Military service has its advantages, but alas, dining off of Tiffany silver isn’t one of them. At least, not anymore.
Last Saturday saw the commissioning of the new USS New Mexico, namesake of a fabled World War II battleship reborn as a $2.25 billion nuclear submarine. Besides carrying the Land of Enchantment’s name, the sub carries something precious to New Mexico: two dessert plates from a 56-piece Tiffany silver service created for the original USS New Mexico. And, no, there won’t be any breakfast on Tiffany’s plates served; they’re for display purposes only.
The New Mexico History Museum holds the set and has several of its pieces on display in its core exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now. Each piece was handcrafted to reflect different aspects of the state’s cultural heritage – Coronado’s Expedition 1540-42; San Miguel Chapel – Oldest Church in the US; and the First Locomotive through Raton Pass – 1879. Pretty much everyone’s favorite piece is a humidor in the shape of Taos Pueblo. (That’s it at left and, if you know which viga to press on, you can pop open the various floors of the “pueblo.”)
Dr. Frances Levine, director of the History Museum, hand-carried the plates from New Mexico and attended the commissioning ceremony at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, along with fellow New Mexicans: Ret. Admiral William Payne, a state senator; Senate President Tim Jennings; Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti; and Veterans Services Secretary John Garcia.
“It was fantastic,” Levine said, “so tradition-conscious.”
Best part? “I got to go on the sub,” she said.
(You, dear reader, can’t go on it, but you can take a virtual tour here.)
The plates that will live aboard (and underwater) for the next year depict…
…The Santa Fe Trail…
…and Taos Pueblo.
Their history goes back to 1918, when the state of New Mexico commissioned Tiffany to create the service for the USS New Mexico. The battleship served as the first flagship of the United States Pacific Fleet, and was a vital part of U.S. operations in the Pacific Theater of WWII.
First sent to Pearl Harbor, the ship was deployed to protect our eastern seaboard in mid-1941, barely missing the attack on the Hawaiian port. Her subsequent history, as told in a recent column by Jay Miller:
The pre-landing bombardment of Luzon began on January 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 9th.
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 August 15, while sailing toward Okinawa, she learned of the war’s end. On September 2, she entered Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender.
After the battleship was decommissioned in 1946, the Tiffany service was used on the carrier Midway and the flat-top Bon Homme Richard before it was donated to the Palace of the Governors. When the New Mexico History Museum opened May 23, 2009, the service was on display for the first time in decades.
To see some of the Tiffany the pieces yourself, visit the History Museum and head downstairs to the World War II section of the Telling New Mexico exhibit. It will be a lot easier than trying to see them on this:
The silver plates aren’t the only mark of New Mexico on a ship named for New Mexico. U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich said: “A lot of New Mexicans worked really hard to make this happen and to make sure that crew is stocked up with plenty of New Mexico salsa and other things to make sure they know we’re thinking about them out there.” True? Here’s proof:
New Mexico salsa …. Talk about military might!