The Daily Astorian is looking for some interesting stories from people who had experiences during the visit of the USS Missouri back in ’98. Here’s paydirt.
As a former Port of Astoria commissioner during the time when Big Mo arrived at the port docks, I was afforded numerous opportunities to board the ship, attend ceremonies, etc. As the Andy Warhol’s saying goes, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”. In my case, I got about 30 minutes with the late great Jim Bosley (Boz) on channel two’s AM Northwest show. I won’t go into much detail about my first time on television but it was incredibly interesting. From eating donuts and drinking coffee in the green room, to watching the the rest of the show from back stage was just plain cool. Not to mention getting interviewed about the Mighty Mo from The Boz.
It’s the story I didn’t tell on AM Northwest that nearly sent me on a free trip to Hawaii.
My adventure on the USS Missouri took place quite by accident and innocently. My good friend and former American Family Insurance agent, Chuck Patischal, who was a son in law to another good friend of mine, the late great Columbia River Bar Pilot, Paul Jackson, was invited to join Paul to cruise in from the Columbia river bar to the docking location on board the Mighty Mo.
Back in my wilder days, we would all join forces occasionally (ok, more than occasionally) at the Ship’s Inn for beverage and lie swapping. I can’t seem to remember what day it was, but on THIS particular day, Chuck entered the highly esteemed Ship’s Inn with what I can only describe as a “you won’t believe where I have been” look on his face. To put it mildly, he had a grin that stretched the better part of the bar.
“What’s with the big grin, Chuck?” I asked.
“Glenn, you will never guess where I have just been”.
“Gee Chuck, there’s not enough time in the day, spill your guts”.
“I just rode in from the mouth of the river on the Missouri”.
“Cool” I said.
Chuck went on to tell me about his adventure that took him throughout the innards of the ships hull from engine room to master’s quarters, into the war room, sleeping quarters, pretty much toured the whole inside. “It was pretty dark” he said. Chuck had his trusty flashlight though to see everything.
For those of you who don’t know Chuck, he has this unique facial expression that I commonly refer to as his “you wanna do something real cool” look. Well, long story short, this look appeared on his face and he blurted out “You wanna do something real cool?”
I said “Sure”. This my friends, was the beginning of what nearly became a perilous free journey to Hawaii.
Chuck and I jumped in his jeep. Five minutes later found us up front and personal with the USS Missouri. This large former warship which is famous for the historic event of the signatures that led to the end of world war 2 had just pulled up to the Port of Astoria’s pier one. The longshoremen were busy fastening the ship to the dock and I asked one of the forklift drivers if he would be so kind to give Chuck and I a lift up to the ship. He looked around to see if anyone would notice and waved us on to the forks and lifted us up.
Being on a ship of this size and standing on a deck that helped define American history is a humbling experience and I was overwhelmed. It was now obvious to me why Chuck was grinning. I found myself with that same ear to ear grin. For those of you who were fortunate enough to have been able to board the Big Mo, you know that feeling.
For the next 30 minutes or so, we toured the forward, mid, and aft ends of the ship. Chuck looked at me and said, ok, are you ready for the inside? He said he spent about an hour or so touring the inside of the ship with his trusty flashlight and that he would afford me the same tour. During the short stay of the Missouri, only the deck was accessible by visitors. The inside was pitch dark and off limits so to be able to tour the inside was a real treat.
We went into the ship at about 6pm. Chuck lead me through the engine room, galley, staterooms, war rooms, com rooms, and finally ended up in the sleeping quarters. I told Chuck that I was glad he had his trusty flashlight because it was a huge maze and without a light, it would be incredibly difficult to find your way out. The beds in the sleeping quarters are incredibly small. I decided to try one out. Yup, very small.
Then it went dark. I told Chuck that he could stop fooling around with the light anytime. He informed me that his trusty flashlight was no longer working and that the batteries had run out. He shook it a few times. It came back on. Phew, I got out of the bed and looked at him and said we better get out before the light really goes…..It went out again. This time it didn’t come back on.
There are varying degrees of darkness. There is the no moon darkness that you can barely see, the full moon darkness that you can see where you are going, and what I now call “the USS Missouri hull darkness” in which you can’t see anything at all. There has been no time before nor anytime since that I have experienced such complete darkness. I was a little freaked out.
“Uh, Chuck, do you have any idea how we are going to get top side?
“Glenn, this is not good. We could be going around in circles and never know it. If memory serves me right, there are few accessible ladders that head topside”.
I’m not the kind of person to panic. I am real cool headed especially when faced with difficult situations. I have been an on again, off again smoker who was currently off again. Fortunately for Chuck and myself, I still carried my lighter although my off again episodes usually started at the end my lighters life. One of those, out of butane? Quit smoking kinda things. I pulled the lighter out of my pocket and fired it up. We started moving out.
For the next two hours, we stumbled and fumbled our way around in the dark hull. Flick the lighter, move a few yards, flick the lighter, move. Finally, Chuck recognized we were in an area he had been on his way down. We made our way up and out. Man, was I ever greatful to see the light of day again.
What freaked me out the most was the next morning, they were going to secure the ship and that meant sealing the doors shut. We would have never been heard once those doors were sealed. Without that lighter, I am suspect if we would have made it out. No one knew we were there.
All in all, when I look back at the time the Missouri visited us, I still think about the feeling of awe I had when I first set foot on her deck. I’m glad that when I get old, I will be able to tell of my brush with history with the Big Mo and at the same time creating a little self history.