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With the nation on war footing and Americans feeling vulnerable, the retired battleship New Jersey - a reassuring symbol of American might and resolve - was towed at dawn Sunday under Coast Guard protection to its final berth on the Camden Waterfront.
Because of security requirements, an event that was to have been conducted with great fanfare took place with only seven hours' notice to the public, no boat parade, no crowds and no ceremonies.
Members of the Home Port Alliance, the organization that won the ship for South Jersey and had it refurbished, said they expect to open it within weeks as a museum and memorial.
The historic and freshly restored battleship on Sunday was ending its final sea-going journey that began Sept. 12, 1999, when it departed from a Navy facility in Bremerton, Wash. It traveled through the Panama Canal that October and arrived in Philadelphia on Nov. 11, 1999.
Refurbishing began a year ago after the ship was moved to Camden from the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where it was built during World War II and launched on Dec. 7, 1942.
The ship, along with other Waterfront development, is the latest step in efforts to revitalize the area.
Alliance officials said they were disappointed they could not share the event with the public, veterans or the 300 volunteers who helped refurbish the ship. Some volunteers felt slighted.
"Our hearts were broken" by having to exclude volunteers and others from the event, said Patricia Jones, Camden County's surrogate and alliance co-chairwoman. "But I am kind of overwhelmed too. The ship looks awesome here, and it's better than even we envisioned when we started three years ago."
The move, originally planned for Sept. 16, was delayed because of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11. The Coast Guard, under high alert since that day, agreed to supervise the move Sunday, but required it to be low-key, alliance leaders said. Coast Guard cutters preceded and followed the ship, enforcing the closure of the channel around it.
The highly decorated battleship was moved without a glitch 1.5 miles up the Delaware River from the South Jersey Port Corp. to a newly built pier on the Camden Waterfront.
No opening date for visitors has been set. Jones and alliance co-chairman John Matheussen, a Republican state senator from Washington Township, said it would be within a few weeks.
The Coast Guard approved the move only days ago. Because of the security requirements and short notice, only about two dozen people were on hand when the USS New Jersey arrived at its new and permanent berth. Nearly the length of three football fields, the 45,000-ton ship was moored with its starboard, or right side, to the pier.
Alliance Executive Director Thomas Seigenthaler was happy and relieved, saying the move felt like "driving a new car" up the river. "We got it here!" he exclaimed.
Among those witnessing the move was Paul Price, deputy chief of the Camden Fire Department. He watched from the promenade at Wiggins Park Marina.
"We suffered a great loss ... This is a reminder to us there is a serious battle ahead," Price said. "It is very fitting we have this example of America's might to remind us what's going on in the world."
Retired Philadelphia police officer Al Giordano of Sicklerville also saw the ship being moored at its new pier. He was on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in a four-mile road race.
"With the problems (Sept. 11), it will be just magnificent to have it here," Giordano said of the ship. " It's a symbol of the fact that our country is still the greatest country in the world. And the morons who pulled that stuff Tuesday are going to learn the hard way we still have battleships and we still have aircraft carriers."
The ship is no stranger to terrorism. A radioman was among those killed in 1983 in the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport in Lebanon. The ship won 19 battle stars for its service in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Beirut crisis and in the Persian Gulf.
Some of the hundreds of volunteers who helped refurbish the New Jersey heard about the move at the last minute and raced to the Waterfront to watch. They expressed disappointment and anger at not being able to be aboard. At the very least, they said, they should have been notified.
Ship volunteer Steve Borkowski, 75, of Collingswood, was devastated at discovering on television early Sunday that the ship was to move without him and fellow volunteers. But he came to the Waterfront to see it anyway.
"I understand the security reasons, but I'm not feeling too good right now, since we were counting on getting that last ride on it," said an emotional Borkowski. Borkowski is a retired Navy veteran who, since last year, has been been painstakingly scraping paint, cleaning rooms, making repairs and lifting gear.
Ed Roth, a volunteer tour guide from Horsham, Pa., said calling his reaction disappointment was "putting it mildly." Volunteer Ruben Kafenbaum of Cherry Hill said he suspected "something was up" when all volunteers were ordered off the ship at 2 p.m. Saturday. Roth and Kafenbaum said they will continue working on the ship, but others said they are on the verge of quitting because of Sunday's quiet move.
Alliance officials feared a long delay if they did not get the ship moved Sunday.
"Our country is in a crisis right now, and what the Coast Guard needed to do was up to them," Matheussen said. " We were disappointed but had to accept these circumstances."
Coast Guard officials could not be reached for comment.
Even alliance board members did not ride on the ship. Riders were limited to the 24 line handlers and 12 of the ship's working crew.
Only a handful of onlookers up early enough to hear about the move were at the riverfront promenade to watch. Maintenance worker Gene Bangle, 66, of Bellmawr, was impressed with the fresh paint on the ship and its equipment.
"I haven't seen her look that good. She looks like she's ready to go to war," he said.
Peggy Lee, a waitress from Bellmawr, gazed at the hulking ship and its nine largest guns looming skyward.
"It's big - real big," she said.
In addition to volunteers, contractors worked on the ship, the new pier and the visitor center in a project that has cost close to $22 million, mostly from government grants.
Preparation for the move began under cover of of darkness, about 4:30 a.m., with a few spotlights shining for visibility. A Camden County Sheriff's Department helicopter circled overhead with a spotlight, while boats from the Coast Guard in Philadelphia waited on the river.
A crane lifted the last of the 16-inch ammunition shells for the ship's largest gun turrets from the dock and onto the main deck at 5 a.m. The last mooring line was disconnected about 6:30 a.m., and tugboats from the McAllister Co. of Camden began to push and pull the ship backward out of Slip H at the Broadway Terminal of the South Jersey Port Corp.
The New Jersey arrived at its new pier at about 8:15 a.m. The ship overlooks both the Philadelphia and Camden skylines at its location just south of the New Jersey State Aquarium and behind the Tweeter Center.
After arriving, the first bow line was thrown off at 8: 29 a.m. and line handlers from Eagle Marine of Blackwood went to work using 8-inch-diameter lines to secure the ship to the pier. It took line handlers more than four hours to secure the ship; even a small boat was needed to carry some of the lines out to large pilings off the pier.
Retired Navy Capt. David McGuigan, the first alliance president and the person most credited with getting the Navy to award the New Jersey to Camden, was aboard a tug that gave the ship a shove at its stern to help guide it into the new pier.
He called Sunday a memorable day for the alliance, South Jersey and the state, and predicted the ship will have a historical, social and economic impact on the beleaguered city of Camden, the nation's second-poorest city.
"It was built in the river, and this is where it belongs. It was unfortunate that those who supported it all across the Delaware Valley could not participate in this momentous event," he said.
He said the slogan that had been developed during the South Jersey campaign for the ship - From Birthplace to Berthplace - has finally become reality.
Staff writers Kim Maialetti and Bill Shralow contributed to this report.
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