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South Jersey

Monday, July 16, 2001
Navy newscaster revisits Big J

Courier-Post Staff

It was the battleship New Jersey's design and power, as described in newspaper articles before it was even completed, that first caught the attention of Robert Elliott.

While the ship was being built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Elliott, a New York City resident, made a trip to Washington, D.C., and got an appointment to talk to the Navy officer staffing the ship to see if he could become one of its first crew members. He succeeded and went through World War II as a member of its original crew, drawing duty as a radio news anchorman on a ship that became one of the most decorated in the Navy history, with 19 campaign stars during a nearly 50-year span.

He visited the ship last week for the first time in 56 years to give an oral history that will be used when the ship opens as a floating museum on the Waterfront here in September.

"They've made some changes since I was aboard, but I quickly found my old state room. I think it's just great what they're doing to make it a museum," said Elliott.

A Harvard University graduate and a lieutenant commander, Elliott said he gave a 20-minute nightly radio newscast on world and shipboard events that was heard by the nearly 3, 000 sailors in the days before television.

"My primary job was supposed to have been as a damage control officer, but there was never any real damage on the New Jersey, so I assumed this role," Elliott, now 89 and retired from public relations, said as he was videotaped telling his yarns in the old stateroom on the port side of the main deck.

He said he selected his news topics from the Associated Press, United Press International and Armed Services News wire services and prepared them on his brother's portable Remington typewriter.

"I was not unaware that the newscasts were being heard by the two flag admirals who alternated on board - William Halsey and Raymond Spruance," the articulate Elliott said with the natural delivery of a professional newsman.

"Everyone wanted to hear the news of a world at war and of its effect on who was winning and how long it would take."

Until the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, Elliott said, he thought it might take 10 years to win the war against the tenacious Japanese.

He recalled the first time the battleship used its nine powerful 16-inch guns at a war target. It was January 1944 when it bombarded Japanese-held Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

"The ship quivered from stem to stern. The guns also broke hundreds of light bulbs," he recalled. "When we later went ashore, we saw that the palm trees were almost all eradicated and the Japanese fortresses gone. The stench from putrefying Japanese bodies was overwhelming."

In his newscasts, he reported the hundreds of Japanese planes downed in the Marianas sea battle in which 600 allied ships, 2,000 aircraft and 300,000 personnel took part. Later, he broadcast the sinking of 26 Japanese ships, including one of its two aircraft carriers, in the Battle of Leyte Gulf - the largest naval battle of the war.

Elliott said it was he who first learned from the wire services of the death of President Roosevelt back home.

"I took the news immediately up to the captain and suggested he make the announcement to the crew. He declined and asked me to do it."

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