August 10, 2000
Tour stirs powerful memories among many veterans.
Young and old engrossed by tour of battleship.
By CAROL COMEGNO
Kyle Miller was mesmerized as he took it all in the looming guns above his head, the weighty anchor chains, a deck almost three football fields long and the bridge where many captains have stood in command.
"Somebody here asked me if I would like to be in the Navy. I am thinking it would be a pretty neat job to work for the country," concluded Kyle, 9, of Maple Shade.
He was one of an estimated 5,000-plus visitors who flocked here Wednesday for the public's first opportunity to board the historic battleship USS New Jersey since its celebrated return to the area in November.
Wednesday was the first of only two days of free public tours of the retired warship USS New Jersey one of four of the largest class of U.S. battleships ever built.
Tours continue today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then, the ship will be towed to South Camden and be closed for more than a year for renovations. The ship will become the centerpiece of a naval memorial and museum here at Wiggins Park.
The project is estimated to cost more than $20 million.
Despite stifling heat and humidity, the ship attracted all types of admirers veterans, retired shipbuilders, military personnel, teachers, history buffs, housewives, blue- and white-collar workers and hundreds of children. They boarded shuttle buses at Wiggins Park for a five-minute ride to the Beckett Street Marine Terminal, where the ship is temporarily docked.
The ship was moved two weeks ago to the Beckett Street Terminal from the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Some, like Kyle Miller's family, came for a history lesson. Others came out of curiosity or to relive or retell stories of their military experiences in war and peacetime. And they admired the ship chipped paint, rust, dings in the teak deck and all.
Paul Miller, Kyle's father and a professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia who has followed the ship's fate the past few years, brought his son and daughter to teach them some history and let them meet veterans so they could hear them recount their experiences.
"It's an awesome ship and historical ... a great experience. I am very glad I came," said Kyle, whose grandfather was in the Normandy invasion.
The boy's father said despite the ship's condition, "you get a sense of how powerful the ship is and looks."
On board, they met Navy veterans like Al Busa of Collingswood and Jim Reynolds of Sicklerville, both of whom served in World War II.
"She looks great!" shouted Busa.
Jeff Cary, 50, of West Deptford, a battleship aficionado and Navy veteran of the Vietnam era, got down on his hands and knees and kissed the deck right after stepping on board.
"This is the culmination of many a year's dream. It's like a fantasy being on board," said Cary, who has a scrapbook of years of news stories and pictures of the ship.
His wife, Suzie, said just the history is neat. "I came out to see the before so I can see the after later," she said.
Ed Jarosz, 43, a self-employed auto mechanic from Gloucester City, came at 8 a.m. to get on the first bus. Once on board, he took a picture of his son on one of the 16-inch guns on the bow a favorite spot of visitors for pictures.
Bill Dolan of Newton, Sussex County, a crew member after the Korean War, stood on the exact spot on the bow where the large gun he fired
used to be mounted. It was removed when missile launchers were added. "I think the ship's in bad shape and being on it gives me an eerie feeling," he said.
A worker from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard reminisced about his contributions building the USS New Jersey in the 1940s.
"I am proud of the ship and my work on it. I welded the letters for its designation, BB-62, and my work will always remain," said James Wroten, 84, of Deptford.
"We came because my brother helped build this ship," said Sara Nichols, 71, of Williamstown, who toured the USS New Jersey with her sister. "It's a living remembrance of him."