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How The U.S.S. Missouri — One Of The World's Greatest Battleships — Connected Harry Truman To Cher

U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association
The massive guns on the the World War II era battleship could 'fire a 2,500lbs shell almost 24 miles away, with pretty good accuracy,' the president and CEO of the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association said.

The massive guns on board the U.S.S. Missouri are a sight-to-see, but it wasn't the ship's weaponry garnering all the attention on a late summer night in 1989.

The U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association is preparing to commemorate 75 years since the end of World War II, which is a good time remember the battleship is famous for more than just its massive, 16" guns and its role in the war. A concert on the ship created its own shock and awe.

Crowded about the deck of the battleship, U.S. Navy sailors donned their dress white uniform, cheering, as Cher stepped through the crowd wearing little more than a leather jacket, fishnet bodysuit and strategically placed strips of black cloth.

"The sailors loved it," Mike Carr, president and CEO of the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association said. 

A recruitment opportunity for the Navy, the chief of naval operations approved the use of the ship and its crew for the recording of Cher's hit song "If I Could Turn Back Time."

"He unfortunately didn't quite know what he was giving permission to," Carr said.

The live performance featured Cher dancing along side the crew with her near-bare bottom exposed. At one point, she's seen belting out the chorus perched high above the deck, straddling the barrel of one of the ship's enormous guns. The excited sailors eagerly shook their uniform caps at the singer who would occassionally place one on her head while strutting across the deck of the "Mighty Mo."

The racy music video created a sea of controversy, and forced the Navy to ban any future music videos from being filmed on board active ships. 

The provocative video was filmed on the same battleship that delegates from Japan's Empire boarded to surrender, marking the formal end to World War II.

The site of the surrender was an additional point of controversy for ship.

The battleship was the last to join fighting fleet during World War II. Sailors who had long been engaged in the war aboard Missouri's sister ships felt snubbed when the U.S.S. Missouri was given the prestigious honor to host the surrender ceremony.

"We were so angry," sailor Don Ross recalled 50 years after the ceremony had taken place. Ross served two years on the U.S.S. South Dakota. "That was our victory." 

Admiral William "Bull" Halsey who commanded the third fleet was also denied the opportunity for his own flagship, the U.S.S. New Jersey, to be the site of the ceremony.

"There was animosity between the two crews that lasted forever because of that," Carr said. "The Missouri got all the glory, and the New Jersey did not."

It was President Harry S. Truman who insisted the Missouri be the site of the ceremony. 

The Missouri was the last battleship commissioned by the U.S., and named for the then U.S. Senator's home state. At the time, a member of the war committee, Truman wasn't keen on military spending habits, Carr said. 

The Navy offered to name the battleship, "as a way to try to smoooth him out a little bit," Carr said. 

Truman affectionately reffered to the ship as his own, and when it commissioned in 1944, his daughter, Margaret Truman, cracked the ceremonial bottle of champagne on the ships bow.

The ship served in three wars, WWII, Korean and The Persian Gulf War before its final decommission in 1992.

"It's been characterized as one of the five greatest battleships of all time," Carr said. "The only U.S. battleship on that list."

The ship now serves as a floating museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, near the sunken U.S.S. Arizona.

Throughout August and September 2020, the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association will host a series of events to commemorate the end of World War II. The association has requested all servicemembers present during the ceremonial surrender attend the commemoration.

"It's significant because this will probably be the last time that we as a nation, can really honor the men and women of the greatest generation," Carr said.

Mike Carr spoke with to Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date. Listen to the entire conversation here.

Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer at KCUR 89.3; you can reach her at elizabeth@kcur.org.