Telling the story of the USS New Mexico
Albuquerque Journal, N.M. August 27, 2022
(Tribune News Service) — Although the battleship USS New Mexico was decommissioned in 1946 and scrapped shortly afterward, artifacts from the ship continue to bring it to life and, on Thursday, a number of items from the ship became part of the permanent collection of the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.
Among the items were a ceremonial ship commander’s sword, the commander’s napkin ring, copies of newsletters printed aboard the ship, a sailor’s cap and a 78 rpm recording of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” in the original cover — music piped over the ship’s loudspeakers.
The items were laid out briefly in the museum at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial in Albuquerque, where members of the Navy League of the United States, New Mexico Council, formally turned them over to a state history museum curator.
“It’s surprising that, in the landlocked state of New Mexico, so many people have served in the U.S. Navy,” said council president John Jones, who estimated that 20% of the state’s roughly 156,000 veterans served in the Navy.
Many of the items gifted to the history museum were in the private collections of Navy League members who wanted a larger audience to see and enjoy the artifacts. The items, Jones said, “are a link to our heritage and to the fact that New Mexico is tied to the maritime nature of our nation.”
Greg Trapp, historian for the Navy League’s New Mexico Council, donated many of the items from his private collection.
“I think they help tell the story of New Mexico,” he said.
The USS New Mexico was commissioned in May 1918 and was the first of its series in the New Mexico class of battleships and the first with turbo-electric transmission. At about 625 feet long, it was considered enormous for its day, said Trapp.
Known as “the Queen of the waves,” sailors produced an onboard newsletter called the “Queen’s Daily News.” A number of those newsletters are among the gifted items. An edition from Aug. 12, 1945, includes homefront articles written by a budding East Coast newspaper columnist named Ed Sullivan, who later went on to host a popular TV show that introduced Americans to the Beatles.
Another newsletter from Aug. 16, 1945, contains crew reaction to the surrender of Japan the day before and how the ship’s giant bell, which had been silent since the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, was finally rung.
That 1,100 pound bell, said Trapp, has been in the possession of the state since 1948 and is currently in the New Mexico History Museum. A smaller 800-pound bell was removed from the ship during a 1945 repair and wound up in New Mexico shortly thereafter. It is on display at the University of New Mexico.
Other gifts donated by Trapp included a USS New Mexico “flat hat,” also known as a “Donald Duck” hat or a “pancake” hat, a style of hat that was worn between 1918 and early 1941; and a USS New Mexico launch medal dated April 23, 1917, with red, white and blue ribbon.
Lisa Cummings donated the ceremonial sword belonging to her grandfather, John T. Warren, who assumed command of the USS New Mexico on Jan. 6, 1945, after a kamikaze attack killed the previous commander and 29 crewmen.
“I’ve had it since I was a teenager,” Cummings said. “My stepmother passed it on to me and a lot of my grandfather’s other memorabilia. Several of his things are on the new USS New Mexico,” a nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine launched in 2009.
“It was really important to me that people should be able to see these things because they’re so beautiful and because they are part of our history,” she said.
Cathy Notarnicola, curator at the New Mexico History Museum, said “there aren’t a lot of artifacts from the USS New Mexico, so we’re really pleased to accept them.” These items not only help tell the story of the battleship USS New Mexico, she said, but also help tell the story of the history of the state — “a history that most people don’t know about.”
(c)2022 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
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