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South Jersey

Friday, July 31, 1998

It's personal to bring battleship back

Photo illustration by Clark Perks/Courier-Post

CAMDEN'S BIG ATTRACTION? This digitally created composite shows what the battleship USS New Jersey could look like along the Camden Waterfront.

Today, we welcome the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission to South Jersey with a ceremony we think appropriate for the most decorated ship in the Navy.

Our motive is straightforward - we want the "Big J" berthed on the Camden Waterfront when the Navy releases it to be towed from Bremerton, Wash.

The proposed Camden site is next to the popular E-Centre and right down the way from the Aquarium. Both attract huge numbers of visitors.

But the commission must understand our interests go far beyond the establishment of a money-generating attraction.

To South Jersey, the battleship is family.

Many area residents were there Dec. 7, 1942, when the battleship slid into the Delaware from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard after three years of construction that cost $90 million.

Mabel Giordano of Mount Ephraim was one of thousands who helped build it. She went looking for a job during World War II and was told she could clean toilets or learn to weld.

"I figured I'd like to weld," said Giordano, 82.

Recently, she was collecting signatures for a petition to bring the ship to Camden when she ran across Jim Mutchler of Runnemede. He also helped build the "Big J."

Joe D'Imperio of Mantua worked on the USS New Jersey, too, but years later.

He helped prepare it for service in Vietnam and then, a second time, he was part of a crew performing a minor overhaul.

"I have fond memories of working on her," he said. "I remember when they first fired the huge 16-inch guns, it knocked a whole lot of the paint off the compartments."

Russell Collins Jr. of Palmyra was an original crew member.

"I looked up and said, 'My God, I never saw a ship that big,' " said Collins, who joined the ship in Norfolk, Va.

"Being from Jersey and being on its namesake ship, I felt proud of it."

USS New Jersey stories could fill a newspaper. Everyone who helped build the ship, repaired it or served aboard it - it had a crew of more than 3,000 - has something to say, a memory to share. Their yarns touched us deeply.

Some stories came from among the 2,085 people who clipped coupons from the Courier-Post and mailed them into us. Their envelopes were wrapped in a pretty package with a yellow ribbon and will be part of the presentation made to the commission.

Thank you for taking part.

We were curious about what the grand old battlewagon would look like on the Camden Waterfront.

So we asked the Courier-Post's Clark Perks to do some magic with his computer. He took a picture of the Waterfront and a picture of the ship and digitally created a composite. That's it on top of the page.

Even though it's a fake, we like what we see. We hope the commission does, too, and will look favorably on Camden as the final resting spot for the USS New Jersey, our battleship.

USS New Jersey Home Page

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