There are often twists and turns of fate that happen during wartime. Some of those took place on Jan. 6, 1945. That day was also the 33rd anniversary of the admission of New Mexico as the nation’s 47th State. World War II had been raging for more than three years and the state was playing an integral role in the war effort. This included the top-secret Manhattan Project that would ultimately force the surrender of Japan. Half a world away, the state’s namesake battleship, the 32,000-ton USS New Mexico (BB-40), was engaged in a fierce and bloody battle to retake the Philippine island of Luzon.
The naming of a Navy warship after New Mexico was an important tribute to the newly admitted state, which had joined the Union on Jan. 6, 1912. USS New Mexico was launched on April 23, 1917, and commissioned on May 20, 1918. The new battleship incorporated numerous advances, including a revolutionary turbo-electric system of propulsion and an improved main battery of twelve 14-inch guns that fired 1,400 pound shells.
The loss of the Philippines had brought the war painfully home to New Mexico early in the conflict. In what turned out to be a fateful decision, 1,816 soldiers of the New Mexico National Guard 200th and 515th Coast Artillery had been deployed to the Philippines in September 1941. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the next day invaded the Philippines. Nearly half of the New Mexico National Guard soldiers would not survive to return home, with many perishing in the infamous Bataan Death March.
Three years later, the tide of the war had turned dramatically against the Japanese. The Americans under the command of Douglas MacArthur were engaged in a campaign to retake the Philippine island of Luzon and its capital, Manila. In another twist of fate, the USS New Mexico was in the thick of the action to retake Luzon, site of the Bataan Death March.