Arizona Memorial. The beginning and end of the Pacific war will be dramatically paired.
THE initial three are quick to credit others, many others, with the final success of their effort. Sen. Daniel Inouye did heavyweight politicking. Roy Yee, another can-do person, came on board and now is president of the USS Missouri Memorial Association, which the three pulled into existence in March 1994.
It now owns the Mo. Hays was the first board chairman of the association. Carter now is chairman and Hays remains on the board of directors -- vowing that their ship, if well cared for, can long outlast "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution, now 201 years old.
Follow the USS Missouri online
as she heads for home at:
A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.