That was Nancy Wood’s reaction to reading about the “All Hands on Deck” program offered last December by Road Scholar at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.
In addition to working daily on the USS Missouri — the battleship where the U.S. War with Japan formally came to an end with a signing of the official surrender — the participants would be spending the night of Dec. 6 onboard the battleship, waking up on the anniversary of the Japanese attack exactly where the bombs were falling the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
For Wood, who loves history, is a retired history teacher and an active member of the Washington Historical Society, that’s all she needed to know. She signed up for the program right then and there.
“It was very cool,” Wood told The Missourian of her experience. “It was the highlight of the trip.”
Maintaining the ‘Mighty Mo’
The “All Hands on Deck” program is just one of some 5,500 offered across the United States and in 150 other countries by Road Scholar, whose educational adventures are created by Elderhostel, the nonprofit world leader in lifelong learning since 1975. Alongside local and renowned experts, participants experience in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning opportunities, from cultural tours and study cruises to walking, biking and more.
“All Hands on Deck” is about maintaining the USS Missouri, nicknamed “Mighty Mo,” said Wood. The battleship, which was in the process of being built in Brooklyn, N.Y., when Pearl Harbor was attacked, was christened and commissioned in 1944 and sent quickly to the Pacific Theater, where she fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
After World War II, the Mighty Mo went on to fight in the Korean War (1950-’53) and the Persian Gulf War (1991).
Now decommissioned and docked at Pearl Harbor, the Mighty Mo belongs to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and relies upon volunteers to keep her maintained, said Wood. The Road Scholar group was one of many that worked on the ship at different times of the year.
“They have a few people full time paid staff, but they also get a lot of volunteers from different places,” Wood noted.
The work the Road Scholars group did wasn’t really all that strenuous, said Wood. There were 27 participants, all adults from all over the country, in the program. Wood was assigned to a group of five whose job it was to clean a wooden sign bearing the ship’s name with brass letters.
“It was about 6 or 7 feet long with brass letters on it that said ‘USS Missouri BB63, Battleship Built,’ ” said Wood, explaining the “Mighty Mo” was the 63rd battleship that the United States ever built.
“We took it off the bow of the ship. Took it back to the work area at the back of the ship, took the brass letters off, cleaned them up, sanded down the wood, put about five or six coats of polyurethane on, put the cleaned up letters back on and hung it back up.
“It took us all week,” she said with a laugh.
Her group also replaced the state flags displayed at the stern of the ship. The flags get replaced twice a year, Wood noted.
Other members of the Road Scholar group did some painting jobs and also worked on refinishing the teak deck wood. New decks were being laid, but the old wood was going to be used in other ways, said Wood.
The daily routine for the participants began with breakfast at 6 a.m. and a bus ride from the hotel to Pearl Harbor that left promptly at 7 a.m.
“We were always on the deck or the pier area by 8 a.m.,” said Wood. “They either gave us money for lunch or provided lunch.”
The workday was over by 3:30 p.m. each day. Throughout each day, tourists were coming and going on the ship.
The people Wood met in the program made the experience as interesting as anything else.
“One of the people in our group, George from New York, he actually served on the Missouri,” she said. “He had some interesting stories. He didn’t serve during World War II, he did later, but he was probably the oldest guy in the group and he did everything everyone else did, up and down the stairs on ship.”
She also met a man at the USS Utah memorial who was a Pearl Harbor survivor.
“He had been on the Utah during the attack and made it off,” said Wood, noting the Utah was the first ship hit in the attack on Dec. 7. “There are about 54 people buried with the ship.”
‘Very Emotional, Neat Ceremony’
Wood’s “All Hands on Deck” program ran Dec. 4-11. Accommodations were at a hotel a block off Waikiki Beach, except for the night of Dec. 6.
That evening, the group was treated to behind the scenes tours of the ship. They visited the officer’s wardroom and radio room, where the word of Japanese surrender was sent to other ships throughout the fleet; they visited the chief petty officer’s legacy center, the barbershop, the brig, the sick bay and operating room.
And although it was the opportunity to sleep onboard the Missouri that brought Wood on the trip, the reality of it was very unglamorous. The sleeping accommodations were so narrow and small that George, the man who had served on the Missouri, had trouble getting in and out of his bed, said Wood, so they let him use the admiral’s quarters.
Everyone else did their best sleeping in the middle of three bunks.
“None of us slept really well,” said Wood. “It was hard. It was so narrow.
“We all talked about how much appreciation we had for the sailors who had served.”
The group didn’t have a lot of time to worry about their quality of sleep since they were awakened at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 7 so they could get to the commemoration event by 5:45 a.m.
“It was open to the public, but there was limited seating, so they wanted to give us breakfast on the pier and take us over to the visitors center,” said Wood.
This was the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a moment of silence was observed at 7:55 a.m., the exact moment the attack began. A U.S. Navy ship rendered honors to the USS Arizona followed by a “missing man” formation flight over the memorial.
The main speaker at the ceremony was Max Cleland, secretary, American Battle Monuments Commission, who is a Vietnam veteran, former state senator from Georgia, former head of the Veterans Administration, former secretary of state for Georgia and U.S. senator.
“He gave a really emotional speech,” said Wood.
Other highlights included military band music, a traditional Hawaiian blessing, a rifle salute, wreath presentations, echo taps and recognition of the men and women who survived the attack and those who perished.
“It was a very emotional and neat ceremony,” Wood commented.
For more information on Road Scholar and its programs, people can visit www.roadscholar.org.