Tales of the Missouri

By Erenia T. Michell

The 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri were pointed at Japan’s Imperial Palace the day World War II ended and all were gathered on the USS Missouri for the signing of the Instruments of Surrender.

Truth or myth?

Missouri volunteer and regular tour guide Rich Costick says that there is no such thing as a common small myth.

“These usually start out as someone’s recollection about some facet of an event, and over time has been compromised into today’s myth,” said Costick.

While giving his tour, Costick gave light on a couple of these “Missouri myths,” and exactly how they could seem true, but are actually very false.

For those of you lucky enough to have the chance to visit the USS Missouri, anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawai`i, you can tour the ship and discover tales that didn’t make history books.

Were the Missouri’s guns really pointed at the Imperial Palace?

One of the truly big myths involve the main, 16-inch guns of the Missouri, and that on the day of signing the Instruments of Surrender to end World War II, the ship had those guns loaded and pointed at the Imperial Palace. The story goes that if the Japanese failed to sign the surrender, the US was to obliterate the palace. Costick said, “Anyone familiar with (General Douglas) MacArthur and his orders knew this to be false by the fact MacArthur had already proclaimed the Imperial Palace off-limits. And if you think about it a little more there would have been more than a few key staff officers killed if those guns were fired while they were on-deck.”

He adds that MacArthur knew that it would take the will of the Japanese people to rebuild their country, and without an Emperor and Palace it would not happen. Costick adds what was true is that B-29’s were flying over the Missouri at the conclusion of the ceremony at 9,000 feet, and loaded with bombs and were pre-assigned targets if the Japanese did fail to sign the surrender.

Did the Japanese really turn their backs on Japan?

Another myth had to do with Japanese representatives being told to face away from Japan as they signed the Instrument of Surrender. Which was to symbolically say they were now turning their backs on Japan. Costick said, “This is pure propaganda and no one I know can substantiate it. The Japanese representatives’ position on deck is simply how it happened and no one purposely positioned them that way.”

Did Cosgrave celebrate too hard and too early?

Currently Costick is tracking down a fairly new myth that concerns Col. L Moore Cosgrave who signed on behalf of Canada. According to Costick it’s rumored that Cosgrave had celebrated the surrender a little too much beforehand, and by the time he was called upon to sign the surrender document he was unable to do so, and in result, he signed the wrong line on the Japanese copy, which was quickly corrected by Lt. Gen. Sutherland (MacArthur’s aide). “There’s no way Cosgrave could have been obviously drunk,” said Costick. “MacArthur would have dismissed him on the spot and Canada would have had to find someone else to sign. I’m still researching this and nothing has been definitely concluded on this matter.”

Did the Emperor really knock his chair back after signing?

Another myth that surrounds the Missouri, and is mentioned on the tour by Costick, is of the Japanese Emperor going over to sign the Instruments of Surrender.

The story goes that when he got up he stood up quickly and knocked his chair back. Costick dismisses this as being untrue because pictures on the day of the signing do not show this happening, and had it been done, there would have been some proof that it did occur. In actuality, pictures show that the Japanese Emperor didn’t even sit down to sign them. (Look below!)

“One truth gets missed up with another’s speculation and you can see how the rumor gets started and years later gets told as a myth on the Missouri,” said Costick.

To learn more about the USS Missouri, and how you can take a tour yourself, visit its online web site at