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South Jersey

Thursday, January 18, 2001

Volunteers enlist for duty

Courier-Post Staff

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 Broadway Terminal.

"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 Alliance.

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 complex.

The overall project, which later is to include a landside museum, will cost an estimated $30 million to $40 million.

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 closed.

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

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