By CAROL COMEGNO
The recruits keep coming. Volunteers like Stephen Swift of
Cherry Hill are answering the call to restore the
battleship USS New Jersey to its former luster. They are
volunteering to do everything from scraping paint to
intricate technical repairs on the ship docked at the
"The response has been overwhelming and the phone hasn't
stopped ringing. We've had about 600 calls the past two
weeks and nearly 200 come in to sign up," said Thomas
Seigenthaler, executive director of the Home Port
The influx of volunteers came after a renewed public
appeal by the alliance earlier this month.
The alliance is refurbishing the ship and soon will be
building a dock. The alliance plans to open the ship as a
museum Sept. 2, after it is moved up the Delaware River to
the downtown Waterfront behind the E-Centre entertainment
The overall project, which later is to include a landside
museum, will cost an estimated $30 million to $40
The highly decorated, 59-year-old battleship has fought in
three major wars since its launching in 1942 from the
former Philadelphia Navy Yard - World War II, Korea and
Vietnam. It was decommissioned in 1991.
Swift, 57, signed the volunteer roster on a day off
Wednesday from his job as a trolley mechanic for SEPTA in
Philadelphia. He then went directly from the alliance's
port office to the ship, where he joined other volunteers,
such as Martin Waltemyer, 75, of Williamstown working
inside Gun Turret No. 1. It houses three of the mammoth 16-
inch, cannon-like guns.
"We got assignments scraping silicone from doorways that
had been sealed. I didn't mind. Just being on the ship was
good enough for me," said the Navy veteran who used to be a
boatswain's mate aboard a landing ship dock and who hopes
eventually to be a tour guide.
Although Swift has followed the nearly three-year saga
of the South Jersey effort to bring the ship here as a
museum, it was his first time aboard one of the historic
battleships - the largest class ever built by the Navy. "It
took my breath away. I was on a large ship, but I have
never seen anything that big," he said. "It will be a good
investment in the city of Camden."
Because of the increase in volunteers, Seigenthaler said
the alliance has expanded the number of volunteer days -
Monday through Thursday and Saturday.
Nearly 30 volunteers showed up at the ship office on the
Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, but the office was
Seigenthaler said he was sorry that happened, but that
they came without making arrangements. He urged volunteers
to call (856) 966-1652 before coming.
On the Web:
Complete Courier-Post USS New Jersey coverage
Official USS New Jersey Web site