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South Jersey

September 06, 1999

Navy veterans lead effort to bring ship to Camden

Courier-Post staff

As a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman on the battleship USS Missouri in the early 1950s, cadet David McGuigan was assigned his first job in the military … an assignment he cherishes to this day.

His deck duty each morning began with polishing the brass deck plate commemorating the signing of the armistice with Japan that ended World War II in 1945, a chore he says conjured daily images of great naval battles in the Pacific, Iwo Jima and the Kamikaze suicide pilots he had only seen in newsreels and photographs.

Later, he served on the USS Wisconsin, an identical battleship and one of the four largest ever manufactured by the United States.

Now a retired Navy captain living in Haddonfield, he has become one of two key players in the drive to bring another of the sister battleships … the USS New Jersey, the most decorated battleship in U.S. history with 16 battle stars … back to the Delaware River, where it was built during World War II.

"This has been very challenging and has become a large part of my life for the past year," said McGuigan, 66, a former naval architect and engineer who is president of the Home Port Alliance, the group trying to bring the battleship to Camden as a Navy museum and memorial.

McGuigan teamed with another retired Navy officer, Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, to help prepare an application to the Navy for relocation to Camden.

Seigenthaler, 67, a naval electrical engineer and project director for the alliance, is a former commander of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where the USS New Jersey was built by workers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The two were not strangers. Both are Vietnam War veterans who met 20 years ago, served together in Philadelphia and later became friends and settled in Haddonfield.

Seigenthaler, a Tennessee native, said McGuigan not only wrote much of the application for the proposed site on the Camden Waterfront, but also oversaw its development. McGuigan remains the point man for the Home Port Alliance in its contact with Navy offices studying the Camden proposal and a competing application by the New Jersey Battleship Commission for a berth in Bayonne.

"He is a writer and a very detail-oriented engineer, which is why I asked him to be the proposal manager. I knew we would have a better chance at the battleship if we had him. If we lost the battleship, it would not be because of a poor application presentation," Seigenthaler said.

Their Navy ties, however, are not the motive for their efforts, both said in a joint interview last week.

"My participation is not tied to reliving my Navy days or having a Navy ship around so I can go aboard. I don't need a ship for glory," McGuigan said. "I am involved out of concern for social action and for Camden City and the positive economic stimulus that this memorial will have on the city, its people and its work force, as well as the educational impact on the youth of the area."

Seigenthaler said Navy folks like to give back to the community.

"When the shipyard closed, it took a piece of my heart with it. Having the battleship here would provide jobs for people and a much-needed Navy presence in a large metropolitan area," he said.

That's why Home Port Alliance meetings are held in the New Jersey city overlooking the Delaware River.

Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones, a co-founder of the alliance, calls the two retired Navy officers "angels" sent to help Camden.

"They have extraordinary experience as leaders in the Navy and were willing to come forward on a volunteer basis and give extraordinary hours to the process," she said.

Ironically, McGuigan initially declined to join the Home Port Alliance because he was vacationing. Instead, he suggested the backers contact Seigenthaler. They did, and he came aboard first.

It was Seigenthaler who later persuaded McGuigan to join him because of his experience writing proposals for the Navy, including an application involving larger submarines built to carry Trident missiles.

"I was recalled from Vietnam to work on the Trident proposal," said McGuigan, who was raised in an Italian neighborhood in South Philadelphia, a few blocks from where Seigenthaler's wife grew up, and who admits to being the more emotional of the pair.

McGuigan was commanding officer of the Naval Ship Engineering Station in Philadelphia when Seigenthaler came to the shipyard as commander. The station develops designs for ship systems.

The admiral has held many military posts. He once was in charge of the modernization program for all surface combat ships in the Navy when he worked in Washington at Naval Sea Systems Command, supervised ship repair facilities in the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam, and oversaw maintenance of all ships in the Mediterranean in the 1970s.

But with all their Navy ties, the pair said there were more important reasons for wanting to bring the ship to Camden: They believe the USS New Jersey will deliver a needed economic boost to city that has been declared an urban enterprise zone by the federal government … a view has been put into the mission statement on the alliance's Navy application.

Seigenthaler now works for NDI Systems Engineering Company of Thorofare, a military consultant that has provided office support to prepare and update the Home Port application.

McGuigan once was executive vice president of NDI after retiring from the Navy in 1984.

On their advice, the alliance brought on board environmental, financial and historical consultants, as well as writers to aid in application preparation.

USS New Jersey Home Page

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