Bell from WWII battleship gets new home at UNM

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A piece of New Mexico history dating back to the early 1900s is about to get a new home. 

“Launched on April 23, 1917, the ship was commissioned on May 20, 1918,” said Gregg Trapp, talking about the USS New Mexico. 

It was a Navy battleship in service from 1918 until 1946. It was also the first ship to be named in honor of our desert state, yet traveled the high seas of the Pacific during World War II. 

“New Mexico earned six battle stars for her World War II service and was struck twice by kamikazes,” said Trapp.  

Dozens of sailors lost their lives in those attacks, but one survivor Randy Kennedy, is still alive today. 

“He’s in his mid 90s and he was from New Mexico and he tells a story of meeting one other sailor on New Mexico who is from the state of New Mexico,” he said. 

Greg Trapp is a co-author of the book “Images of America and USS New Mexico BB-40.” He said the ship was scraped in 1946, but two bells that sailed with it, were saved. 

“Ships’ bells have a fascinating history. They’re used to warn of fire. They’re also used to warn other ships of time of low visibility,” said Trapp.  

The bells are also used in ceremonies. They were both brought to New Mexico, and one has been at the University of New Mexico since 1948. 

That bell, which was housed at Smith Plaza for decades, now sits in a wooden box outside Zimmerman Library, where it will soon be unveiled. 

“I think the bell should remind all of us of the courage and commitment of those who have defended our nation past and present. That bell serves that purpose.” 

The helm of the battleship is also housed at UNM in the Naval ROTC building. The other bell from the USS New Mexico is on display at the New Mexico History Museum. 

On Thursday, UNM’s bell will be unveiled at noon outside Zimmerman Library. 
 

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