8, 1999 |
a step closer to home
By JASON METHOD
Gov. Christie Whitman talks with Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina,
R-Monmouth, after she signed a document Wednesday in Trenton
to bring the USS New Jersey back home.
Gannett State Bureau
- Korean War veteran Robert Walters and about 40 other sailors
who served aboard the USS New Jersey watched Wednesday as Gov.
Christie Whitman signed documents authorizing the state to take
possession of the battleship.
The 62-year-old veteran
from Moorestown said he would volunteer to work on the vessel
if it's docked in Camden. He said the ship always has attracted
"Whenever it came
into port, it was awe-inspiring," Walters said. "It
created a lot of attention."
The ceremonial documents
signed by Whitman clear the way for the battleship - launched
December 7, 1942 - to be towed from its berth at the Puget Sound
Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash. The relocation is expected
to cost $2 million.
Camden, Bayonne and
Jersey City are vying to take the vessel and create a tourist
attraction. The Navy is expected to make a decision by January.
Todd Busch, contracts
manager for Crowley Marine Services, which will tow the ship,
said the battleship is scheduled to leave Puget Sound Sept. 13.
It is slated to arrive at the Panama Canal Oct. 17, and dock
at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Nov. 4.
State lawmakers who
have been fighting to have the battleship dock in their respective
parts of the state appeared to call a truce during Wednesday's
ceremony at the War Memorial building in Trenton.
Azzolina, R-Monmouth, chief supporter of the Bayonne site, and
Sen. John J. Matheussen, R-Gloucester, who led efforts on behalf
of Camden, stood on either side of Whitman as she signed the
"The 'Big J' provided
firepower for freedom and was a catalyst in the nation's march
toward liberty and prosperity," Whitman said. "It is
only fitting that the USS New Jersey should return home as a
tribute to the thousands of New Jerseyans who fought for their
Azzolina, who was chairman
of the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission, later looked over
a 14-foot replica of the ship with Whitman. "My major achievement
in life is getting that ship back to New Jersey," Azzolina
The battleship commission
recommended last fall that the ship be berthed at the Military
Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, but a lawsuit was brought by Camden
County to challenge that decision. The suit is pending.
Also attending the
ceremony were 20 members of the Home Port Alliance, wearing white
T-shirts emblazoned with the alliance's logo. The alliance wants
the ship in Camden.
Thomas Ihnken, of Morris
County, another Korean War and USS New Jersey veteran, said Thursday
he didn't care where in New Jersey the ship eventually docks.
Ihnken said he just wants to bring his family to see it.
"I'll be able
to take my grandchildren and children aboard and let them know
where I spent four years," Ihnken said.