As hundreds of spectators and photographers crowded the decks of the USS Missouri, representatives of the warring nations stepped forward to sign the Instrument of Surrender. Within 23 minutes, World War II had formally ended. Similar to any event, there were many preparations made prior to the morning of September 2, 1945. Crew members were tasked with specific duties and faced minor challenges that intruded on their plans.
British Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser sent over a mahogany deal table and two nicely upholstered chairs from the HMS King George V. The USS Missouri’s Commanding Officer, Captain Stuart “Sunshine” Murray, described the table as “a beautiful highly polished table about 40 inches square.” The handcrafted table was to be used to display the formal Instrument of Surrender.
As the morning’s preparations continued, General MacArthur and his staff arrived to the Missouri. With them was an Army colonel from Washington who had brought the Surrender Documents.
“It was the first time we had seen them,” said Captain Murray. “One look at these documents and you might say all hell broke loose! These documents were about 40 inches by 20 inches each and two of them had to be in line. Our beautiful mahogany table was 40 by 40! Couldn’t do it.”
He called over the four nearest Sailors and they headed for the wardroom. Intending to grab a wardroom table they remembered those were bolted to the floor. They dashed down to the crew’s mess where the mess cooks had just finished clearing the tables from breakfast. In a rush, they grabbed the first mess table they saw despite grumbles from the cooks.
On their way back to the main deck, Captain Murray yanked a coffee-stained green table cover off a wardroom table. The Sailors set- up the mess table on the veranda deck and laid the green cloth over it. “It really looked very nice,” said Captain Murray.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz had arrived onboard by this time; however, he was unaware of the table change. Later, when Captain Murray told him, he just laughed.
The ceremony proceeded and the historic moment passed.
After the high ranking officers departed the ship, Captain Murray went back into his cabin with his department heads. All they wanted at that moment, he recalled, “was a good stiff drink,” but they settled for coffee.
As they relaxed, it suddenly dawned on someone to secure the table, the cloth and chairs that were used during the ceremony. “That hit us all at the same time and we jumped up and dashed out on the deck, and no table!” exclaimed Captain Murray.
Crumpled up in a pile was the green table cloth and nearby were the British chairs. They carefully secured those in the Captain’s Cabin before heading down to the mess deck to look for the table. At that moment, the mess cooks were happily setting up for lunch. They anxiously asked them for the table they had borrowed, the cooks looked at each other and pointed, and so the story goes.
Today that table is proudly displayed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. However, there may be some room for doubt whether it is, in fact, the specific mess table used for the ceremony aboard the USS Missouri that ended World War II. As for the location of that beautiful mahogany deal table, well that still remains a mystery.