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South Jersey

Friday, July 31, 1998

Pinup selection showed sailors' family leaning

Courier-Post staff

She didn't have Betty Grable's legs.

But Harolyn Meyer had the cutest little baby face, so the crew voted her pinup idol of the battleship USS New Jersey.

Most military men during World War II favored movie stars for their pinup girls. But when these 3,000 crewmen voted on the hundreds of photos of Jersey girls posted in the mess hall of the ship before it left the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for World War II service in the Pacific, a 3-month-old baby posing nude on a satin blanket was the winner.

Today, she is Harolyn Lawton, 54, a schoolteacher and mother of three sons. Her family had lived in Newark and Clifton. But Lawton has since moved to Wilton, N.Y., near Saratoga Springs.

Crew members recall not only choosing the baby picture but giving $1 each to buy war bonds that were put toward a college fund for the infant.

"There were a lot of nice photographs of women in bathing suits and shorts. They were posted in the galley. Then there was this one baby picture sent in by a grandmother and we found out the baby's father was in the war," recalled John Horan of Cherry Hill, a crew member who then lived in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"It must have made the ship's chaplain very happy when we overwhelmingly voted for the baby's photo."

Russell Collins Jr. of Palmyra, another first crew member, remembers making the choice, too.

"We raised $3,200 from the crew and the war bonds it bought went toward putting her through Caldwell College for Women," said Collins, who received a letter from her after she graduated from college. He said he knew she was a teacher but did not know where she now lived.

In an interview from her home in upstate New York, Lawton said she has not seen the ship since attending its recommissioning in Philadelphia in 1968. She has not corresponded with former crew members for many years but said she would like to meet some of them if they hold a reunion.

"The money for college was a big help. My father was an officer who had been a POW in a German camp in World War II," said the sixth-grade teacher.

She said being selected as the ship pinup means more to her today than it did when she was a child or when she attended the recommissioning as a young adult. She said she feels a "sense of loyalty and bonding" with the ship.

"When you mature you have a much better idea of war and what it meant. I realize how it feels now when your sons and daughters are not close to home," she said. "I did not fully understand what those boys had gone through and why having any pinup girl was important to them."

She said the crew's selection of her picture symbolized their strong connection with home and families left behind.

"It says a lot for the men on the ship that they chose a symbol of the family instead of someone with pretty legs and a pretty face," she said.

She said she would like to see the ship come to New Jersey as a museum but does not have a preference for a site.

"It should be an easily accessible site in very public view. Otherwise, you are demeaning the importance of that ship," she said.

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