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South Jersey

February 25, 1994

Hey, governor, give a listen to this lady's Waterfront idea

Courier-Post staff

There's not a heck of a lot to do when you're in the hospital day after day, hooked up to a high-tech machine that's helping keep you alive.

Not much to do but stare out the window and think.

'That's when I came up with the idea,' says Lois Coskey. 'I was a patient in Cooper Hospital and I spent a lot of time getting blood transfusions. So I'd sit and look out at the Aquarium and picture the battleship USS New Jersey along the Waterfront somewhere.'

Now, before you begin thinking Lois' terminal blood disease has affected her mind, allow her to continue.

'Every year my husband and I used to go to Wilmington, N.C., to visit the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial. Art was a boatswain mate and gun captain on the ship during the war.

'Well, you just can't imagine what that battleship attraction has done for the area. They have a picnic grove, shops, restaurants. It's always crowded with tourists.

'And I think the same thing can happen in Camden if we could bring the USS New Jersey to the Waterfront.

'How many people can you attract with just an aquarium?' asks the 70-year-old Collingswood resident. 'If it was the only aquarium in the United States, that would be different. But Baltimore isn't that far away.'

The decommissioned USS New Jersey has been in the Navy's reserve fleet off Bremerton, Wash., since 1991.

The famed battleship, launched at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on Dec. 7, 1942, was last recommissioned in December 1982, during the Reagan administration. Only three other World War II-vintage battleships remain: the Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin.

So I called the Navy's inactive-ship detachment in Bremerton to see how the old New Jersey is doing.

'It's just fine,' says sailor Bob, who is too shy to give his last name. 'I'm looking at it right outside my window.'

Sailor Bob says the hermetically sealed New Jersey could remain in mothballs 'forever.' But he suspects the Navy would happily sell or donate the historic ship to a public organization dedicated to preserving it.

Which brings us back to Lois, sitting in her living room, tethered to a thick oxygen tube and forever digging into her old suitcase full of USS North Carolina memories.

'There was a time when I lived for news of that ship. Here's my husband's war diary,' she says, opening it up to her favorite passage. 'See, every time they sunk an enemy ship, he'd write, 'Another one for Lois.' '

Arthur and Lois started dating when they were students at Haddon Heights High School. He was leaving in his senior year to join the Navy. And Lois, who worked on the school newspaper, was given the assignment to interview him.

'I didn't like him at all. He didn't want to be interviewed and was giving me a hard time.'

But Lois got her story, and subsequently a few dates.

'When Pearl Harbor was attacked and Art was told he had to report to his ship, I remember my mother telling me, 'You be sure to kiss him before he goes.'

'Before he left, he asked if I would accept an engagement ring. I don't know, I guess I was influenced by the uniform. I hardly knew him, but I said yes.'

Art died six years ago. Feb. 12 would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.

Says Lois, 'When we'd go to Wilmington, it'd give me goose pimples to see those men with gray hair and pot bellies going up the gang plank, saluting the flag. How can you not be affected. These men are in their 70s now. They're passing on so quickly now, it's scary.'

The USS North Carolina will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II with a reunion ceremony in 1995.

'I sure would like to go,' says Lois. 'But now I live one day at a time.'

And each day is devoted to her dream of bringing the USS New Jersey to Camden.

'It's my hobby now. Maybe it's just a pipe dream. And if it never happens, I'll feel badly. But if I'm able to do even a little to make it happen one day, wherever I am, I'll know it.'

Lois says she fired off a letter to Gov. Christie Whitman a couple of weeks ago, telling her about her great idea for the Waterfront.

'But I haven't heard from her yet. And I guess I won't.'

If she doesn't, Lois shouldn't feel too bad. Harold Katz had an idea for the Waterfront, too. And we know the kind of reception he got.

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