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South Jersey

Thursday, January 17, 2002
Restored bell hangs on USS New Jersey

More information:
  • Complete Courier-Post battleship coverage
  • Official USS New Jersey home page

    Courier-Post Staff

    A historic bell hung and then rang on the bow of the battleship USS New Jersey on Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade, its silver gray surface reflecting the afternoon sunlight.

    Workers from Young's Ironstone Riggers of Mays Landing hoisted the ship's refurbished steel bell into place with rope and straps.

    They then slipped its top bolt into a hole on a metal plate and screwed a nut on it to fasten it as the ship's boatswain, Joseph Shields, directed them to turn the bell until its lettering faced the tip of the ship's bow.

    This bell on the nation's most decorated battleship is fastened at the same spot where it had hung in the later years of the ship's nearly 50 years of service.

    An $8,800 grant from the Gannett Foundation made it possible to restore the bell, said Scott Kodger, the ship curator for the nonprofit Home Port Alliance, which operates the ship as a museum on the Camden Waterfront.

    The foundation is part of Gannett Co. Inc., the parent company of the Courier-Post.

    "We are thrilled to have it to back here," Kodger said. " It is now in beautiful condition and carries a lot of history. It is truly a unique item."

    Retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, executive director of the Home Port Alliance, said the bell was removed from the ship in 1991 after the ship's deactivation by the Navy and sent to the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D. C., for storage.

    "What it looked like then - all rusty and peeling - and to see it now it really looks great. It's an important piece of the ship back in place," he said.

    It is the most visible of the two bells on the ship. The other hangs above the bridge but has not been restored.

    The bell first rang in 1943 when the ship was commissioned at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where the New Jersey was built during World War II. The bell carries the name of the ship and the commissioning year of 1943. It was originally mounted aft on the ship, but a gong has since replaced it there.

    Kodger said the bell weighs about 650 pounds and was made of steel and other alloys because bronze was a strategic metal needed for other purposes in the war effort.

    In recent decades the Coast Guard required a bell to be placed on the bow. It was rung in fog to signal the warship' s presence to other vessels and also pealed for ceremonies.

    Connor Machine Concepts Co. of Waterford sanded the bell and applied a special preservative coating of powder that was baked on.

    Kodger said the bell will be once again used for ceremonies.

    Bob Walters of Cinnaminson, a former crewman from the 1950s who manages the museum's artifacts collection, said he remembers the volume of the bell's deep sound.

    "Its really loud," he said.

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