To mark another 75th anniversary this month related to World War II, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a new forever stamp that depicts the USS Missouri.
Most notably, “Mighty Mo” served as the site where, on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese and Allied Forces officers signed the official surrender documents to end World War II. Christened by Margaret Truman on Jan. 29, 1944 – an amusing story in itself – the Missouri also marked the last battleship produced for the United States Navy. It now serves as a museum ship in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, facing the Arizona Memorial.
The Postal Service's stamp will be dedicated Tuesday at a ceremony on the ship – 75 years after the Missouri was commissioned in New York Navy Yard. Designed by Greg Breeding, and illustrated by Dan Cosgrove, both of whom have produced stamps for the USPS, the stamp art depicts the Missouri from a near-sea level vantage point at a moderate speed, bearing the camouflage colors it had until a refit in early 1945.
The stamp will be available for purchase online at usps.com/shop or at Post Office locations nationwide.
Not the first or last Missouri vessel
A pamphlet from the Missouri's commissioning ceremony noted that the battleship was actually the third ship of the U.S. Navy to be so named.
The first vessel was a steam frigate launched in 1841. The second was a battleship launched in December 1901 and commissioned two years later. It served as a flagship and training vessel during World War I and was scrapped in 1924 in accordance with the Washington treaty limiting naval armaments.
The current Missouri battleship was ordered in 1940, the fourth of six fast “Iowa-class” battleships meant to combat Japan's navy, and its keel was laid in January 1941. Ultimately, the Navy canceled orders for the last two battleships of that class, as aircraft carriers gained more preference.
A fourth vessel named “Missouri,” a nuclear submarine commissioned in 2010, also is stationed at Pearl Harbor.
'Not in mood for launching'
In his book “Battleship Missouri: An Illustrated History,” Paul Stillwell said that in most cases, the honor of selecting a ship's sponsor belonged to the governor of the namesake state, who typically selected his wife or daughter to swing the champagne bottle and christen the vessel.
However, Missouri's incoming governor Forrest Donnell being a Republican and third-term President Franklin Roosevelt a Democrat, party apparently took precedence. Another possible motivation for the Navy, as Stillwell noted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: get in good graces with Senator Harry Truman, who had been leading the Senate committee investigating war production.
“Sen. Truman saw it as a natural part for his daughter to play,” Sam Rushay, Truman Library supervisory archivist, said of the christening.
The governor and his daughter received invitations to attend from Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly, the shipyard commandant, and Sen. Truman, respectively, but the governor replied that both he and his daughter had other plans that day, Stillwell wrote.
For 19-year-old Margaret, then a college sophomore, the launching ceremony meant her first trip to New York City, along with her first Broadway show the night before – Rodgers & Hammerstein's first hit, “Oklahoma!” – a late night supper and too much excitement to sleep, she wrote in her memoir of her father.
The launching ceremony was intricately timed, as shipyard workers removed wooden supports so that the last one would be jarred loose just as the champagne bottle hit the hull, allowing the ship to slip into the waters.
Too bleary eyed to realize at the time, Margaret later wrote, she believed the Navy men intentionally left her father less time to speak.
“The admirals on hand were busy revenging themselves on Dad for previous humiliations,” she wrote. “They rambled on and on and on,” and when the senator got to the microphone, “he had about three minutes to deliver a 15-minute speech. I never heard him talk so fast in my life.”
Admiral Kelly wrote an apology letter to Donnell explaining that the prepared remarks he had sent to be read were omitted because the admiral received word before Truman's speech that the launch had to be moved up five minutes due to wind and tide.
No matter the timing, when Margaret smacked the netted champagne bottle against the hull, the ship didn't move for another minute and the president's daughter playfully gave the ship a nudge, as if she might help.
“It seemed to have a mind of its own and was not in the mood for launching,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, the netted champagne bottle hadn't been properly scored, so it broke on the bottom instead of the side, and as the ship didn't move at first, when sailors perched above pulled up on the cord as instructed the bottle showered bubbly onto Margaret and Admiral Kelly.
The admiral was furious, Margaret thought it to be an accident and quipped “You're not the only one getting wet,” and her father perceived it to be another slight, Rushay said.
Coincidentally, another poorly scored bottle foiled then-first lady Bess Truman when she tried to christen a hospital transport plane in May 1945 and never broke despite numerous attempts.
Truman attended the decidedly lower-key commissioning ceremony in June, but deferred the principal speech to Missouri's senior senator, Bennett Champ Clark.
The surrender ship
In the Pacific, the Missouri's action included helped shelling the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The commanding officer was Captain William Callaghan, who had served on the previous Missouri battleship.
When the Japanese accepted surrender terms, Truman told his chiefs of staff he wanted the ceremony on a ship in Tokyo Bay, as it would impress the defeated Japanese people and minimize the chance of a fanatical attack. Not only was the Missouri named for Truman's home state, it also reportedly had the most deck space.
After the surrender ceremony, the Missouri took some homeward-bound soldiers to Hawaii, then returned to its first home in New York City. The Navy called it back into service during the Korean War, then decommissioned it in 1955 to Bremerton near Seattle, Washington. In 1984, it was reactivated and modernized as part of President Ronald Reagan's program to restrengthen the Navy. Margaret Truman attended the recommissioning ceremony two years later and gave a short speech.
The Missouri later served in the Persian Gulf War and in February 1991 hosted a president (George H.W. Bush) for the first time since Truman boarded in 1947.
In all, the ship received 11 battle stars before being decommissioned again in 1992. It returned to Bremerton until the Navy donated it to a nonprofit in Honolulu for its current use in Pearl Harbor.