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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
 
South Jersey

September 16, 1999

Never mind its final berth, 'Big J' on way home, at last

The ''Big J" is on the way and that's cause for jubilation among all N.J. residents, be they proponents of Bayonne or Camden as the battleship's final berth.

The most decorated ship in the Navy with 16 battle stars, the USS New Jersey left Bremerton, Wash., at 6:45 a.m. Sunday under tow by a single tugboat, the Sea Victory.

Fittingly, the battleship's departure from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where it joined the mothball fleet eight years ago, was observed by members of the USS New Jersey's Veterans Inc.

The group held its annual reunion in nearby Seattle last week and among the ship's well-wishers were a few remaining ''plank holders," members of the New Jersey's crew when it was commissioned May 23, 1943.

In U.S. Navy tradition, ''plank holders" hold special rights of ownership.

Indeed, many members actually do each hold a piece of the battleship's original teak deck, given to them when the deck was replaced in the 1980s.

The New Jersey is traveling 5,800 miles to Philadelphia, where it was built and launched on Dec. 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The journey is expected to take about 55 days, with passage through the Panama Canal scheduled for mid-October.

It'll be a squeeze, with just 8 inches of clearance on either side, but the New Jersey's made it before. The battleship saw combat in the Pacific during World II and, later, off the coasts of Korea, Vietnam and Lebanon.

The ''Big J," whose 16-inch guns are capable of hurtling one-ton shells 23 miles, will arrive in Philadelphia around Nov. 5. The U.S. Navy Ship Donation Program Office will decide its final berth as a museum, probably in January.

We think the Camden Waterfront is the obvious choice. It would bring the great ship from ''birth to berth," near the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where it was built by Delaware Valley residents.

Other reasons why Camden is preferable to Bayonne:

-- The fresh water of the Delaware River is less corrosive than the salt water of Upper New York Bay.

-- The Bayonne site is out of the way, while 23 million tourists visit the Greater Philadelphia area annually.

-- Another museum ship, the much larger aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, is already in New York City, and is likely to satisfy visitors' curiosity without their going to Bayonne.

-- The Camden area is offering a $4.2 million financial package to get the battleship's adventure as a museum started.

The case for Camden is conclusive, then, but the choice is for another day.

For now, we'll avidly follow the big ship's movement and anxiously await its triumphant return to the waters of its namesake state. USS New Jersey Home Page



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