Battleship, bell on campus still serve as reminders of Pearl Harbor

Laura Waldhier
December 06, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On and near Penn State's University Park campus are commemoratives of the battleship Pennsylvania, reminders of the historic attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor that led to America's entry into World War II.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Pennsylvania was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor and was spared the heavy damage inflicted on the other battleships there. She was one of the first ships in the harbor to open fire during the aerial attack. Quickly repaired, the Pennsylvania went on to participate in most of the major Pacific theatre engagements of World War II.

It is not known precisely how many Penn Staters served aboard the Pennsylvania during almost four years of war, but it's a safe bet that dozens did, especially when those sailors are included who enrolled on the G.I. Bill after the war.

Too old and battle-damaged for further service after the war's end in 1945, the Pennsylvania was used in tests in the Pacific to study the effects of atomic bomb blasts on warships. Even then, the sturdy battleship could not be sunk, and after decommissioning had to be scuttled by the Navy in 1948.

Penn State received the Pennsylvania's bell in 1956, on permanent loan from the Navy. Some alumni may recall that it was initially on display at the HUB until it was moved in 1958 to its current location along Curtin Road, outside Wagner Building, home to the University's ROTC programs.

The third-floor lobby of Wagner Building houses a 1:48 scale (or 1/4 inch = one foot) model of the Pennsylvania. This finely detailed model, enclosed in a glass case and measuring 147 inches long, was built by the Navy's Bureau of Construction in 1917, a year after the real battleship was commissioned. The University's Navy ROTC program has had custody of the model since 1956, except for a few years when it was loaned to the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg.

At the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, a 10-minute drive from the University Park campus, can be seen two of the battleship's 54-foot, 66-ton steel gun barrels, salvaged from the vessel in 1945 and put in long-term storage by the Navy. The barrels were moved to the museum in 2009.

For more information about the USS Pennsylvania, visit the ship's page at Naval History and Heritage Command. For more information about the Navy's ship model collection, visit the Curator of Navy Ship Models.

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Last Updated January 02, 2018