JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University’s NROTC Unit is now home to the bell of the famed aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La (CV-38), after it was found rusting in a farmer’s field and given new life by loyal former shipmates.
The ship’s Reunion Group and representatives from the Naval Order of the United States’ Florida First Coast Commandery delivered the nearly half-ton restored bell as a permanent loan to the JU NROTC, then helped JU staff hoist it to its display stand in front of the Tillie K. Fowler NROTC Building on North Campus.
The USS Shangri-La was commissioned into Naval service on Sept. 15, 1944, and by April of the next year she and her attached air group were launching their first combat missions in the Pacific theater in World War II.
It took part in numerous operations after the war, including the atom bomb testing conducted in Bikini Atoll in 1946 and various deployments around the world, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. Her final call to duty was during the Vietnam War, where she and her air group launched combat strikes into North Vietnam from Yankee Station.
The USS Shangri-La started her career homeported in San Diego and completed her service at Naval Station Mayport, from 1960-1971. She was decommissioned on July 30, 1971.
The ship’s bell fell into the hands of the USS Shangri-La Reunion Group by pure happenstance. Last June, a farmer from Hudson, Fla., spotted a man wearing a USS Shangri-La ball cap. They struck up a conversation, and the farmer said he had the USS Shangri-La’s bell lying in a field on his farm. Not wanting the bell to continue to weather and rust away, the USS Shangri-La Reunion Group got the wheels in motion to recover the bell from the field and begin restoration.
After two months of hard work, the bell was back in pristine condition. The Reunion Group brought it to JU on Sept. 6, and with assistance from Physical Plant staff and a little elbow grease, it was put in place.
Members of the JU NROTC say they are honored the unit was selected by the Reunion Group and Naval Order as the new home for the Shangri-La’s bell. They plan to host the USS Shangri-La Reunion Group in October 2018 so all its members get a chance to see their beloved ship’s bell.
For more information on the USS Shangri-La and her history, visit http://cva38.havoc-creative.com/ or http://www.kellycrawford.org/ShangriLa/. Information on the Naval Order can be found at www.navalorder.org.