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South Jersey

Friday, January 5, 2001

More volunteers needed aboard `Big J'

Dominador `Del' DelRosario, a volunteer, performs one of many tasks needed to make the USS New Jersey shipshape.

Courier-Post Staff

The battleship USS New Jersey needs more volunteers to get it shipshape.

About 800 volunteers signed up, but only about 30 are showing up weekly to help the Home Port Alliance convert the ship into a museum on the Delaware River.

To ensure the New Jersey can open Sept. 2, the alliance needs more people willing to help scrape off old paint, apply new paint, repair hatches and doors and handle other sometimes tedious chores.

The rewards are great, say those already at work aboard the "Big J."

"I am just ecstatic working on that ship. It's like I died and went to heaven," said Bob Walters, 64, of Cinnaminson, who was a member of the ship's navigation crew during the Korean War.

Joe Fillmyer of Cinnaminson, director of volunteers, said the number needed for the restoration effort will only increase over the next several months.

"Because of the tremendous cost of a project this size, you cannot pay everyone to work and you can never have too many volunteers," Fillmyer said.

He said he would like to have at least 50 to 75 volunteers a week to clean and prepare living quarters for museum displays and encampments by groups like Boy Scouts.

The alliance is also seeking volunteers to help in the ship' s wood shop, where Fillmyer said about 1,000 teak wood plugs will be crafted to replace missing ones that used to cover the screws that hold down the deck. In addition, volunteers are needed for training as tour guides and greeters.

"A half dozen of the volunteers are women but we'd like to have many more. Their enthusiasm has been fantastic," Fillmyer said.

Many of the volunteers are veterans who served on the New Jersey or other ships.

The alliance's executive director, Thomas Seigenthaler, said no military background is required to be a volunteer. But anyone wanting to work on the ship must first fill out an application.

The Home Port Alliance, a nonprofit group, was awarded the 887-foot battleship last January. One of the Navy's most decorated warships, it is docked for repairs at Pier 1 of the Broadway Terminal of the South Jersey Port Corp. In September, it is to be moved to a new dock near the E- Centre.

The alliance hopes to be able to open the main and upper decks to visitors this year. Tours of the lower decks, and the opening of a landside museum, are several years away.

John Horan, 76, of Cherry Hill, a signalman on the ship during World War II, has been volunteering twice a week.

His jobs have included putting in fluorescent lights and unsealing doors and portholes.

Most of the work being done now is inside the ship's upper decks. Most of the space is unheated.

"It's not too bad inside," Horan said. "We wear gloves and I come prepared with a few sweaters, a jacket and a battleship hat, of course."

On the Web

  • Complete Courier-Post USS New Jersey coverage

  • Official USS New Jersey Web site

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