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Thar She Blows!

Military personnel honored the crew of the USS New Mexico at NMHM opening.

January 24, 2011, 1:00 am
By Mike Zolnick
This Sunday Jan. 23, the New Mexico History Museum hosted a special event to recognize the commissioning of the USS New Mexico nuclear submarine and a new installation honoring the crew of the WWI and WWII era USS New Mexico .

In the winter of 1919, the USS New Mexico set sail for France to assist the Allied Powers in the closing days of World War I. In the 1940s, she was upgraded and sent deep into the Pacific Theater to help battle the Japanese. Tragically, the ship was hit by a kamikaze strike in the early days of January 1945, but managed to survive well enough to assist with the Battle of Okinawa and manage a return trip to Boston. The New Mexico History Museum's newest exhibition, A Noble Legacy: USS New Mexico honors the ship, crew and New Mexico's newest namesake vessel.

In attendance at the opening ceremony were retired Chief Warrant Officer George Smith, who was crew on the USS New Mexico in 1932, as well as CDR George Perez, commanding officer of the new USS New Mexico nuclear submarine. Gov. Susana Martinez, who could not attend, prepared a statement read by New Mexico History Museum Director Frances Levine.

"The USS New Mexico was a decorated battleship which served honorably during two World Wars, transferring supplies to our troops and defending against further attack. For our contributions during World War II, she and her crew were awarded six battle stars," Martinez writes. "In addition to serving as an enduring symbol of wartime valor, the USS New Mexico also serves as a monument to the heroes who tragically lost their lives or were injured aboard the vessel."

In addition to the exhibition, which includes a hand-crafted scale model as well as artifacts from BB-40, the battleship is also honored by the coming commissioning of the USS New Mexico SSN-779. For five years, Navy officials have petitioned the commissioning committee to honor our state with another namesake ship. In December of 2004, the secretary of the Navy officially made his selection at a ceremony at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. 

"Naming New Mexico after our state is a huge honor. It was for the battleship and it is again now for the submarine. We see it also as a salute to all the sailors who served on Battleship New Mexico BB-40 but also a tribute to all New Mexicans who have served or who are serving in the US Armed Forces," Commander Perez says. "She is, as I tell the crew, the most powerful warship built in the history of the United States Navy, manned by sailors that are probably the most technically advanced and capable, intelligent professional warriors that anyone could ever serve with."

Even in the dark, metal corridors of the nuclear sub, a hint of New Mexico is present. The ship's cooks have been trained in New Mexico cuisine at La Posta restaurant, and Albuquerque's El Pinto keeps the crew continuously supplied with salsa.

"We are USS New Mexico. If you descended on board that submarine today, there would be no doubt who our namesake is. Everything we're doing now, we keep the state in mind," Commander Perez says. "We prefer to have the Land of Enchantment inside the submarine."

And, as a special bonus, Commander Perez has invited any and all New Mexico citizens to come and visit the ship themselves at its home port in New London, Conn.

"Everybody in here has an opportunity to get on the New Mexico. You just show up and show them your New Mexico driver's license and I'll get you on board that submarine," Commander Perez says. "This is your ship, I just get to drive it around for awhile. Your tax dollars went to build it, and your tax dollars go to pay the crew that runs it. And we operate with you in mind."

A Noble Legacy: USS New Mexico
Through May 7
10 am-5 pm
Tuesday-Sunday
$6-$9 (free on Sundays for New Mexico residents)
New Mexico History Museum
105 W Palace Ave.
476-5200

 

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