Phelps Anderson, left, and J. Phelps White unveil a model for the USS New Mexico, Thursday. Mark Wilson Photo
This year has been all about celebrating the 100th birthday of the state of New Mexico. Thursday was no different as the Roswell Rotary Club gathered at the Sally Port to hear a lecture and view a presentation on the state’s past as well as its future.
Models of the USS Roswell Victory battleship and the USS New Mexico submarine were presented to the city Thursday.
Retired Rear Adm. Bill Payne was invited to be a guest speaker for the club’s Navy Day. He said that New Mexico has a rich military tradition and the Navy, ironically, has a pretty strong presence in the landlocked state.
Part of that history, which Phelps White discussed at the event, involved the USS Roswell Victory, a cargo ship built in 1945. She was one of almost 50 ships named after prominent places and people in New Mexico. She became a flagship of a Pacific Fleet in World War II and was present in Tokyo Bay as the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri.
As proud as New Mexicans should be in the state’s military history, they also have a bright future ahead. Payne spoke on the state’s newest military pride and joy, the USS New Mexico. The submarine was commissioned about three years ago and has been used in a variety of training exercises in preparation for her first deployment.
A military ship has not been named after the state since the USS New Mexico battleship during World War I. Payne said having another ship named after the state is quite an honor. He said it took “a lot of people putting in a lot of work” to persuade the Navy to bestow such an honor upon the state. It began with him sponsoring a memorial and Legislature years ago asking the secretary of the Navy to name the next Virginia class submarine after New Mexico.
“We went through a lengthy process and competed with a bunch of other states and convinced the Navy that New Mexico really was deserving of the honor,” he said. “Our Navy league was very active. They engaged our senators and our representatives and state legislatures and governors. We put a full court press on the Navy saying, ‘you know the state of New Mexico really respects the Navy and we want to be a part of the Navy team and we would appreciate consideration.’”
The models of the ships will be on display throughout Roswell.