Karen Twigg Ritchie had an ever-growing desire to serve her country.
She also harbored a longtime dream: to help care for others by becoming a nurse.
On Saturday she combined both when she enlisted and received a commission into the Navy's nurse corps during a Memorial Day ceremony aboard one of its most historic ships, the USS New Jersey.
"I am honored to be able to take my commission and start my Navy career on the New Jersey because of her long history and many battles she has been in," said Ritchie, 30, a graduate of the University of Delaware who lives in Pasadena, Md.
She will begin her military career at the naval hospital in Bethesda, Md.
The new officer said she was not bothered by the worn condition of the warship, which the nonprofit Home Port Alliance is restoring at the Broadway terminal to prepare it for its opening as a museum in September.
"To look at her and see the chipping paint and rust is reflective of what she has been through, and I am glad I saw her this way," she said.
Her husband, Ralph, and her mother, Mary Twigg, placed her shoulder boards on her uniform as the drill team and honor guard of American Legion Post 473 of Camden stood at attention behind them.
About 40 people, including ship volunteers, Navy officials, veterans and their families, attended the invitation-only event below the ship's deck, where it was held because of rain.
Later, Ritchie and an original World War II crew member of the battleship, John Horan of Cherry Hill, tossed a wreath with patriotic-colored flowers into the Delaware River in memory of all military veterans who have died serving the nation.
The alliance, a South Jersey coalition of labor, business and political leaders and community activists, sponsored the ceremony.
"The ship is coming back to life as a center of education and remembrance, and this represents a new birth," said alliance co-chairman Pat Jones, referring to Ritchie's commissioning.
The ship has received 19 campaign stars and other awards for major battles during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and service off Lebanon and in the Persian Gulf.
Jones said subsequent ceremonies will be open to the public, but not until the ship is ready for tours.
Junius Tatem, captain of the color guard, said his group was honored to acknowledge the service of fallen comrades on a ship that will boost a needy city and serve as a memorial.