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South Jersey

August 17, 1996

Veterans seek return of battleship

Courier-Post staff

CHERRY HILL - John Horan would love to see the USS New Jersey docked in Camden, close to his home, here.

But he'll settle for the current proposal, which is to tow the World War II battleship from its current berth in Washington state to a spot in Bayonne, where it would become a museum.

'It's an awesome ship,' said Horan, 71, who served as a signalman aboard the New Jersey from March 1943 until the end of World War II.

A group of veterans and other New Jersey residents have been working since 1974 to get the Navy to turn the 45,000-ton, 888-foot-long ship over to its 'native' state.

Since that time it has seen more action - off the coast of Beirut in 1983 - but in 1991 it was decommissioned and in 1995 it became available for acquisition.

The New Jersey Battleship Commission, headed by Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, has listened to proposals to bring the ship to Camden, across from the Navy Yard where it was commissioned in 1943. But Azzolina has leaned toward berthing it in North Jersey.

Liberty State Park, in Jersey City, was the commission's first choice. But the cost of dredging and building a dock there seems to have persuaded the commission that an existing berth in Bayonne will suffice.

The cost of towing the ship from the West Coast and getting it into good enough shape to entertain visitors is estimated at nearly $15 million.

'The Navy won't turn it over to just anybody,' Horan said. 'They want to be sure that it will be used and maintained in a dignified way.'

That's fine with Horan, who went through the liberation of the Philippines and the invasion of Iwo Jima on board the New Jersey.

Horan and his shipmates will discuss the ship's possible return when they hold a reunion next month in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Horan is publicizing the cause from the back of his car, via a special license plate with a picture of BB-62.

Eighty percent of the $50 fee he paid for the plate went to the battleship commission.

Donations to bring back the ship can be sent to the Battleship New Jersey Historical Museum Society, P.O. Box BB-62, Middletown, N.J. 07748.

The reunion of New Jersey sailors will be held Sept. 19-22 at the Drawbridge Estate Inn, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. For more information, call Horan at 428-6285.

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