Posted On July 14th, 2014 -

Veteran served amid history on USS Missouri14-b1-Lassen-DCX-ARCHIVE

Rosemarie Bernardo /

He say the last years of World War II from the decks of the battleship USS Missouri, a journey that included a kami­kaze attack and climaxed with the Japa­nese surrender in 1945.

One of the warship’s original crewmen or “plank owners,” Walter John Lassen, a chief gunner’s mate, died July 5 at the Queen’s Medical Center. He was 96.

The Waikiki resident is believed to have been the last Missouri plank owner living in Hawaii, said his son, Christian Riese Lassen.

Family members described Lassen as quick-witted and cool under pressure.

“He was a real inspiration to me on how to behave in situations that could be highly stressful,” said his son.

Lassen also was adventurous, traveling to Polynesia and Alaska. In his earlier years he worked as a commercial fisherman and was involved in masonry.

“He was a really, really amazing person,” his son said.

Born and raised in Marin County, Calif., Lassen joined the Navy shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

He underwent gunnery training at the Naval Academy and was in charge of the anti-aircraft guns aboard the USS Missouri, which was launched in January 1944. On April 11, 1945, during the Battle of Oki­nawa, a kami­kaze aircraft struck the side of the ship.


Crew members recovered the body of the pilot, and the ship’s captain organized a burial at sea the following day, according to the USS Missouri Memorial Association website.

Lassen was part of the burial detail.

“There’s a code of ethics where we honor each other,” he recalled in a April 2001 Hono­lulu Advertiser story.

On Sept. 2, 1945, Lassen was aboard the battleship in Tokyo Bay when Japan formally surrendered.

He was not far from the table where Japa­nese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shi­ge­mi­tsu and Army Gen. Yoshi­jiro Umezu signed documents ending World War II, said his son. Gen. Doug­las MacArthur was among the leaders of the Allied forces at the surrender ceremony.

Following his service in the Navy, Lassen owned a construction business in Cali­for­nia. He later moved to Maui and eventually Oahu.

Family members said Lassen will be best remembered for his smile, wit and charm.

“He just always had a happy spirit,” said stepdaughter Steph­a­nie Capllonch.

In addition to his son and Capllonch, Lassen is survived by wife Dolores Lassen, daughter Diane Winter-Lassen, stepdaughter Mela­nie Gambrell, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday at Valley of the Temples Memorial Park Chapel in Kane­ohe. Visitation will start at noon with the service to follow at 1 p.m.

Another memorial service will be held aboard the USS Missouri. The date is pending.</p>

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- Denotes U.S. Military Veteran