Outside the entrance of Penn State’s Wagner Building, where the Reserve Officers Training Corps calls home, there stands an old bell.
It’s the kind of thing that might be walked by without notice. It’s just a bell, after all. Hardly a piece of history.
Except that it is.
On Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan’s aerial attack on the U.S. Navy began while some people were barely eating breakfast, that bell was somewhere else.
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It was on the USS Pennsylvania as it sat in dry-dock at Pearl Harbor.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, the ship was 25 years old that day. She took one bomb hit. Fifteen men were killed, 14 went missing and 39 were wounded.
But unlike some in the harbor that day, the USS Pennsylvania survived.
She sailed back into the western waters in 1942 after being repaired and battled back for the rest of the war.
“It certainly seems that the ship would have held strong symbolism as one that survived the attack then went on to participate extensively in the fight against Japan in the Pacific,” said Penn State history professor Jessamyn Abel. “This is especially true in the context of a popular American desire for revenge against Japan after the bombing. For a ship that survived the bombing to head into the Pacific and contribute to Japan’s defeat would seem to epitomize American resilience.”
The USS Pennsylvania was the only battleship to take part in every Pacific amphibious battle during World War II and one of just four that received the Navy’s Unit Commendation, according to the university.
Her guns also reside in Centre County, at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg. The ship was scuttled in 1948 after ending her career being used as a target in nuclear weapons testing.
Another Penn State professor, Ran Zwigenberg, points out how that bookends the ship’s history.
“Pearl Harbor was often seen in the early postwar as a counter balance to Hiroshima. The way that the A-bomb was justified to Americans (and to others including Japanese) was as payback and evening the score with Japan,” he said.
The bell has been on permanent loan from the Navy since 1955.