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South Jersey

Friday, July 31, 1998

Workers at vessel's birth work to bring her back

Courier-Post staff

It wasn't much of a career choice.

When Mabel Giordano went to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for a job during World War II, she was told she could either clean toilets or learn to weld.

"I figured I'd like to weld," said Giordano, 82, of Mount Ephraim, who welded pipes for the battleship USS New Jersey.

Because of her connection to the battleship, Giordano has joined a South Jersey petition drive to bring the ship to the area of its first berth.

She and her friends have collected more than 400 signatures in their neighborhoods and turned them over to Camden County officials who are helping to spearhead the effort.

Through distributing the petition, she said she has met others who worked at the shipyard during that war, such as Jim Mutchler of Runnemede.

"When I asked him to sign my petition, he told me he worked on her from stem to stern," said Giordano, who is retired from the Camden County Board of Elections.

At the shipyard she was an acetylene welder in the 53 Pipe Shop for 2 1/2 years.

"At that time I had to work in the shop because they didn't allow women on the New Jersey or any other ships that were being built. The next year they did," she recalled.

Both she and Mutchler witnessed the launching on Dec. 7, 1942, after almost three years of construction at a cost of $90 million.

Mutchler, 81, a retired shipfitter who helped lay the keel and the bulkheads of the battleship, said he saw the wife of then-New Jersey Gov. Charles A. Edison smash a bottle of champagne against her bow. He said a crowd of several thousand cheered as the ship slipped silently down the ways that had been heavily greased for her release from the dry dock.

"It sent a huge wave over the Jersey side at National Park and drenched some who were on the beach there," Mutchler said.

"It didn't make any noise as it slid down the ways, but by the time it slid all the way down, the wooden ways were smoking because she had scraped off all the grease by then. The tugs then turned her stern downstream," he said.

Giordano said her boss came by the shop that day and told her they were putting the ship out in the water, so she went out to see.

"She slid down and almost hit the Jersey shore she was so big," she said. "What a sight it was. People roared and she just slid down real nice as if she was glad to get a bath."

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