By CAROL COMEGNO
More than 50 military veterans received the state Distinguished Service Medal on Tuesday in the first official event held on the battleship USS New Jersey at its final home.
Marvin Cropper of Williamstown was overwhelmed by getting the medal, but was more impressed that the ceremony was held on the battleship. It was the New Jersey that helped protect him and others in Vietnam when he was a sailor fighting offshore in another Navy ship in 1968.
"When I was on a destroyer off Vietnam, our ship and another had been shelling Tiger Island off the coast for 5“ months where North Vietnamese were setting up missiles," said Cropper, 53. "The New Jersey came over and with two shots from 22 miles out at sea, wiped thesmall island right off the map."
State Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, hosted the ceremony for 55 medal recipients from all eras. Most were from Gloucester County.
"Because of the unthinkable acts of terrorism of Sept. 11, a day none of us will forget, we can draw a parallel between your sacrifices and service and that of the men and women of our military that are now being called to serve in this difficult time," the senator said during a ceremony on the bow of the battleship, its 16-inch cannonlike guns looming overhead.
Agnes Schumann of Pitman accepted the medal, whose symbol is a lion, on behalf of her late husband, Robert. He was an Army veteran of World War II who died in 1996.
When she applied for his medal, Schumann said, she never thought she would be receiving the medal on the New Jersey receiving it.
"We saw it come up the river (in 1999)," said Schumann, who attended Tuesday's ceremony with five of her six children. "I was just flabbergasted at how huge she was and she looks so beautiful now on the Waterfront."
One recipient, Kenneth Kersch of Monmouth Junction, brought his daughter to show her where he had worked as a machinist during the Vietnam War. He called the ship special, took many photos and said it brought back memories "both good and bad."
The private ceremony ended with taps and everyone singing "God Bless America."
The ship arrived at its final home behind the Tweeter Center in the Delaware River on Sunday morning and is expected to open for public tours within a week or two.
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