Seaman 1st Class Claude Henderson was assigned to the Admin. Department aboard Missouri during World War II and worked in the ship’s Post Office.
He was present aboard to witness the formal surrender of Japan and war’s end.
When he returned home, he brought with him a collection of keepsakes of his experiences, reminders of places, circumstances and events and people he would always remember.
Those items included ship’s newspapers, personal correspondence, photographs, a brief written chronology of events and his “surrender card”, a special keepsake given to all who witnessed the ending of World War II aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.
And, there was also a small cotton draw-string bag filled with stones.
All of these items were lifelong reminders that stirred memories of a period in his life that was like no other, reflections of personal experience of a time that altered his life and changed the world forever, events and circumstances and memories that would never, ever be forgotten.
As we meet with and talk with former Missouri crewmembers, and begin to understand and appreciate more clearly the impact of the experiences that these USS Missouri veterans lived through, we also begin to recognize the value and significance, as personal reminders of time and place, that these keepsakes represent to them.
Sometimes the items kept have obvious significance that is easy to understand and convey. Items that give insight into personal experiences and by extension help us gain a better, clearer understanding and appreciation of their life at sea, of their experiences during war.
At other times, the keepsakes are much harder to understand. They sometimes require our effort to fully grasp and appreciate their significance to the keeper, and to recognize their value to us as caretakers of this legacy.
For our current Crew’s Room exhibit, nearing completion, we are choosing carefully from among the many keepsakes that veterans of service aboard Missouri - from WWII to Desert Storm – have contributed.
The significance of almost all of the items that we are choosing to display can be readily appreciated without detailed explanation - almost all.
Among the items gathered and carefully kept by Claude Henderson for his entire life is the one item that initially baffled us - the small cotton draw-string bag filled with stones.
What it contains are a collection of half-spheres that he called “cat’s eyes” - that, we learned, he gathered from the shores of Tokyo Bay as World War II ended.
Imagine how he must have felt standing there at water’s edge, looking out over the deep waters of Tokyo Bay at war’s end, remembering another harbor on December 7, 1941, and remembering the four long tragic years of war that followed. Imagine how he must have felt at that moment. And imagine also what that small bag of stones meant to him for all of the years of his life.