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Monday, February 19, 2001

Battleship models spur old sailors' hearts, memories

Courier-Post Staff

A model of the USS New Jersey brought back many memories for John Muller, who served as a pipefitter on the battleship from 1952 to 1956, during the Korean War.

The first time he saw the real USS New Jersey was at Pier 7 in Norfolk, Va. He was 18 and fresh out of Navy boot camp.

"I wasn't aware that I had been assigned to a battleship," said Muller, 66, of Long Island, N.Y., who traveled to Echelon Mall Sunday to see a display of battleship New Jersey memorabilia. "It took you weeks to get oriented."

Muller's job on the ship was "damage control." He crawled all over the insides of the ship to make sure it stayed watertight.

The Home Port Alliance, the nonprofit group working to establish the retired battleship as a floating museum on the Camden Waterfront, assembled a display on the second floor of Echelon Mall on Saturday and Sunday. Area residents donated artifacts for the museum.

The 5-foot-3-inch long model Muller looked over was one of four New Jersey models on display. Sal Baglieri, of Pine Hill, built the model, working a few hours almost every day for two years. The radio-controlled wooden model, which weighs about 25 pounds, is powered by a battery and is seaworthy.

"I tried to make it as accurate as possible," said Baglieri, 52, who served on aircraft carriers USS Roosevelt and USS Kennedy from 1972 to 1976. "I've been a battleship fanatic since I was in second grade."

Life was good on the New Jersey, Muller recalled. On some summer nights, movies were shown on deck. The food was good.

At night, when the ship was dark so as not to attract enemy fire, Muller thanked God he was aboard the ship and not on land.

"(The New Jersey) did a lot of good over there," he said. "It was a good deterrent."

Herb Baker, 78, of Collingswood, also pored over the models.

He was with the Coast Guard in 1943 when the USS New Jersey went on a shakedown run to Maine. There, the ship's huge guns were fired for the first time.

"The first time I saw (the ship) I couldn't believe it," Baker said.

The ship turned port side and fired all guns at once. The battleship rocked sideways in the water as Baker watched from a 240-foot Coast Guard cutter escorting the battleship.

"That was an awesome sight," he said. "We all wore earplugs, I'll tell you that."

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