4, 1978 |
her to the god of storms'
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see,
that banner in the sky.
Old Ironsides (1830)
Oliver Wendell Holmes
frigate Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides," was
saved, of course, from the breaking up to which she had been
condemned in 1828, largely as a result of Holmes's poem, which
aroused public opinion. The ship was preserved and remains berthed
today in Boston and open to the public.
Some aroused individuals and assorted groups
presumably are hoping that something like that will happen to
the U.S. Battleship New Jersey - a kind of final glorious chapter
for a noble ship. The trouble is, neither the U.S. Navy nor the
old battlewagon itself are ready for any such final chapter.
Still, there are those who - rather ghoulishly,
to our mind - seem to be trying to pick over her bones before
her time has come. But the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington
keeps trying to tell people that the New Jersey is "not
available" to be dragged off to New Jersey for some centerpiece
in a tourist attraction. The New Jersey, although mothballed
at Bremerton, Wash., is still classified as a "mobilization
asset" in the reserve fleet.
Nevertheless, the thinking by members of a
state battleship study commission is that if the Navy turns the
New Jersey loose, they should be ready with a possible docking
place - and they've spent $40,000 in get-ready thinking. A battleship
museum commission hopes to get the ship for Liberty State Park
in Jersey City ($46,920 already spent). In Monmouth County, $27,393
has been spent on some thinking about basing the battleship in
the Long Branch area.
Tail-enders, moneywise, in Atlantic City have
put up $3,000 for an engineering feasibility study on docking
the vessel as a tourist attraction near the Brigantine Bridge.
Pointing up the scale of this kind of thinking
is the estimate that it would cost the Navy at least $500,000
to tow the ship from Bremerton to New Jersey - assuming the Navy
actually decided to decommission the ship. And for now, the Navy
has no immediate plans along the lines (distasteful in Navy lore)
of "giving up the ship."
The New Jersey is a most decorated battleship.
It served in 27 campaigns in World War II, the Korean War and
the Vietnam War, receiving 13 battle stars and seven foreign
and presidential citations. It deserves a glorious fate. Somehow,
we are dismayed as we envision her rusting at a tourist dock,
obscene messages scratched on her bulkheads to replace the armed
forces battlecries by which she lived - and by which she might
not be permitted to die.
Nail to the mast
her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!
That was another concept Oliver Wendell Holmes
addressed himself to in a stanza of the "Old Ironsides"
poem. It's more to our way of thinking - except that the lightning
and the gale might not do the New Jersey in. Then she would be
tragically subject to a tow by the salvagers of the sea, or sailors
in the Cuban forces who might also believe the New Jersey to
be a "mobilization asset." Worse, the tourist trade
might put a line aboard her.
Better, perhaps - without rushing the fatal
day - to put massive charges in her ordnance holds a goodly way
off shore and blow her to kingdom come, a glorious burial at