Tuesday, May 29, 2001

From the bridge of the battleship Missouri, guests can get a
sweeping view of Pearl Harbor that includes the USS Arizona
Memorial just off the bow. The 887-foot, 45,000-ton Missouri
and sunken Arizona provide poignant "bookends"
for U.S. involvement in World War II.

Missouri plans cables,
cameras for virtual tours
below its decks

By Jean Christensen
Associated Press

The battleship that served as the stage for the end of World War II is getting a high-tech makeover intended to give veterans and visitors a virtual look at its heroic past.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial, one of Hawaii's most popular tourist attractions since arriving at Pearl Harbor in 1998, stands as a poignant World War II "bookend" opposite the USS Arizona Memorial.

Nearly four years after its Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan surrendered to the United States on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Today the "Mighty Mo" is moored a few hundred yards from the sunken Arizona, which lost 1,177 crew in the attack.

But unlike the accessible Arizona memorial and visitors center, the Missouri, with its steep steps and cramped walkways, is a challenging tour for many -- including World War II veterans who are now in their late 70s or older.

For those not able to peek into every nook and cranny of the 887-foot dreadnought, a solution is in the works. The Missouri will soon be getting a modern-day makeover that will allow for "virtual" tours of the floating museum from the relative comfort of the main deck or a classroom on the other side of the world.

"The Missouri's bigger than all of us. Her story is so important," said Lee Collins, director of visitor operations for the USS Missouri Memorial Association, the group that runs the museum. "She's not only an American icon with a legacy of duty, courage, commitment; she's an international icon, and she talks about the world's commitment to freedom."

In what is billed as one of the most ambitious technological modernization projects undertaken for a World War II battleship, the Missouri will be wired with 35 miles of high-speed cable donated by Avaya Inc., the New Jersey-based communications systems company spun off by Lucent Technologies.

The more than $100,000 worth of cable will link nearly 200 video cameras around the ship to an on-board control center that will provide sound and images for information kiosks and allow disabled visitors to follow friends throughout the ship while they take a tour.

The cable will be concealed to preserve the appearance of the battleship, Avaya representatives said.

The cameras, valued at about $225,000, were provided by the security products manufacturer Ultrak Inc., Collins said. Microsoft is donating software, while Dell is donating computers and servers, he said.

"The donations are absolutely critical," he added.

Over the next two years, the system will be linked, piece by piece, to the USS Missouri Web site and other sites for online tours and live broadcasts of events on the ship, including re-enlistment ceremonies frequently held on the Missouri for servicemen and women.

At 30 information kiosks, visitors will learn about what part of the ship they are in and how it was used. Kiosks also will be included in an "Alternative Visitor Center" where visitors can view battle scenes and watch recorded interviews with veterans of the three wars -- World War II, the Korean War and the Gulf War -- in which the Missouri served before its final Navy decommissioning in 1992.

The beefed-up Internet presence will bring the "Mighty Mo" to far more than the 400,000 visitors the ship gets every year, Collins said. Still, nothing will ever compare to the experience of being on board, he said.

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