May 25, 1998
Jersey' berth place
USS New Jersey,
built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, is the most decorated
Tina Markoe, Courier-Post
MEMORIES: John Borek of Winslow
helped build the USS New Jersey at the Philadelphia shipyard
during World War II.
in South Jersey
By CAROL COMEGNO
Edgar Hill was aboard the USS New Jersey
in 1942 as the mighty battleship slid into the Delaware River
and went to sea for the first time.
He served aboard the ship during World War
II, and then as a shipyard worker decades later, watched her
being prepared for another conflict in Vietnam.
Now, Hill wants to see the New Jersey again
- this time as a floating naval museum on Camden's Waterfront.
To him, the site seems ideal - near the battleship's birthplace
in the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and in the state whose
name she bears.
His dream might not come true.
"A lot of people would like it to come
to Philadelphia," says Hill, 78, of Westville. But, he adds,
"The Battleship New Jersey Commission thinks it would have
more visitors . . . in Bayonne (Hudson County) because it's closer
to New York City." The ship is now in Bremerton, Wash.
The New Jersey has a strong emotional pull
for local residents like Hill, who served on the ship in peace
The Delaware River is the perfect place for
the New Jersey because the ship has a connection to both Pennsylvania
and New Jersey, says Norm Sooy, director of the Camden County
Veterans Office and a former Coast Guard captain.
"Bayonne doesn't have that," says
Sooy. "It also could be berthed easily along the Delaware
without the dredging that is needed elsewhere."
Several South Jersey officials, including
Camden Mayor Milton Milan and state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester,
have made the same argument.
But the Bayonne site has a trump card - endorsements
by two Garden State groups that have raised $3.5 million for
the ship's return. Those groups - the state-created battleship
commission and the Battleship New Jersey Historical Museum Society
- have asked the Navy to release the ship.
Also, the New Jersey has docked twice at the
military terminal at Bayonne, including its first visit to its
home state immediately after World War II.
Congress and the Navy still must agree to
remove the New Jersey from a list of inactive ships being held
for possible reuse. Officials have said the New Jersey is in
the best condition of the Navy's four largest battleships.
The New Jersey, 888 feet long and 108 feet
wide, is the most decorated of all battleships, with 15 battle
stars from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
It provided firepower for campaigns in the Marshall Islands,
Truk, Guam, the Philippines, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. The ship also
served in the Persian Gulf War.
Hill has vivid memories of seeing the vessel
as it awaited launching at the Philadelphia shipyard. "When
I took a look at the battleship, I was really elated," he
recalled. "I thought it was just about the biggest thing
in the world. I wondered how it would float."
Hill described his wartime duty on the New
Jersey as "days of pure monotony highlighted by a few short
days of pure nerve- racking anxiety."
A member of the ship's original crew, Hill
served as an electrician's mate from 1942 until 1944. He was
on the ship again in 1967-68, when it was overhauled at the Philadelphia
shipyard, where he was a power plant worker.
Americo Medoro of Winslow, a shipwright at
the Navy yard during World War II, also wants the New Jersey
to return to Philadelphia.
"I don't think much of the Bayonne location.
It should be down here, not up north," said Medoro, 75.
Former shipyard worker John Borek, 79, of
the Elm section of Winslow, echoed that sentiment. "It should
come home," he said.
The dispute over the New Jersey is a politicians'
battle, says John Bobb, 74, of Moorestown, who served on the
ship during peacetime missions to Europe and Cuba.
"They have a bigger draw up there (in
New York harbor) as far as tourists, but I don't know why they
couldn't put it in South Jersey for sentimental reasons,"
The battleship commission considered several
alternate sites, including Camden, Atlantic City and Cape May,
says Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth County, who heads
"The commission has looked at other sites,"
says Azzolina, a former crew member of the ship. "It wouldn't
work in the Camden area. The tourist population is not as high
in the Philadelphia region like it is in New York City."
Calls to bring the ship to Camden's Waterfront
are an "11th-hour attempt to undo 18 years of work by the
commission," adds Gordon Bishop, fund-raising director for
the Battleship New Jersey Foundation.
He also said no one from South Jersey has
officially contacted the battleship groups.
But Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones
said the lack of serious consideration for a Camden site is reflected
in the commission's make-up. It has no South Jersey members.
Some of the New Jersey's fans acknowledge
the Bayonne berth may have some merit.
"I would love to see it down here,"
says Robert Lian of Westampton, a retired Navy lieutenant who
commanded a gun turret on the battleship in the late 1980s. "But
I had been to Penn's Landing to see the Olympia (Admiral Dewey's
flagship in the Spanish-American War) some years ago, and it
was in bad shape then, because it did not have enough visitors
to generate the income to maintain it.
"I think this decision needs to be looked
into more, but my concern is that the group that operates it
as a museum is able to do so feasibly," says Lian. "My
guess - and it's only a guess - is that being closer to New York
will bring more tourist traffic."
Many veterans say they'd be happy to see the
ship, currently in Bremerton, Wash., just return to the East
"This would be good for us veterans here,"
says Hill. "Most of us on the original crew came from the
eastern part of the country. I think this is a worthwhile project,
and she will draw visitors to wherever the final resting place