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South Jersey

`Big J' draws raves at symposium

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Courier-Post Staff

Christopher Nardi lingered to read every word on every sign.

The history exhibit aboard the battleship USS New Jersey on Saturday fascinated the curator of the smaller battleship USS Massachusetts in Fall River, Mass.

"I just love static displays and this is all very well done," said Nardi, who admired the timeline approach from World War II to the Persian Gulf era.

Nardi was among about 50 participants at the first Naval and Military History Symposium aboard the ship since it opened as a museum in 2001 on the Camden Waterfront.

The group at the three-day seminar on board the nation's largest and most decorated battleship included teachers, history buffs, ex-military personnel and those involved with other ship museums. Good impression

"This ship is a magnificent combination of so many technologies," Nardi said. "We at the Massachusetts don't have the volunteer base or the financial support this ship has. I am flabbergasted at how much has been done on this ship in such a short time."

Symposium participants heard about the history of the Iowa-class New Jersey, which was awarded 19 campaign stars. They also heard about the contributions of naval firepower and latest advances in naval radar and missile technology that have superseded battleships.

"Naval gunfire was absolutely critical in the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War and . . . to our victory in the Cold War over communism," Edward Morolda told the group.

The senior historian at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C., referred to criticism of gunships as dinosaurs in the nuclear and air power age. However, he pointed out, these ships had sunk enemy vessels, including the entire North Korean Navy, destroyed enemy railroads and bridges and protected U.S. troops.

The battleships also played a role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War in which sister ships of the New Jersey, the Iowa and Wisconsin, participated.

"Air power is dependent on good weather," he said. "In Korea and Vietnam, we took naval casualties but not one U.S. gunfire ship was sunk. This is significant," he said.

He said there is a void in naval capability between the range of the Navy's existing 5-inch guns and missiles. Since battleships were eliminated to save costs, there has been nothing to replace the power and range of the 16-inch turret guns, such as the New Jersey's.

Robert Farrell of Stratford said not enough people know about naval firepower.

"If the American people knew how effective the battleships were in all those major conflicts, I don't think they would have allowed the Navy to deplete the fleet as it has done," said the retired teacher.

Mark Gaspar, an executive with defense contractor Lockheed Martin of Moorestown, said a sea-based missile defense system is key to preventing hostile missile attacks. Such a system, he said, can be deployed anywhere around the world.

Lockheed has developed the Aegis combat system of weapons and radar for modern ships.

Kevin Koster, 43, a sales manager and naval history buff from Long Island, N.Y., said he relished the opportunity to network with knowledgeable people with similar interests. Volunteers lauded

"With regret, I never served (in the Navy), so anytime I get an opportunity to get a feel for what I missed, I do it," he said.

He and his friend, ex-Navy veteran John Schierenbeck, 43, of Lancaster, Pa., praised the dedication of the ship's volunteers, who are an integral part of the staff.

"It's been a thrill. There is so much here that is hands-on and the public is really involved," Schierenbeck said.

Scott Kodger, the battleship's vice president of curatorial affairs, said the symposium was held to open up the ship as a venue for serious academic and educational development.

Channing M. Zucker of Virginia, executive director of the Historic Naval Ships Association, said he will be disseminating to other ship museums ideas he heard this weekend, including using math and science in a school curriculum for students.

He said the restoration of the ship on the Delaware River, across from Philadelphia, exceeds anything other museum ships did in their first two years.

Many expressed amazement at the cultural and recreational growth of the Camden-Philadelphia waterfront as a tourist destination, admitting they knew little about the area.

"I thought it was mainly going to be commercial and industrial and I was pleasantly surprised," Morolda said.

Reach Carol Comegno at (609) 267-9486 or

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