By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications
A unique piece of Utah and U.S. Navy history is returning to its home at the University of Utah. On Dec. 7, in remembrance of Pearl Harbor, the bell from the USS Utah (BB-31), previously residing outside the Naval Science building, will now be placed on proud display inside along with other memorabilia from the armed forces. State Rep. Steve Handy along with Capt. Mark Springer will host those wanting to attend at the Naval Science building at 10 a.m. on Dec. 7.
Originally commissioned in 1909 and completed in 1911, the battleship USS UTAH (BB-31) was the first ship in the U.S. Navy to be named after the state of Utah. She was part of U.S. action during the Mexican Revolution in 1914 and was stationed at Bantry Bay, Ireland, during World War I and protected North Atlantic convoys from German raids. Between the wars, the USS UTAH served in peacetime training on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and carried a major diplomatic mission to South America. After World War II, she was converted to a mobile target ship, reclassified from a BB to an AG, and all major weapons were removed. In the early morning of Dec. 7, 1941, she took two torpedoes in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and by 8:12 a.m., the USS UTAH rolled onto her side and sunk.
The bell from the ship resided in front of the U’s Naval Science building from the 1960s until last year when the Naval War College requested to borrow it for its 35th anniversary. It also coincided with the 27th anniversary of Tomich Hall, named after Chief Watertender Peter Tomich. Tomich earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the ship began to capsize, he remained below deck, in the boiler room, helping numerous shipmates evacuate and secure equipment. He remained at his station until overcome by flooding and damage. Tomich was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
In August 2016, the bell was cut from its mooring and transported to Newport, Rhode Island, and the Naval War College’s Senior Enlisted Academy. This facility prepares senior and master chief petty officers for the highest enlisted leadership and advisory positions in the Navy. As such the USS Utah bell was the perfect beacon to remind senior enlisted leaders of their heritage, responsibilities and the perils of life at sea.
Following its time in Rhode Island, the bell was transferred to Richmond, Virginia, for long overdue conservation. This one of a kind priceless artifact is an original operational piece of the ship. Ship’s bells are an important safety and signaling tool. The bell would have been used to communicate with other ships as well as help prevent collisions in inclement weather or restricted harbors. Bells are still used today on all Navy ships for a variety of purposes. The bell from the USS Utah will remain at the University of Utah at least through 2026.