The 800-pound battleship bell has been a fixture on the University of New Mexico campus for decades, yet not even Erika McFadden — a UNM sophomore and midshipman in the school’s Naval ROTC program — remembers noticing it before.
Now, though, it will be hard to miss.
UNM on Thursday rededicated the USS New Mexico bell after having moved it to a higher-profile setting as part of a recent $3 million renovation at Smith Plaza.
“It’s prominent — it’s right in front of Zimmerman Library,” McFadden said. “I think it’s some good acknowledgement that we do have those (ROTC) units here.”
Thursday’s ceremony celebrated both the ship itself and what UNM President Garnett Stokes called the university’s “long and productive relationship” with the Navy.
Commissioned in 1918, the USS New Mexico was “a technological marvel, so much so it was actually called the wonder ship,” said Greg Trapp of the New Mexico Council of the Navy League. He described it as 150 feet high, 624 feet long and armed with 12 14-inch guns and said it was the target of two kamikaze attacks, including one that killed its captain and 29 others.
The Navy decommissioned the ship in 1946, and UNM procured its bell two years later, initially installing it in the administration building. But construction there prompted its relocation in 1964 to the edge of Smith Plaza, where it remained until its 2018 move closer to Zimmerman Library.
“It is here in a place where it can be recognized and serve its intended purpose — that intended purpose is to serve as a reminder of the sacrifices of those who serve our country, past and present — their courage, their commitment, their dedication,” Trapp said.
Prior to Thursday’s bell unveiling, Stokes spoke about UNM’s larger ties to the Navy — from the Navy-funded research happening at the university to the campus’ 77-year-old Naval ROTC program. She noted that the university’s Naval ROTC has commissioned over 2,000 officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, including seven Navy admirals and two Marine Corps generals.
“That is quite a track record,” she said.