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By CAROL COMEGNO
Japanese zeros swooped toward the battleship USS New Jersey in the Pacific Ocean.
General quarters was sounded on the ship. That sent Marines like Joseph Dinell of Fort Worth, Texas, and James Schatzman of Del Haven up to their battle stations on the main deck to man the 20 mm anti-aircraft guns during World War II.
As enemy planes approached, the Marines would begin firing. But when the ship's main battery of nine 16-inch guns was engaged in bombarding shorelines or enemy ships, the Marines and the Navy crewmen were all ordered below deck.
Dinell, Schatzman and 20 other Marines stationed on the ship during World War II or the Korean War relived those and other moments during a nostalgic visit Wednesday on the 58th anniversary of the historic ship's commissioning. Many were among the 98 original Marines who were part of the Navy's crew of about 2,700.
"The first time we were under fire was off Guam in 1943, and that was some excitement," said Dinell, 77, an original crew member known as a plank owner. "We bombarded the island, then the Marines landed. But today is (also) very exciting for me. I've been waiting to come aboard again since 1945."
They and other former crew members sang happy birthday to the ship, shared in several birthday cakes and swapped stories. Their oral histories were recorded during their on- board visit by Kean University personnel hired through a grant from the state battleship foundation.
The 887-foot-long New Jersey is the largest and most highly decorated of the Navy's battleships. Its rusted exterior and interior are undergoing restoration in the Broadway Terminal in South Camden as part of a $22 million project to turn it into a museum. It's scheduled to open for public tours Sept. 2 at a new dock under construction a few miles up the Delaware River, in downtown Camden near the New Jersey State Aquarium.
While Marines on landing craft saw much action invading beachheads in the Pacific, the Marines on the battleship saw a lot of action because their main job was to man the 20 mm guns. Those guns were removed after the Korean War.
Schatzman and Michael Back, 78, of Surf City, a crewman on the destroyer USS Franks, talked of when the Franks collided with the much larger New Jersey during a nighttime maneuver following the 1945 invasion of Okinawa.
"Somebody made a mistake," Back said. "It was terrifying. I was below deck and thought we had been hit by a torpedo. The anchor of the New Jersey ripped our bridge apart, killing our captain, and our whole port side was sliced."