Commissioning a ship is a big deal

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Commissioning of the new USS New Mexico too place on March 27,  at Norfolk Naval Base, in Virginia.

Commissioning a U.S. Navy ship is a big deal. While the Navy provides the ship, crew and pier, it is up to the state’s commissioning committee to assure the commissioning is a world-class event.

The commissioning isn’t just a ceremony at the pier. It includes a party for the crew and families, a commanding officer’s luncheon for the ship’s sponsor, a platform briefing breakfast and a reception after the commissioning ceremony.

The USS New Mexico’s commissioning committee is part of the Navy League’s New Mexico Council. It worked for two years, with the help of our congressional delegation and governor, to convince the Navy to name its next nuclear submarine the USS New Mexico.

Since then, it has worked for more than five years to set up the commissioning and raise the money to pay for the functions. It is requesting donations of $25 or more from those interested in making this a world-class ceremony.

The state of New Mexico is donating two silver plates from the 56-piece collection of sterling silver by Tiffany which was given to the first USS New Mexico by the 1917 New Mexico Legislature.

Soon after, the first USS New Mexico was chosen as the flagship of our newly-organized Pacific Fleet. When war in the Pacific threatened in 1940, her base became Pearl Harbor. But in mid-1941, activity became even hotter in the Atlantic, protecting our Eastern seaboard.

And that is how the New Mexico missed the attack at Pearl Harbor. Following the December 7 attack, she was recalled to the Pacific and with her New Mexico-class sister ships, the Idaho and the Mississippi, were the primary source of surface defense of our West Coast.

By the summer of 1942, Pearl Harbor had been repaired and the United States was ready for action in the Pacific. The New Mexico’s first action was in the Gilbert Islands, followed by the Marshall Islands, the Solomons and the Marianas.

Then came the retaking of the Philippines. The pre-landing bombardment of Luzon began on Jan. 6, 1945, perhaps appropriately, the state of New Mexico’s 33rd birthday. The sky was full of kamikaze planes. A suicide hit on her bridge killed the commanding officer and 29 others, with 87 injured. The remaining crew made emergency repairs and her guns remained in action until our troops got ashore on January 9.

After repairs at Pearl Harbor, she headed to Okinawa for the invasion there. This time the enemy threat was from suicide boats. On May 11, she destroyed eight of them. The following evening, the New Mexico was attacked by two kamikazes. One plunged into her. The other hit her with its bomb.

In the resulting fires, 54 men were killed and 119 wounded, but she continued to fight. On May 28, she departed for repairs in the Philippines to be readied for the invasion of Japan. On Aug. 15, while sailing toward Okinawa, she learned of the war’s end. On Sept. 2, she entered Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender.

That is a proud history to be passed on to the next USS New Mexico, a fast-attack nuclear submarine. The Navy likes to name its ships after former ships that carry a proud history. It’s good for building spirit.

An interesting coincidence occurred in 2006 when Cmdr. Robert Dain, a 1982 graduate of Albuquerque St. Pius High School, became the first commander of our new submarine. That isn’t the way the Navy chooses its commanders but it is fortunate to have occurred.

Among those attending the commissioning events from new Mexico were state Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti, director of the state History Museum Dr. Frances Levine, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings of Roswell and Sen. William Payne, of Albuquerque, who is Senate Republican whip and a retired Rear Admiral.

Donations to the Navy League New Mexico Council, a 501c3 organization, can be mailed to P.O. Box 91554, Albuquerque, NM87199.

E-mail Jay Miller at  insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.