Battleship party to honor public's role
By RICHARD PEARSALL
SCOTT ANDERSON/Courier-Post Plans for the USS New Jersey's new home in Camden are discussed Friday by Capt. David McGuigan (left), president of the Home Port Alliance, and Joseph Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp. and an alliance member.
CAMDEN - Make room, Abe Lincoln, St. Valentine and groundhogs everywhere for the USS New Jersey.
The Home Port Alliance has picked Feb. 6 to celebrate the Navy's choice of Camden as a final home for the famed battleship.
And everyone is invited.
"As wonderful as the technical stuff was," Camden County Freeholder Pat Jones said Friday, referring to the 1,700-page application the Alliance submitted to get the ship, "there's no question that it was the overwhelming community support that catapulted the application ahead."
More than 25,000 people lined the banks of the Delaware River and Bay when the New Jersey was tugged home to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
It is those people - all the people who supported the effort to bring the New Jersey to Camden - that the party-givers are particularly eager to have attend.
People like Wayne Bennett, 49, of Mullica Hill, who got an early start celebrating Thursday at the American Legion Post in Woodbury and declared the decision to berth the ship in Camden "fantastic."
"The whole thrust of our effort would have been diminished without the people who supported it," Capt. David McGuigan, the principal author of the application, said Friday.
The level of support here "impressed Bayonne and impressed Washington" and "fed on itself and was self-invigorating" back home, McGuigan said. "The people have to be recognized."
Jones said the celebration will be held in the afternoon (it's a Sunday) at the E-Centre, just a few yards from where the battleship will be berthed.
"We're still formulating the details," Jones said, noting that the Alliance had not expected the Navy to make a decision until February.
"But there will be music and refreshments," she said, "and a memento to take home. I know we have one thing in mind."
It will not be a piece of the teak deck, she said.
"That will be part of our fund-raising."
The Alliance has budgeted $13 million to refurbish the ship and build a pier to accommodate it. Camden County has pledged $3.2 million to the project and the state an additional $6 million.
Invitations to the party are going out to the governor, the Legislature, the members of the state Battleship Commission and a host of other dignitaries.
But if you don't get an engraved invitation, Jones emphasized, don't think you are unwelcome, particularly if you live in the city where the ship will dock.
"So often people burden the city with comments that are unflattering. They make the people feel they are not as significant as others.
"Now here is the Navy, which cares deeply about the fate of its ships, saying to the city, 'You're worthy.' "
So come celebrate, Jones urged, and keep in mind that this party is "only preparation for the big one, when we bring the ship across the river."