Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

2-14 Battleship NM Honored

MON, 2-14-11

SANTA FE - Not many landlocked states get to see a Navy exhibit but New Mexico is one of them as the state's history museum in Santa Fe honors the World War I and II battleship USS New Mexico as well as its newly commissioned namesake, a nuclear submarine that is the most powerful warship ever built.
New Mexico can be very proud of its two warships. The battleship New Mexico was ready just in tie for our entry into World War I. It is a tradition to name battleships after states and New Mexico and Arizona had both just become states as our nation saw itself slowly being dragged into World War I.
The first USS New Mexico was the first of its class of battleship to be built so subsequent battleships were called New Mexico-class. After World War I, the USSNM became the flagship for the Pacific Fleet during the 1920s. The designation turned out to be appropriate since New Mexicans distinguished themselves in the Pacific as defenders of Bataan and as Navajo code talkers throughout the Pacific.
The USS New Mexico made a quick appearance in the Atlantic in 1941 when German ships threatened shipping from our Eastern seaboard And that is how the New Mexico missed being at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The USS New Mexico soon was back in the Pacific, fighting in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Solomons and the Marianas. It finished the war as one of our nation's most battered battleships, having taken hits from kamikazes, bombs and suicide boats. But after repairs, it kept on fighting.
It was n its way for the invasion of Japan when the war ended. In recognition of its valor, the USS New Mexico was among the ships invited to Tokyo Bay to witness Japan's surrender. A touching picture of our battleship, with Mount Fujiyama in the background is on display at the New Mexico History Museum through May 9.
Also on display will be a 56-piece silver service commissioned from Tiffany by New Mexico's 3rd Legislature for $10,000. The set includes a cigar humidor in the shape of Taos Pueblo, along with 24 silver plates engraved with scenes ranging from Coronado to the territorial period.
Also on display are many relics of our battleship, along with a television documentary telling the old ship's dramatic story.
It is tradition inn the Navy to name war ships after previous ships that have served with honor and that the new ships carry items from their ancestral ship. Thus some of the silver collection and other items will be donated to the New Mexico nuclear submarine.
The new USS New Mexico will join the U.s. Navy's operational fleet in January 2012. Its homeport will be Gorton, Conn. It is likely to be stationed somewhere near the Middle East.
It isn't easy to get a second major ship named after a state. It took years of work by New Mexico's congressional delegation along with outstanding efforts by New Mexicans headed by Dick Brown of Albuquerque.
The captain of the USS New Mexico will be George Perez. During construction of the nuclear sub, New Mexico native Commander Robert Darin was in charge of the ship. Dain was born in Shiprock, where his father was a doctor. Later Dain lived in Tijeras and Cedar Crest. He graduated from Albuquerque St. Pius High School in 1982.
It isn't common for many of the crew to be from the state for which a ship is named. Dain was a happy exception. The crest of the ship also was designed by a New Mexico high school student.
New Mexico can be proud of the work done by New Mexicans to get our name on this new ship. Don't miss your chance to learn more about it at the New Mexico Museum of History, 113 Lincoln Ave., in Santa Fe.



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