CHRIS LaCHALL/Courier-PostAn American flag flies over (from left) Auxiliary Bishop Francis Roque, retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, ship activities manager Marinee Brennan and Camden County veterans director Norm Sooy at a Veterans Day ceremony aboard `Big J.'
By CAROL COMEGNO
Sunday was a day to celebrate veterans aboard a veteran.
More than 1,000 visitors toured the historic battleship USS New Jersey on Veterans Day - the first veterans holiday since the ship opened as a public museum and memorial last month.
However, fewer than 75 people braved strong winds and chilly temperatures to sit through a ceremony on the fantail of the nation's most decorated warship with 19 campaign stars.
Alan Coldwell, 70, of Littleton, Colo., attended the ceremony held in front of a gun turret he first commanded in 1953 during the Korean War.
"It was an emotional thrill to be here for the first time in 46 years, and she looks great," said Coldwell, a member of a national veterans group who was in the Philadelphia area on business. "There was some anxiety, but it was exciting and I am quite proud to be here."
The battleship ceremony was one of several area events honoring and memorializing armed services veterans. They included a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden and a ceremony at American Legion Post 133 in Woodbury.
Sunday was a day when some looked forward as well as backward.
Patrick Murray, a professor at Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy who visited the New Jersey, said the new war against terrorism has produced a new type of veteran since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Those attacks took more casualties than Pearl Harbor," Murray said in a speech praising veterans of prior wars. " Those who died in the latest terrorist attacks as well as the postal workers (who died of anthrax poisoning) are veterans as well.
"And next year we will have a new crop of military veterans as well and we will owe these veterans our lives."
The ship's first link to terrorism was its launching on Dec. 7, 1942 - the first anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. That unprovoked act launched the country into World War II.
Retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler of Haddonfield, executive director of the ship museum, praised crewmen who fought on the decks of the New Jersey and also mentioned the war on terrorism.
"It is a new type of war. It has changed us, the way we travel and the way we open our mail, but we are rising to the occasion," said Seigenthaler. His son, Tommy, is an officer on the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt in the Indian Ocean supporting operations in Afghanistan.
Seigenthaler also said it has been a privilege to work with the 1,000 volunteers who took the gray patriot of 60 years and "made her look seaworthy again."
"How are we going to use this veteran in the future? For re-enlistments and help to attract members to veterans organizations and educate future generations," said Seigenthaler, a former commander of the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard - where the New Jersey was built.
During the ceremony, the Garden State Chorale performed patriotic medleys and Big Band numbers such as "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."
A ceremonial U.S. flag that was first raised at Valley Forge for the nationwide "America's Freedom" road tour exhibit was hoisted near the top of the ship and will next travel to the USS Arizona Memorial for a commemoration Dec. 7.
Chorale member Leslie Woehr-Tuttle said she was astonished to learn from a tour guide that most of the $7 million ship renovation was done by volunteers.
"We also loved the war room (combat engagement center). ... It was fascinating and eerie," she said.
Her son, Alex, 16, said the 887-foot long ship - which was among the largest U.S. battleship class ever built - was impressive. "It's big and really cool. It looks so good, like it could just start sailing off," he said.
Visitor Harry Lieze of Gloucester Township loved his tour so much he signed up to become a volunteer.
"I liked seeing all the original antique stuff," he said, "like the old teak deck and the 16-inch guns."