By CAROL COMEGNO
As a boy, Scott Kodger could not get enough of
He remembers wondering how so much heavy steel could float
and marveling that sailors could spend months at a time at
Rejected for enlistment in the Navy because of physical
disabilities, his passion led him to become a naval surface
warfare historian and museum director - preparation for his
new job as the first curator of the battleship USS New
The USS New Jersey is one of four Iowa-class
battleships, the largest the Navy ever built.
"This is the absolute pinnacle of a naval curator's
career, to be given the honor of helping preserve and
interpret the New Jersey. It doesn't get any better than
this," said Kodger, 31, who has moved from Ohio to
Kodger will help develop an exhibit plan for the ship,
also known as BB-62, due to open for public tours Sept. 2
after refurbishment that is expected to cost up to $7
million. A new pier for exclusive use of the ship will be
constructed along the Waterfront near Wiggins Park in
Kodger said he developed his early fascination with
battleships because of a serious illness that kept him
hospitalized for half a dozen years early in life, making
reading one of his few pastimes.
He calls the New Jersey, a World War II warship that
fought in three major wars, the "modern version" of the
Colonial frigate USS Constitution, which is berthed in
Boston, and just as important.
"She is the most decorated and will always be in the top
five ships in U.S. history. Her decks are hallowed," Kodger
said. "She served 48 years around the world and has seen
and been a part of a lot of world history."
Kodger, who calls Cleveland home, came from a museum job
in Amherst, Ohio, but formerly was the curator of the
Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. There, he
oversaw three ships - the USS Little Rock (CGL-4), The
Sullivans (DD-537) and the USS Croaker (SSK-246). He said
the tonnage of the New Jersey alone equals that of those
three ships combined.
He said the cruiser Little Rock has similarities to the
bigger, 887-foot-long New Jersey because they are both from
World War II, have wooden decks and were modernized with
"He brings a lot of experience and is used to dealing
with a museum in a cold winter environment like New
Jersey," said Thomas Seigenthaler, executive director of
the Home Port Alliance, which is overseeing the ship's
refurbishment. "He also has an established professional
relationship with the Naval Historical Center in
Still as mesmerized by massive ships as he was as a
youth, Kodger could not wait until he started work a little
more than a week ago to get a look at his new project. He
said that the night before he reported for his post at the
Home Port Alliance office, he came down to the Broadway
Terminal where the ship is docked for restoration and was
allowed to just gaze at it for the first time in his
"It was a pretty stunning sight that took my breath away.
She looked so graceful sitting there in the water," he
Walking the wooden deck Friday, still learning his way
around the ship's passageways and compartments, Kodger was
excited at every turn, especially at seeing some of the
artifacts that have been found aboard ship.
He is already researching a unique item to be found on a
ship - a pair of mounted Texas cattle longhorns, which he
suspects may have been in the quarters of Admiral William "
Bull" Halsey. The USS New Jersey served in the Pacific
during World War II as the flagship for Halsey, a five-star
Fleet Admiral and native of Elizabeth. One of Kodger's tasks will
be cataloging the longhorns and other artifacts.
He said he is impressed by the interior condition of the
New Jersey, which he said has been well-maintained since
decommissioning in 1991 and is in better condition than the
battleship Missouri, a sister ship now a museum in Pearl
"This is a plus because interior work is always more
complicated than exterior," said Kodger, a history graduate
of the State University of New York at Buffalo.
He said his biggest challenge is to "do honor and
justice to the men who served on her" and to the citizens
of New Jersey by telling the story of the ship and its