veterans lead effort to bring ship to Camden
By CAROL COMEGNO
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
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
McGuigan teamed with
another retired Navy officer, Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler,
to help prepare an application to the Navy for relocation to
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,"
Their Navy ties, however,
are not the motive for their efforts, both said in a joint interview
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,"
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.
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