By CAROL COMEGNO
Home at last.
The battleship USS New Jersey touched the banks of its
namesake state for the first time in decades - and likely
the final time - as it docked Thursday on the Camden
Waterfront in preparation for becoming a museum next
Hundreds cheered, some cried and others expressed relief
as it was towed upriver from Philadelphia and arrived in
Camden on a misty and overcast morning, completing the
nearly 6,000-mile journey ``Big J'' began in September when
it left the Navy mothball fleet in Bremerton, Wash.
Its arrival here also marks the end of a two-year quest
by a South Jersey coalition - the Home Port Alliance - to
bring the historic and highly decorated ship to Camden and
a 20-year effort by some members of the state Battleship
Commission to bring it back to the state.
Gov. Christie Whitman and 500 others are expected to
attend today an official state welcome, by invitation
And on Tuesday, retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf will
speak to state veterans from the ship's deck. The speech
will be shown live on a screen to delegates at the
Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
Schwarzkopf, a Trenton native who was commander of the
American forces in the Persian Gulf War, will speak about
military readiness on the eve of the 10th anniversary of
the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Local veterans made up a large part of the riverbank
crowds who watched Thursday's move.
"I stood back by the ship's fantail and cried," said ex-
crew member Bob Walters of Cinnaminson, a Korean War-era
veteran who was among a group of invited guests watching
the docking at the Beckett Street Terminal of the South
Jersey Port Corp.
The 887-foot-long Iowa-class battleship - one of the
four largest ever built by the United States - left the
former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where it was built in
1942, at 9:05 a.m. It arrived in just under two hours at
high tide at the terminal.
There, four McAllister Towing tugs with a combined 13,000
horsepower eased the 45,000-ton ship sideways into Pier 4,
its bow pointing upriver. It will remain there for two
weeks before it is moved to another temporary site
downriver in Camden.
By late 2001, the ship - BB-62 - is to open as a museum
behind the E-Centre just a few hundred yards north of where
it docked Thursday.
David McGuigan of Haddonfield, president of the Home
Port Alliance and architect of the successful application
to the Navy for the ship museum, said his first feeling was
relief when BB-62 cleared the Walt Whitman Bridge, which
arches 150 feet over the Delaware River.
"The second was when it came into full view. I saw the
majesty of its naval engineering, the sleek lines of this
dreadnought,'' said McGuigan, a retired Navy captain. ``It
generated a gush of military memories that included
holystoning (scrubbing) the deck of its sister ship, the
battleship Missouri, when I was a midshipman."
McGuigan said the ship has several final missions - to
reinvigorate the military presence in the region and to
spark social action and bring an economic benefit to Camden
and the state.
"The human side of things is of particular interest,
especially in this region, because it was built here," said
Judi London, executive director of the Camden Waterfront
Retired Rear Admiral Thomas Seigenthaler, also of
Haddonfield and the alliance's executive director, was the
only alliance representative to ride upriver on the ship.
He was on the bridge with a river pilot and described the
trip as reliving his glory days in the Navy.
"We made the pier!" he joked as he gave a two-thumbs-up
sign after the docking.
"I'm awestruck by its size and to see it here after all
our work and there's still a lot of work ahead," said
alliance member Linda Hayes, who works for the Delaware
River Port Authority.
Battleship enthusiasts and other spectators gathered at
places like Soupy Island in National Park and Proprietor's
Park in Gloucester City to see it pass. At Wiggins Park in
Camden, visitors had a view only of the bow and the
docking. More than 100 people gathered there for a Camden
County celebration, where the Johnny Darrow Band played
"So many people have worked on it. It's like part of
them are coming home," said Donald Bukharo, 62, of Pitman,
a commandant for the Marine Corps League.
He first caught a glimpse of the battleship in Vietnam
and said, at one time, he could rattle off a list of facts
"It has a special place in my heart," Bukharo said.
George Martella, 80, of Bellmawr, who played a boatswain'
s pipe as the ship docked, lamented that people are not so
patriotic as they once were.
"This is an education in patriotism," said Martella, who
served more than 20 years in the Navy. "Even though I was
never on the battleship, when I see any naval battleship,
it chills you."
Melinda Leonard of Washington Township brought her
children, 3-year-old Kate and 8-year-old Bradley, for a
history lesson on the importance of the military. Her
father, Warren Bush, 67, served in the military in the
1950s. Her father-in-law, Roy Leonard, also was on hand and
played saxophone in the band. "We are definitely planning
to come back to go on the ship," said Leonard, whose
husband serves in the Navy.
Dino Sistilli of Woodbury arrived at Proprietor's Park
at 6:30 a.m.
"I wanted to get a seat," said the retired Air Force
veteran as he sat on a bench overlooking the river. "I'm a
By 9:30 a.m., 200 to 300 people had gathered to watch
the battleship pass by. In the drizzle, they waved flags,
flashed cameras and recorded video.
Sistilli also saw the USS New Jersey as it sailed up the
Delaware River in November.
"It's historic," he said. "It'll never move again. I
think it's one of the most beautiful ships ever made."
In January, the Navy chose the alliance and its Camden
berthing site over the state-sanctioned application for
Bayonne in North Jersey, where the ship was stored after
service in two wars.
The contract transferring the warship to the Camden
organization was signed July 20 by Navy Secretary Richard
The ship will remain at Beckett Street Terminal for two
weeks, but will not be open to the public, said port
executive director Joseph Balzano, who also is a member of
However, tourists may be able to take ferry rides
downriver to see it beginning next week.
"It was an exciting day for myself and an even more
exciting day for Camden," said Balzano, who directed much
of the docking activity.
The ship will be moved a mile south to Broadway
Terminal, where it will undergo an estimated $20 million
refurbishment that may take up to a year.
Port worker Robert Bak and Camden County worker
Jacquelyn Cassidy, 21, both of Camden, said they believe it
will help the city. "Right now, I am just overwhelmed with
pride," Cassidy said.