Ringing the Victory Bell: The Story of a Reused Bronx Artifact

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Outside the Rose Hill Gymnasium, a WWII-era bell honors fallen soldiers and celebrates community triumphs

In the midst of one of the most turbulent presidential terms in US history, Harry Truman’s trip to Fordham on May 11, 1946 may seem trivial by executive standards. With peace treaties to negotiate and a Supreme Court justice to appoint, it’s odd that the former Missouri senator had an interest in visiting Rose Hill, becoming the second president to do so. Matthew Connelly, the President’s Appointments Secretary and himself a graduate of the Fordham College Class of 1930, likely helped secure Truman’s presence in the first place.

But despite his duties and his lack of a personal connection to Fordham, Truman served as a special guest at the university’s centennial celebration in the Bronx. After receiving an honorary degree, the President gave a nationally broadcast speech on the terrace outside Keating Hall. Fordham was celebrating 100 years as an institution, but more pressing events, naturally, overshadowed the proceedings.

Outside Rose Hill Gymnasium, Truman became the first person to ring Fordham’s Victory Bell, a monument that had been installed earlier that year.

At the start of his speech, Truman paid tribute to veterans who attended Fordham on the GI bill after serving in World War II. Almost exactly one year later Victory in Europe Day, the events of the war still dominated the public consciousness in the United States. Celebration and mourning went hand in hand, and shortly before the President delivered his speech honoring veterans seeking a prosperous future, he led those in attendance in a ceremony symbolizing remembrance and the Renaissance.

Outside Rose Hill Gymnasium, Truman became the first person to ring Fordham’s Victory Bell, a monument that had been installed earlier that year.

The Fordham Ram reported at the time that the bell was erected as a “token of gratitude” from students for those who had given their lives fighting for their country abroad. Between 1941 and 1945, 228 Fordham men died in action. The bell itself made its own journey during the war, a journey that was antithetical to those made by the people it commemorated.

Beginning as a ship’s bell on the Kashiwara Maru, a Japanese ocean liner built in 1939, Fordham’s Victory Bell quickly played a utilitarian role in the Japanese war effort. In 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) purchased the ship and renamed her Jun’yo, converting her into an aircraft carrier for a 1942 military campaign in the Aleutian Islands.

Primarily used to keep time and sound alarms, the bell traveled around the Pacific Ocean for almost three years aboard the ship. Aircraft launched from the carrier engaged in battles in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Although Jun’yo occasionally docked for minor repairs, the ship remained fully operational for the IJN until December 1944, when three torpedoes struck the ship and killed 19 men during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. He never fully returned to action and Japan eventually surrendered in September 1945.

Before the ship was released by Allied forces for scrapping, the bell was seized by U.S. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and given to Fordham as a reward for the university’s war sacrifices. On December 11, 1945, Cardinal Francis Spellman blessed the bell after a solemn military high mass.

Once used to signal danger halfway around the world, it now rang to usher in an era of hard-earned peace for a Bronx community weary of sacrifice.

When Truman rang the bell at his new home in Rose Hill, his focus changed forever. Once used to signal danger halfway around the world, it now rang to usher in an era of hard-earned peace for a Bronx community weary of sacrifice.

For Bronx students, the Victory Bell has remained a symbol of triumph, becoming an integral part of one of college football’s oldest traditions. After victories at Coffey Field (or sometimes after victories on the road), the seniors of Fordham’s football team take turns ringing the bell in celebration. The bell is also used during ceremonies from the beginning to the end of each year.

The plaque next to the Victory Bell suggests it is dedicated to the men who lost their lives in a terrible war, but in practice it was reserved to celebrate the triumphs that resulted from their sacrifice.

During World War II, 228 men at Fordham, joined by hundreds of thousands across the country, fought and died in an effort to make the world a safer place, to allow all others to return to lives enriched by birthdays, football games and graduations. Seventy-six years later, the bell continues to ring, forever echoing the indelible impact of a few hundred men on the lives of everyone who has passed through Rose Hill since.

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