SALT LAKE CITY — If you step inside the Naval Science building on the University of Utah campus, it's likely the first thing that will catch your eye is an enormous bell displayed in the entryway.
The polished surface of the bell shines, even though the exterior bears nicks and scratches in several places. The inscription "U.S.S. Utah" is distinct and bold, with the year 1911 imprinted underneath.
It doesn't look like an artifact that survived two world wars, sank into the ocean and was left exposed to Utah weather for more than five decades.
This is the bell of the battleship USS Utah, one of the first ships sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was first given to the university in the 1960s, where it was displayed on a pedestal outside the U.'s Naval Science building. Last year, the bell was loaned to the Senior Enlisted Academy in Newport, Rhode Island.
After eight months at the academy, the 775-pound bell underwent major restoration before returning to the university on the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
"The bell has been on quite a journey," said Capt. Mark Springer, commanding officer and professor of naval science at the U. "It’s quite fitting that it arrives back here on Dec. 7 on Pearl Harbor day."
Dignitaries and community members attended the rededication of the bell Thursday morning at the Naval Science building.
"The USS Utah and sailors and officers are not forgotten, and the bell is an everlasting symbol of our tribute to their service," said Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.
The USS Utah was the first ship in the U.S. Navy to be named after the Beehive State. The battleship was originally commissioned in 1909 and completed in 1911.
It served through the Mexican Revolution in 1914 and was stationed at Bantry Bay, Ireland, during World War I, protecting North Atlantic convoys from German raids. After WWI, the ship was demilitarized and turned into a target ship.
During the Pearl Harbor Attack, two torpedoes struck the USS Utah, causing the ship to roll on its side and sink.
Although 461 crew members escaped the sinking ship, 64 others died, including Chief Petty Officer Peter Tomich. As the ship sank, Tomich remained below deck in the boiler room, evacuating shipmates and securing equipment. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
"Fighting a sinking ship is just as much combat as fighting the enemy," Springer said, adding that the bell serves as a potent reminder to midshipmen at the university.
Other USS Utah artifacts were also on display at the event. The Utah Department of State History brought a replica of Tomich's Medal of Honor, as well as a wool blanket used by an escaping sailor and the ship's regulations book rescued from the captain's safe.
While at the Senior Enlisted Academy, the bell was housed in the hall named in Tomich's honor.
Before returning to Utah, the bell was transported to Virginia for restoration at the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Karl Knauer, a conservator at the command, said he wanted to restore as much of the original object as possible.
"Every cleaning is an irreversible treatment," Knauer said. "(That's) what we say in conservation. You can’t undo it."
Conservators spent more than 600 hours restoring the bell, using various methods to remove corrosion, including abrasive powders, brass brushes and bronze wool.
They even tried micro-abrasive blasting the artifact with potato starch, which stripped the oxidation on the surface and preserved the details on the exterior of the bell.
One such detail is the original foundry marks. The markings are illegible, but the bell still bears "very faint traces," Knauer said, pointing out dark marks on the back of the bell.
On the inside, conservators found traces of barnacles and marine growth from when the bell was sunk on the boat.5 comments on this story
But Knauer said the team decided to leave those marine marks.
"Typically those things are removed for salvageable artifacts, but in this case, it seems like such an important part of the object’s history," he said.
The bell will stay inside the Naval Science building, reminding every visitor that the Navy, Utah and Pearl Harbor are "inextricably" linked, Springer said.
"The bond between the Navy and Utah is just as relevant today as it was back in World War II," he said.