By Phyllis Tolzmann, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Navy ports might be far from the 300 square miles of White Sands in New Mexico, but in the 1940s and 50s the state, also known as “Land of Enchantment,” was the perfect place for atmospheric research, rocketry, surface-to-air missile defense systems testing, and the Navy’s Desert Ship test facility.
There are at least 31 ships named after New Mexico related to its people and places. In fact, the world’s first turbo-electric-driven battleship was named USS New Mexico (BB 40) – later dubbed “the Queen.”
Possibly more significant than New Mexico’s places are its people – namely, the Navajo Code Talkers, whose invaluable language, skills, and courage helped America defeat the enemy in World War II.
Still active today is the Navy’s White Sands Detachment. Located at White Sands Missile Range in Otero, NM, White Sands Detachment is a part of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division. Its mission includes land-based testing of naval weapon systems missiles and gun munitions and launch operations for sub-orbital space systems and research rockets.
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