Clark Perks recently spent time helping to get the USS New
Jersey ready for its new life as a floating museum on the
Frank Larkins (above), a resident of Deptford, scrapes loose paint off the ceiling of a room aboard the
USS New Jersey.
For months, I wanted to volunteer to help restore the USS New Jersey. Finally, there I
was, on the deck of one of the most decorated warships in
As I walked about, I found myself goggle-eyed with
No part of the ship is closed off. I stood on the
bridge. I looked through the periscope. I saw the huge
turbine engines. I explored the turret of one of the
gigantic 16-inch guns. Altogether, it was 57,216 tons of
Early last year, I signed up as a volunteer at the party
at the E-Centre celebrating the selection of Camden as the
I didn't hear anything, though, but later I read in the
Courier-Post that the Home Port Alliance was looking for
I called and got an application and a waiver in the
mail. After I sent it back, a nice woman called and asked
when I could volunteer. She said volunteers worked from 9:
30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and I could choose any day, Monday
through Saturday. I picked a Thursday.
Contact the Home Port Alliance at 856-966-1652.
The ship is being prepared to open as a floating museum
in September. It is docked at the Broadway terminal of the
South Jersey Port Corp.
I told the guard at the gate I was a volunteer and he
directed me to the Alliance offices, where I got a badge
and was sent to the ship.
To board it, I had to cross a narrow metal gangplank. I
noticed what looked like a 40-foot drop to the water below.
Luckily, I'm not afraid of heights.
On board, the volunteers were painting the inside of the
ship. There's a lot to paint.
The paint crew's team leader was Dennis Strasser of West
Berlin, a Navy veteran.
"There's a saying in the Navy: If it moves, salute it. If
it doesn't, paint it!" he said.
I was given a roll of masking tape and was taken one
deck up and down a long corridor to a room where four men
were masking off anything that wasn't a wall or
Filing cabinets were in the center of the room and along
two walls. I started wrapping them with the masking tape.
It's funny how raw, manual labor feels like fun if you're
A framed sign on the wall identified this as an aviation
storeroom. I wrapped a filing drawer labeled "tomahawk."
Beginning in 1982, the New Jersey carried 32 tomahawk long-
range, subsonic cruise missiles.
There was a lot of wrapping to be done. It made me feel
like the artist Christo.
Hank Eichert of Somerset was also wrapping away. I asked
him how often he worked on the ship and he replied, "One
day a week is all I can spare right now. Once I get off my '
honey do' list, I'll come down more often." A couple of the
other guys chuckled.
Almost of the volunteers had gray hair and many were
veterans. I saw a few women, however.
I asked one, Bernardette Menna of Cherry Hill, why she
"It's just the idea of doing something that's important
to our state and our country," Menna explained. "It's a
wonderful place to work. It's like a family."
After we finished in the aviation storeroom, I started
wrapping in a room with bunks for two sailors.
I soon discovered a cartoon sticker of a little girl
torn from an envelope. The sticker had the date 1983 on it
and the words, "Please write soon."
At lunch, I put the sticker with other artifacts found
that day. Among them was a letter dated Oct. 21, 1983,
welcoming a sailor to the ship. There was also a campaign
On Thursdays, volunteers get free pizza, donated by a
pizza shop. I got to see the whole ship and free pizza! It
doesn't get better than that.
There were about 50 volunteers working this particular
Thursday. Frank Larkins of Deptford, co-supervisor of
volunteers, told me there had been 98 on a recent Saturday,
most of them Boy Scouts.
"I've never seen so many people from so many different
walks of life get along so well," said Larkins, who will
turn 80 this summer.
At lunch, I met John Horan of Cherry Hill, a team leader
and an original crew member. The ship was commissioned in
1943, and Horan served on it until just after the end of
World War II.
Someone had said Horan could show me the entire ship. I
asked him, and he was happy to oblige.
He took me up to the bridge where we could look down on
two of the 16-inch guns. They looked even larger from
above. Each one looks bigger than my house.
On the deck below the bridge, Horan showed me where he
served as a signalman.
"There used to be a telescope right here," he said,
pointing to an empty mount. "We used to watch the nurses
sunbathe on the hospital ships."
Inside, he showed me the five stars on the floor where
Fleet Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey's chair was. Since
Horan's post was right outside, he saw Halsey often and
recalled, "We had coffee together."
Horan took me through the bowels of the ship. I saw the
galley, the hospital and the engine room.
As we walked the corridors, the top of my head just barely
passed beneath light fixtures and doorways. I'm 5-foot-10.
My guide, who was over 6 foot, had to bend forward. "There'
s lots of things to bang your head on," he said with a
There's also lots of ways to get lost. The ship is
nearly as long as three football fields and wider than any
other ship of its kind.
If it looks huge from the outside, it looks even bigger on
the inside. The ship is so big, I couldn't believe it
It's a floating city and it even has a post office.
Passageways seem to lead on forever and, in some areas,
they twist and turn like a maze. It would be easy to get
lost. For that reason, every volunteer signs in - and
Horan told me every volunteer gets a tour of the ship too
but, "Some people volunteer for one day, get a tour and don'
t come back."
I'm not one of those. I've already scheduled my next
Clark Perks, the Courier-Post's online editor, designed a
number of the newspaper's front pages involving the USS New
Jersey's return to Camden.