Ship shape

Pearl Harbor Kiwanians maintain a piece of history.

Story by Sam Stall
Photos by Kent Nishimura

Thanks to a strange twist of fate, Kiwanian Kay Tokunaga has become something of an expert on battleship maintenance. She’s secretary of the Kiwanis Club of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and for the last few years she, her fellow Kiwanians and kids from five area Key Clubs have spent one Saturday morning each month helping to keep the Battleship Missouri Memorial shipshape.

“It’s been a really worthwhile partnership,” Tokunaga says.


The memorial primarily consists of the decommissioned USS Missouri, a hulking battleship best known for hosting the Japanese surrender ceremony that ended World War II. Now a floating museum, it’s maintained by approximately 150 paid staffers, plus a swarm of volunteers—including the Pearl Harbor Kiwanians and their Key Clubbers.


Not that Tokunaga and company clean the entire ship. They’ve “adopted” its bridge and wardroom, spending their Saturdays buffing every brass surface (of which there are plenty) to a high shine.

“Polishing the brass takes a lot of elbow grease,” Tokunaga says. “But when it’s polished nicely, it’s just beautiful.”

Spiffing up every inch of Big Mo (the Missouri’s nickname) is beyond the powers of even the most industrious club, however. The vessel is 887 feet long, making it 332 feet longer than the Washington Monument is tall. “It’s very possible to get lost below decks if you don’t know your way around,” says Neil K. Yamamoto, a member of the Missouri’s full-time staff and vice president of the Kiwanis Club of Kaneohe.

Angelika Galanza, president of the Waipahu High School Key Club, has helped out for four years aboard Big Mo. She can attest to the intimidating scale of the ship—and to what a privilege it is to help maintain such a unique vessel.

“It’s something you can cherish,” Galanza says. “You get to visit over and over again, and you’re a part of something that’s important to history.”

Yamamoto makes a point of helping the Key Clubbers understand that role by taking them on tours below decks when time permits. As for Tokunaga, she prefers to stay in the spaces she knows.

“As many times as I’ve been on the battleship,” she says, “I still have a hard time figuring out exactly where everything is.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

6 thoughts on “Ship shape

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  1. One of our past presidents from the Carrollton Kiwanis Club(Floyd Hoskins) was Officer of the Day when Japan surrendered in World War II
    Richard Dixon
    Past Governor Georgia District of Kiwanis

  2. What an amazing opportunity and privilege to see and learn firsthand, what our brave men and women gave their lives for. Many thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Pearl Harbor and the Waipahu High School Key Club..

  3. In October on 2015 we took a trip from Kansas to Hawaii. When we visited this ship I noticed a Key Club member volunteering! I took her picture, but failed to get her name. It was such a pleasure to know they were working on the ship and she and I were part of the Kiwanis Family!

  4. I have sailed and served on the USS Missouri in 1951 and seen green water over her bow in the North Atlantic. Visited her in Hawaii last year and was pleased to see her looking spick and span. Many thanks to my fellow Kiwanians and the Waipahu High School Key Club for keeping the old girl shipshape.

    1. I’m no naval historian. But Google says that Yamamoto did indeed conceive the Pearl Harbor attack

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