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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
 
South Jersey

Thursday, February 14, 2002
Sailors' love letters exhibited at battleship

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

  • By CAROL COMEGNO
    Courier-Post Staff
    CAMDEN

    Rosa stood watching as the ship took her boyfriend Tim to sea. She was heartbroken, already missing him and failing to hold back the gush of tears.

    In a love letter to him, she later recounted that event and her feelings of longing and pain. That personal letter, written in 1983, is among boxes of lost or misplaced letters that have been discovered on the battleship USS New Jersey since last year when it was converted into a museum.

    Some of the letters to and from sailors stationed after 1980 on the nation's most decorated battleship are on display at the USS New Jersey Memorial and Museum visitor center in observance of Valentine's Day.

    "We have found hundreds of cards and letters and we're still finding treasures like these on board," said Robert Walters, himself a former battleship New Jersey sailor in the 1950s who is now the historical artifacts manager aboard the museum ship.

    He said the letters have been discovered in many places, but mostly behind lockers and bunks removed last year inside the main deck level. The area was converted into a museum exhibit about the life of a sailor.

    There do not appear to be any letters written before 1980, when the ship underwent a major overhaul in Long Beach, Calif. Many inside compartments were updated and missiles added during that time. The ship was built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

    The letters are written on everything from tablet paper to fine stationery, some marred by coffee stains and singed by heat. They are between sailors and their wives, their children, relatives or girlfriends. Most use just first names, as many love or friendship letters usually do.

    A number of letters are to and from a sailor whose first name is Romeo. His Juliet's name is Jamie.

    He addressed her as "dearest love" in a Jan. 5, 1980, letter in which he talked of a March rendezvous in Texas, when his ship came into port.

    "We are apart, but I am always here for you. I trust you and always will," he told her in reply to her Dec. 4, 1988, letter.

    In hers, she worried he might end the relationship and tells him she "wants him desperately."

    "I want you by my side, but I must be patient. I get this horrible feeling that you're ringing to tell me it's the end. ... Maybe it's because of our distance."

    A letter addressed to another sailor begins "dearest Bill" and "sweets" on Feb. 11, 1984. It is written by an unnamed woman who recounts her sorrow at insisting he leave Washington because he ended up aboard the New Jersey off Lebanon during the Beirut crisis in 1983. "I am so tired of this town without you," she wrote.

    One sailor, Danny Villaneuva, received a "Dear John" letter from girlfriend Lori. He then pleads with her to return to him in a July 6, 1984, letter that either may never have been sent or he thought had been sent.

    "I am missing out on the most important part of my life - someone to love and care for," he writes. "I know I've found her, but she hasn't found me. Give me the chance. ... I'll be waiting."

    The love letters are on display at the ship museum's visitor center near the Tweeter Center on the Camden Waterfront through the end of February. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

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