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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
South Jersey

USS New Jersey's fans celebrate ship victory

Courier-Post Staff


V-Day for the battleship New Jersey is two days away and counting.

In preparation, workmen will remove the top of the great warship's mast today. On Thursday, the ship will be towed back to its namesake state to be preserved on the Camden Waterfront as a floating museum and memorial - just four miles upriver from the old Philadelphia Navy yard where the USS New Jersey was built.

After a hard-fought battle to bring the ship to Camden, the Home Port Alliance celebrated Monday. The nonprofit South Jersey coalition won the ship in an uphill fight against the state battleship commission and Bayonne, which also wanted the New Jersey.

"This is a momentous day and it makes our maxim - birthplace to berthplace - a reality. We want to thank all of those who helped in the two-year quest," said retired Navy Capt. David McGuigan, the alliance's president.

The ship made a 5,800-mile journey from Bremerton, Wash., last year and is now temporarily moored at a facility for inactive ships at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on the Delaware River.

John Morrow of Turnersville, who helped build the ship launched in 1942, was among those who swam in euphoric disbelief at Monday's celebration.

"When I was working on the ship in the hot summers and cold winters here, never did I think in my lifetime I would ever see her back for good," said Morrow, 83, a former machinist who sat dockside during the ceremony and gazed up at the ship's name emblazoned on its stern.

"I can't wait to see her back in New Jersey," he said. "That's where she belongs."

The alliance invited about 100 guests to the ceremony to celebrate Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig's signing of documents that transfer ownership of the vessel to the coalition. The event was for alliance board members and volunteers who helped bring the ship to Camden. Among them were ex-battleship crew members John Moran and John Morris, both of Cherry Hill, and Bob Walters of Cinnaminson.

Rep. James Saxton, R-N.J., and Adjutant Gen. Paul Glazar, chief of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, also attended.

McGuigan told the gathering, "We are indebted to Gov. (Christie) Whitman for state support and we must recognize the early financial support of the Camden County Board of Freeholders and the Camden Empowerment Zone Corp. for giving the quest financial credibility, and the media for generating community interest."

He said the bipartisan board is on the brink of establishing a "substantial memorial that will have an educational and economic impact" on Camden and the state. The museum is to open by September 2001.

Retired Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, the alliance's executive director, said plans call for the top of the ship's mast to be removed today so it can clear the Walt Whitman Bridge during its tow from about 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday four miles upriver to the South Jersey Port Corp.'s Beckett Street Marine Terminal. Whitman is expected to attend an official state welcome for the ship on Friday.

Plans are also under way for the ship to be used for an event during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia next week.

The public can view the New Jersey, one of the nation's most decorated battleships, on its trip upriver from locations along the river or in boats. Penns Landing will offer the best public view of the docking. Limited public viewing of the docking in Camden will be from Wiggins Park and the walkway behind the E-Centre.

On Monday, the alliance unveiled a plaque that will be placed on the ship to commemorate the historic transfer last Thursday. The three founders of the alliance were Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones, state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, and Camden Mayor Milton Milan, who did not attend.

Matheussen said he is gratified to have been part of a coalition of "dedicated and selfless" members in an endeavor that will leave its mark on the region and state history. He thanked the battleship commission for 20 years of effort to bring the ship to the state.

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