USS Missouri in drydockA veteran of three wars and the site of one of the most important treaty signings in U.S. history, the USS Missouri will celebrate its 66th birthday on Jan. 29. As is the case, however, with anything that's seen the better part of seven decades, a regular schedule of checkups and general maintenance makes a great deal of good sense, and with that in mind, the vessel was put into dry dock on Oct. 14 for the first time since it was decommissioned in 1992.

"It was definitely time," said Michael Carr, president and COO for the Battleship Missouri Memorial Association. "There was visible rust, and there were visible holes in the hull right around the water line."

About two years ago, the ship sprang a leak when a rivet underwater failed and flooded a tank. "We all agreed that the outside of the ship needed to be cleaned and repainted and the holes needed to be repaired, and that's what's happening," he added.

All told, the Missouri will undergo just over $18 million worth of refurbishment and repairs scheduled for completion Jan. 7. According to Carr, much of that money was raised by his organization with the help of donors, but most of the funding came from the federal government.

"We did get a $10 million grant from the Defense Department," Carr said. "And if it wasn't for that, there's no way we would have been able to afford this."

Even so, 2009 likely would have been the Missouri's best-ever attendance year since the Pearl Harbor-based attraction was opened to visitors just over a decade ago.

"If we'd stayed open for 12 full months, we would have exceeded 400,000 visitors, and we've never had that many," Carr said. "This summer, July in particular, was the busiest month the association has ever had."

With the total number of visitors to Hawaii down 5.5% year over year through October, the Missouri's record-breaking attendance figures might seem a little unusual. But Carr said the start of renovation work at Pearl Harbor's USS Arizona Memorial complex led not only to an unexpected boost in the Missouri's total number of patrons but those at the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin, as well.

"In May, because of all their construction, [the Arizona Memorial] moved their ticket distribution over to the Bowfin, where our tickets are also sold," Carr said. "We saw an immediate 20% increase in our numbers that day, and all of our other partners also enjoyed similar jumps."

When the Arizona's remodel is finished -- it is tentatively scheduled for completion in December 2010 -- Pearl Harbor visitors will continue to pay for admission tickets to all four attractions in the same location.

In ship shape

In the meantime, those interested in visiting the Missouri can look forward to a mid-January reopening and a few improvements designed with patrons in mind. Entry fees will increase to $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 4 to 12 but now will cover three individual and guided tour options, including a new Guide2Go tour featuring Apple iPod Touch units and video, audio and eyewitness testimonials.

Preparations are also being made for a Battle Stations Tour ($25) that will open up a range of previously inaccessible areas of the ship to the public.

"You'll be able to get down into some of the engineering spaces ... as well as going inside one of the 16-inch gun turrets, which is just fascinating," Carr said.

Launched in 1944, the 887-foot "Mighty Mo" saw action in World War II at Iwo Jima and Okinawa before serving as the site of Japan's surrender to the Allies in 1945. After serving in the Korean War, the ship underwent a $500 million modernization during the Reagan administration and later fired some of the first shots of the Gulf War in 1991.

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