By CAROL COMEGNO
Members of the Battleship New Jersey Museum Society have been making ship models and collecting artifacts from the ship for years but have never had a permanent home for them.
Now they do.
Members' most-prized models, photographs of the ship and a map showing the World War II voyages of the historic New Jersey are now on display on the ship, which became a floating museum and memorial last month.
The Home Port Alliance, the nonprofit group that lobbied to bring the ship to Camden, recently signed a contract giving the society the responsibility of refurbishing the lounge area and using it to display artifacts.
Members like Bob Bieber of Jackson and Walter Olkowski of Bridgewater scrubbed the blue carpet several times and cleaned the faux wood paneling in the lounge area.
Both men were sailors on the ship and now volunteer on the Big J.
"I think it's looking pretty great," said Bieber, 75, who was a radio operator on the ship during its first Korean War tour. "Our members were very happy to be given this task because our group has spent about 26 years trying to get the ship back to Camden and we're thrilled."
The society exhibit includes five plastic and wooden models of the ship in various configurations during its nearly 60-year life.
The largest model is 9 feet long. It was crafted by Gil Yoffredo of Bayonne and donated by society member Stuart Chalkley.
The artifacts are on the main deck level at the entrance to the ward room, where officers used to gather and eat. It is also in the same lounge where the physically handicapped visitors can watch a video tour of the ship while others are taking the physical tour.
Bieber and Olkowski, 77, a World War II crew member, brought newer society member George Waseleski to the ship Friday.
Waseleski's family donated a ship model owned by his father, also a former ship crewman who died earlier this year. "The room looks terrific. My dad would have loved to have seen this," said Waseleski of Califon, Hunterdon County.
Olkowski said he is pleased with the way the ship is being presented and maintained in Camden.
"They are doing a wonderful job in the short time they have had since last year to get the ship in shape," said Olkowski, also a member of the New Jersey Battleship Commission.
A former boilerman on the ship, he recalled the ship's voyage through the Panama Canal on its way to the Pacific in 1943 from the East Coast, where it was built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
A group from North Jersey came to donate another piece of artwork - a two-handled saw, the kind used to cut trees. Its blade is painted with a scene depicting the gray warship against the backdrop of the old New York skyline, showing the twin towers.
"The saw only had the ship on it at first," said artist Bob Nicholls of West Orange. "I repainted it to put it in that setting on the Hudson River after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack."
The saw art had been raffled off and was donated by Frankling Tavern of West Orange in conjunction with the West Orange Elks and VFW Lodge 2619 of Roseland.
Bob Walters, artifacts manager for the ship, said the society worked hard and made the lounge look fabulous. He said he does not yet know where the saw will be exhibited, describing it as "certainly different from anything we have."