Like many Oahu residents, I have visited the USS Missouri several times. And I never tire of seeing the big dent in the starboard side, deck level, a little aft of midship.
I always imagine the scene of the Japanese kamikaze (divine wind) plane smashing into the ship in a fiery crash, and the casualties it must have caused.
But I just learned from a visiting Big Mo “plank owner” (original crew) that such was not the case.
Skylar Fredrickson, a farm boy from Worcester, Mass., joined the Navy at age 17 – he’s now 85 – to serve his country and to a learn a trade. He was aboard the battleship in the South Pacific during a particularly fierce battle.
As a member of the ship’s R Division (Repair) his “battle station” assigned him to a Damage Control position near the ship’s stern.
“Sky” saw the incoming suicide plane just in time to dive for cover behind a gun turret.
Fortunately, the kamikaze pilot misjudged his dive.
Instead of his plane slamming into a hard, flat surface, it hit at an angle at deck level. Half of the wreckage, with one wing and the pilot, scattered onto the deck, the other half fell into the water – miraculously, it didn’t explode.
The ship’s captain insisted the Japanese pilot be buried honorably. His burial at sea in a canvas bag was as dignified as that of a Missouri crewman, but had to be rushed because of another incoming raid.
Again Sky manned his battle station, again anti-aircraft guns blazed away, but this time a kamikaze plane screamed over his station at 50 feet and crashed harmlessly into the sea.
Another miraculous miss. After the damage to the ship had been mopped up and repaired, Sky took a pair of metal cutters to the big red ball (the Japanese aircraft insignia) on the wrecked wing and cut strips to distribute to his shipmates as souvenirs of the battle.
Of course, Sky was not only proud of “Big Mo’s” fighting prowess, but also of the fact that ultimately it was the site of the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, which formalized America’s victory in World War II.
Sky literally had a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings. From a perch “12 stories up” he witnessed Nimitz, Halsey and McArthur receive the sword of the Japanese military representative as they all signed the surrender documents – a chickenskin moment.
I interrupted Sky’s animated narration just long enough to ask him, “Why do you think you survived all those harrowing days aboard the Mighty Mo? How did you do it?” He thought for a second, and then in typical Greatest Generation humility said, “Oh, I was just lucky!”