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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
South Jersey

Living museum

For the Courier-Post

First, let's realize that the BB-62 will be a magnet for many people for different reasons. That means opening up the "Big J's" interior to let people see the workmanship that went into her design, construction and operation. Show them how sailors lived, worked and used this great ship to protect freedom through four wars. Open up some internal spaces for galleries where artifacts, photos and memorabilia can be shown. Encourage those who served on her to donate items for display. Use the size of the Black Dragon to the best advantage: Make it a trip worth taking and talking about.

A military museum on nearby land would be a marvelous complement, as well as a repository for military items. Veterans or their families could donate items and allow the museum to auction off duplicates to defray operating costs.

A plan offered by some from North Jersey was to sell pieces of the old teak deck to raise the $2 million needed to replace the old wood with new. Great idea. I am told the teak is already earmarked for the "Big J," needing only the money to get it shipped here from the Philippines.

Second, we must have handicapped access. Many of the "gravitationally challenged" and "chronologically advanced" will find it difficult to climb narrow stairs. So, we need elevators.

If a large below-deck space aft of the rear main battery turret (or even the rear turret magazine as a multilevel theater in the round) can be turned into a small auditorium with displays and interactive modules, more people can learn and enjoy the experience. Offer virtual tours, utilizing cameras, to show the various parts of the BB-62 to those who find moving about difficult.

Third, let's color-code the decks and have self-guided tours for the more adventurous. Think of headsets you can rent at some museums. By using low-powered radio transmitters, people can wander, find something that interests them and hit "play." A recording set to that headset's frequency would start to explain what was being viewed.

Internal sensors can also ensure the truly adventurous (a k a the incurably stupid and nosy) don't injure themselves going where they shouldn't to do things they shouldn't. Since the Black Dragon is steel, we might encourage children to bring their bike riding helmets to prevent bumps and bruises. You could place a BB-62 sticker on the helmet to recognize the visit, rewarding the wearer and acting as a subtle ad.

Fourth, let's provide jobs and training for people with restaurants. I see at least three dining areas. Place one near the bridge in the admiral's quarters; call it the Halsey Suite, after Adm. William "Bull" Halsey, who had the "Big J" as part of his fleet in the Pacific, for groups of 40 or less. Remember, there's a galley there.

Next, take the largest officers' wardroom for groups up to 100 and call it Officer Country. Again, a galley is nearby.

Now, take the largest crew mess and call it Heart of the Jersey for large gatherings. Again, the galleys are right there.

Let's make the "Big J" a destination of choice for groups to have lunch/dinner meetings in a most unique place. How many veterans' organizations would like to have one meeting a year at a site like this? Wedding receptions, business meetings, Super Bowl parties ... You get the picture.

Fifth, what better place to involve area vo-tech schools in both history and education than in practical work on a beloved monument? Under the watchful eyes of instructors and Jersey Volunteers (my name for the folks who want to help make the dream a practical, working reality), the students could gets hands-on training in many areas such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, lighting, etc. And for aspiring thespians, what better way to learn your craft than by being guides, or re-enactors?

Now, if the Navy releases a Tarawa or Iwo Jima-class helicopter carrier resting in the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to Penn's Landing near where the replica of Tun Tavern will be constructed, the Marine Corps League and Philadelphia will have an incredible place for a Marine Corps Museum in the city where the Corps was founded on Nov. 10, 1775.

As a veteran, I honor the USS New Jersey for what her crew accomplished. Without them, she was only metal floating on water. With them, she was a very visible and powerful symbol of the United States, bringing hope and resolve to friends and allies, and fear to the enemies of freedom.

Let's work to make her final berth one where she is proudly honored for generations to come.

The writer, a Westville resident and Army veteran, is commander of Furer-Barag Post 126, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, in Cherry Hill. He is an officer and member of various military associations and veterans' posts.

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