University of New Mexico students may notice something new in front of Zimmerman Library next time they are walking through Smith Plaza — if they are looking carefully enough.
Last Thursday, the ship bell of the World War II era USS New Mexico battleship was rededicated during its rehanging in front of Zimmerman Library. The bell previously hung from a turquoise metal frame above Smith Plaza before the plaza’s renovation over the summer.
The rededication ceremony detailed the history of the bell and included speeches from UNM President Garnett Stokes, Rear Admiral Mark Bipes, Greg Trapp of the New Mexico Council of the Navy League and the commanding officer of the current USS New Mexico nuclear powered fast attack submarine, Commander James Morrow.
The UNM Naval ROTC provided a sword arch for the unveiling of the bell. Also present was the color guard from the USS Constitution, Navy Band Northwest and the Junior Naval ROTC from Belen High School.
“It’s not many places where you’re going to have a university that has a namesake as a ship,” Bipes said. “And the University of New Mexico and the USS New Mexico kind of go hand in hand.”
The USS New Mexico was instrumental in the Pacific theater during WWII. Despite being hit by kamikaze attacks during the invasion of Luzan in January 1945, and later while on route to Hagushi anchorage in May 1945, she was repaired and continued to take part in the war and rehearsals of the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands.
The half-ton bell in front of Zimmerman is one of two that were aboard the ship. The bell would sound alarms or be used during sea burials of those killed in action by the kamikaze attacks.
USS New Mexico was decommissioned in 1946. It was sold for scrap in 1947, but then New Mexico Governor Thomas Mabry requested the ship’s two bells for the state and lent one to UNM.
“I hope (students) will recognize the really storied history of the U.S. Military, and particularly the Navy at UNM,” Stokes said. “I think it’s good for students to realize they’re at an institution that has a very long history, and of course that history has evolved, but our ROTC units and our Naval ROTC continue to be important presences on our campus.”
UNM’s NROTC program was started in 1941. Stokes said in her speech that the program has commissioned more than 2,000 officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.
Austin Horn, a junior and political science major at UNM, is a midshipman in the NROTC program. He said he hopes that any students who are curious about the bell will appreciate the tradition surrounding it.
“It’s really impressive seeing the history and just how many people, all the alumni came back,” Horn said. “I hope (students) will understand the significance of military traditions.”
Commander Morrow said he hopes the bell will serve as a reminder of naval service not only to those in uniform, but to anyone who happens to walk by.
“It’ll be a way to remember those folks who were killed aboard the ship,” Morrow said. “Bigger picture, it symbolizes the entire service record of the battleship, the thousands of people that sailed her.”
Tom Hanlon is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.