Navy veteran tours first ship, USS Missouri
Nevada News Group
A Douglas County resident visited an old lady of the seas during Honor Flight Nevada’s first trip to Hawaii this month.
Jack Delaney, who served on the USS Missouri, or the “Mighty Mo,” as a young sailor in the early 1950s, and former state Treasurer Ken Santor, who fought in Korea with the U.S. Marines, received a tour of the Iowa-class battleship that has seen action in three wars, the last in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm.
“I’m choked up,” Delaney said when visiting the Missouri. “It’s been 68 years I’ve been aboard.”
Yet, the visit to the storied battleship wasn’t the first time Delaney, who’s in his early 80s, saw the Mighty Mo since it was dedicated as a living museum at Pearl Harbor two decades ago. Delaney said he attended the ceremony as a member of two organizations, the USS Missouri Association and the American Battleship Association.
Delaney and Santor walked the ship’s decks and climbed the stairs, reminiscing about the mighty ship where the formal surrender treaty was signed on Sept. 2, 1945, between the allies and Japan. They stood at the same spot for the signing.
“I’m emotional being aboard the ship,” Delaney repeated several times.
As a 17-year-old, Delaney said he felt bored with life and wanted to do something exciting. He enlisted in the Navy because the ships were clean. Once on a ship, though, he quickly discovered why ships sparkled in the sun.
“I found out who kept them clean,” he chuckled, referring to his fellow sailors.
Before the ship was towed in 1998 from its previous home of Bremerton, Wash., to Pearl Harbor, site of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, it spent a lonely existence without tourists walking its decks and recalling its history. Delaney said moving the ship to Hawaii was wise.
“It’s a piece of history,” he said. “They left her basically to rot in the Bremerton area.”
Delaney said the USS Missouri Association jumped in and scrubbed the Might Mo from stern to bow before it opened to the public.
The USS Missouri last fought in January and February 1991 and was decommissioned the following March. She finished with 17 years of active duty.
For Delaney, the battleship remains as his true love. Although he served on four other ships in a 20-year career — two aircraft carriers (BB-63 USS Oriskany and CVA-34; USS Lexington) and two transports — he emulated a child in the candy store while aboard the Mighty Mo. Curator Meghan Rathbun escorted Delaney, Santor and several other visitors to the operations room, the captain’s quarters, the sleeping area and dining. While in the captains quarters, Delaney flipped through a ship’s yearbook and found his photo, another moment that caused him to reflect on his service to his nation.
“As a curator, any chance to learn more about the war from those who experienced it is always enriching,” Rathbun said. “Jack and Ken, in particular, were incredibly excited to be aboard, and it made time we spent together absolutely fly by.”
Initially, Delaney started his career in engineering but branched out to become a corpsman. Their white uniforms impressed him, but being in action enticed Delaney, especially during the Vietnam War where he spent two tours with the Marines.
Being on the USS Missouri during the Korean War is the tie that binds him and 89-year-old Santor, who joined the Marines in 1948 but found himself in Korea in 1950 and 1951. Santor said the Marines depended on the 16-inch guns from the USS Missouri to provide them cover and to drive the enemy back.
“We landed in Korea during the first wave and went into many villages,” Santor said.
Flying into Kimpo Field (now Kimpo International Airport) near the capital city of Seoul, the Marines secured the city in mid-September 1950 in Operation Chromite, an amphibious assault at Inchon that involved about 75,000 troops and more than 250 seaworthy vessels. Santor’s unit returned to Inchon at the end of September and headed toward North Korea. The frigid weather stopped them in October at Chosin Reservoir, scene of some of the most horrific conditions the troops faced. Both the below zero temperatures and the Chinese and North Koreans armies proved to be formidable opponents.
“We still had all of our separate clothing, field jackets, gloves, boots and white socks,” Santor pointed out. “We went into a village near Chosin Reservoir. Hot food was brought to us as it was getting colder (minus 12 below zero).”
Nov. 10 also stands out for Santor when the temperature plunged to minus 40.
“It got pretty cold,” Santor said, remembering parkas were handed out before temperatures dropped.
Because he had been issued boots larger than he normally wore, Santor donned nine pairs of socks so the boots would remain snug.
“I was so cold,” Santor recalled. “The temperature stayed at 40 below, it snowed, and the Chinese came. Their job was to annihilate the 1st Marine Division.”
More than 120,000 Chinese soldiers descended into the area, far outmatching the 30,000 Marines and soldiers from X Corps and other Army units. Casualty figures were high during the month of fighting. More than 11,000 Marines and soldiers died, many of them freezing from the frigid Korean winter. Santor said some men froze to death in their sleeping bags. The American and United Nations forces regrouped and began to move out.
Santor was one of the lucky ones who survived and performed under pressure. He was awarded the Purple Heart with one star, Commendation Ribbon with combat V, Good Conduct medal and the Korean Service Medal with three stars. He also received other awards.
Meanwhile, the Missouri sailed off the coast of North Korea providing firepower.
“I was aboard the USS Missouri when it was blowing holes in Korea,” Delaney said. His thoughts turned to the thousands of men on the ground who died. “They were kids. They never had a chance to do anything in life. I can’t explain it.”
Delaney said the crew aboard the Mighty Mo also felt the frigid weather.
“I don’t know how they survived,” he said of the ground troops. “It just seems like such a waste.”
Delaney said the USS Missouri’s crew performed heroically.
“They are all ladies, every ship that has ever been produced,” Delaney said. “There’s a reason for that. They always need paint, always need more polish. What more can I say?”