U.S.S. Utah Bell

The bell in its current display

Write-up by Matt Peplin

Placed by: Naval History and Heritage Command

GPS Coordinates: 40° 46’ 0.408” N 111° 50’ 56.94” W

Historical Marker located on each side of bell
Plaque just left of bell from first image

Historical Marker Text: Main Ship’s bell from the USS Utah (BB-31) bronze with later painting of bell shoulder and lip. Originally installed suspended and used for ship functions and ceremonies. It is uncertain if the bell was still on board the Utah in 1941. Conservation treatment completed and bell reinstalled at the University of Utah in 2017.

Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command, Catalog No. 2016.048.001

Plaque Reads: U.S.S. UTAH 31 AUG. 1911 7 DEC. 1941

Bell Reads: U.S.S. UTAH 1911

Extended Research:

Built by the New York Shipbuilding Company, the U.S.S. Utah launched on December 23, 1909 from Camden, NJ. The ship was sponsored by Mary Alice Spry, daughter of former Utah Governor William Spry and commissioned August 31, 1911 in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The ship spent most of its early years as a training vessel, operating across the eastern seaboard from as far North as New England and as far South as Cuba. The Utah saw its first “action” in April of 1914 in Veracruz, Mexico. Its battalion at the time (17 officers and 367 sailors) successfully seized the Veracruz customs house, preventing the Germans from supplying arms and munitions to the Mexican dictator, Victoriano Huerta. Seven men were awarded Medals of Honor for their roles the operation. [1]

BB-31 during trials in 1911 (Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Utah reported to Bantry Bay, Ireland to help escort Allied convoys to the British Isles. Once the hostilities of World War I ended, the Utah participated in the honorary escort of President Woodrow Wilson to France (aboard the George Washington) for the eventual signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In the interwar period, the Utah continued a regular schedule of battle practices and maneuvers. On October 31, 1925 the ship was briefly decommissioned to undergo modernization, switching from coal to oil fuel, among other changes. Notably, the Utah transported President Hoover to South America and back in the winter of 1925. [2]

BB-31 photographed in WW1 with camouflage on hull (Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)

On July 1, 1931 the Utah, in accordance with the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, converted from a battleship (BB-31) to a mobile target (AG-16) in the Norfolk Navy Yard. The ship was equipped with a radio control apparatus that could adjust the ship’s speed and course without human hands, among other changes that made it more suitable for training exercises. As a mobile target, the ship was an invaluable teaching tool that gave US navy pilots a realistic objective to practice torpedo bombing, among other maneuvers. The Utah was instrumental in training the next generation of US sailors, who fought in World War 2. After transitioning to a mobile target, the Utah spent the rest of the 1930s on the west coast, primarily off the shores of California. [3]

AG-16 off the coast of Long Beach, CA in 1935 (Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)
Wreckage of the Utah in Pearl Harbor, February 1944 (Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Utah moved from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in September of 1941, the same place it was on the morning of December 7, 1941. The highest ranking officer on the ship at the time was Lieutenant Commander Solomon Isquith, who described the events as follows, “On Sunday, December 7, 1941, while moored at Berth FOX-11 Pearl Harbor, T.H., 3 planes whose identification were not questioned but taken for U.S. planes maneuvering, were observed just as colors were being hoisted at 0800, heading northerly from the harbor entrance. They made a low dive on the southern end of Ford Island and each dropped a bomb.” Isquith adds, “At about 0812, the last mooring lines had parted and the ship was capsized, the keel plainly showing. All men picked up by ship’s boats were taken ashore to Ford Island and boats ordered to return and pick up any men still swimming about.” [4] The Utah sank within the first 10 minutes of the events of Pearl Harbor. Its hulk remains there today. Six officers and fifty-two men from the ship lost their lives. [5]

AG-16 (or BB-31) represented the state it got its name from admirably, providing 30 years of service for this great nation. Some parallels can be drawn between Utah, the state and Utah, the ship. Like the ship, the state of Utah was used for training, preparing, and supplying soldiers for the realities of World War II. The Wendover Air Force Base and its surrounding salt flats helped prepare numerous American airmen and Salt Lake City served as a manufacturing and logistical hub for the army in the West. While the ship is often overshadowed by the U.S.S. Arizona in the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, the state’s WWII contributions are usually overlooked. [6] The outbreak of WWII (in the US) may have sunk the ship, yet the war brought in a tidal wave of jobs and economic activity to the state. The state’s fourteen military installations created nearly 40,000 jobs over the course of the war and the state’s population increased 25% from 1940-1950. The war also transformed the lives of the over 62,000 Utahns who served in WWII, with 3,660 Utahns paying the ultimate price for their nation. Perhaps the Utah and its now memorialized bell can serve as a reminder of the incredible hard work and sacrifice made by thousands of Utahns throughout this period of our nation’s history. [7]

The bell in its original display, outside the Naval Sciences Building on the campus of the University of Utah (Courtesy of the Marriott Library)

The U.S.S Utah Bell and Plaque are located in the Naval Sciences building on the campus of the University of Utah. It was originally donated to the University of Utah in approximately 1965. The bell arrived in Utah from Hawaii after then-Senator Wallace Bennett arranged for the Navy to ship it on an indefinite loan. Rear Adm. E.M. Eller wrote to Bennett on March 14, 1961, “My Dear Senator, the display of this fine relic should make a splendid memorial to the hardy naval [vessel] that bore the name of Utah for 30 years in our country’s service and to the gallant sons of the Beehive State who contributed so nobly to the heroic traditions of the naval service.” [8] The bell sat outside the Naval Sciences building until August of 2016, when it went back east for a stay at the Naval War College’s Senior Enlisted Academy in Newport, Rhode Island. The bell sat in Tomich Hall to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the facility, named after Chief Wartender Peter Tomich, who heroically went down with the ship in Pearl Harbor. After the brief stay in Rhode Island, it went to Richmond, Virginia to undergo a restoration process. It returned to the University of Utah on December 7, 2017 (the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack) and placed where it now sits, inside the Naval Sciences Building. [9]

[1] Cressman, Robert J.. “Utah I (Battleship No. 31),” Naval History and Heritage Command, last modified May 19, 2019. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/u/utah.html  

[2] Cressman, “Utah I.”

[3] Cressman, “Utah I.”

[4] Isquith, Lieutenant Commander S.S.. “USS Utah, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack”, Naval History and Heritage Command, report from December 15, 1941.

[5] Cressman, “Utah I.”

[6] Launius, Roger D. “World War II in Utah,” Utah History Encyclopedia, accessed April 2, 2020

[7] Launius, “World War II.”

[8] Ernest M. Eller, correspondence to Wallace F. Bennett, March 14, 1961. Quoted in Rolly, Paul. “To mark Pearl Harbor Day, the bell from the sunken USS Utah returns to the Beehive State, sounding the toll of history,” The Salt Lake Tribune, December 7, 2017. https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2017/12/07/to-mark-pearl-harbor-day-the-bell-from-the-sunken-uss-utah-returns-to-the-beehive-state-sounding-the-toll-of-history/

[9] Rolly, Paul. “To mark Pearl Harbor Day, the bell from the sunken USS Utah returns to the Beehive State, sounding the toll of history,” The Salt Lake Tribune, December 7, 2017. https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2017/12/07/to-mark-pearl-harbor-day-the-bell-from-the-sunken-uss-utah-returns-to-the-beehive-state-sounding-the-toll-of-history/

For Further Reference:

Primary Sources:

Isquith, Lieutenant Commander S.S.. “USS Utah, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack”, Naval History and Heritage Command, report from December 15, 1941. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/archives/digitized-collections/action-reports/wwii-pearl-harbor-attack/ships-s-z/uss-utah-ag-16-action-report.html

Secondary Sources:

Cressman, Robert J.. “Utah I (Battleship No. 31),” Naval History and Heritage Command, last   modified May 19, 2019. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/u/utah.html

Launius, Roger D.. “World War II in Utah,” Utah History Encyclopedia, accessed April 2, 2020. https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/w/WWII.shtml

Rolly, Paul. “To mark Pearl Harbor Day, the bell from the sunken USS Utah returns to the Beehive State, sounding the toll of history,” The Salt Lake Tribune, December 7, 2017. https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2017/12/07/to-mark-pearl-harbor-day-the-bell-from-the-sunken-uss-utah-returns-to-the-beehive-state-sounding-the-toll-of-history/

“U.S.S. Utah Ship’s Bell Goes to NROTC Unit,” Utah Daily Chronicle, February 2, 1966. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=22447115&q=U.S.S.+Utah+&sort=rel

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