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

April 4, 1978

'Give 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

The U.S. 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 sea.

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