By CAROL COMEGNO
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
The president of the group refurbishing the battleship USS New Jersey proposed a formal arrangement Saturday for input from ex-crew members of the ship who served from World War II to the Lebanon conflict in the 1980s.
David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance, promised to appoint a liaison if USS New Jersey Veterans Inc. appointed its own committee to work with the Alliance toward the goal of opening the ship to the public as a museum.
He also suggested that the veterans group could get a seat on the Alliance board in the future.
``We want to work with everyone to achieve one common goal and we want to make sure your concerns are addressed,'' McGuigan, a retired Navy captain, told 430 ex-crew members and guests at the veterans' annual convention at the Plaza Resort in Daytona. ``As the relationship progresses, your group could have a seat on our board.''
The Alliance is a nonprofit South Jersey organization now in charge of the historic warship, which is slated to become a museum on the Waterfront by Labor Day 2001.
Richard Esser, president of the crew members group, said he relishes McGuigan's proposal. ``Our sailors thought we were going to be eliminated from any discussion. I must say Capt. McGuigan made a very big impression on us.''
Most of the former crewmen, like Fred Adams, of Port Orange, Fla., said they had either never seen the revived Camden-Philadelphia waterfront, or had not visited the area in years. Most were eager to hear about the $22 million plan for the overhaul and display of their former home at sea.
``The last time I was in Camden was in 1943 chasing girls after I came to Philadelphia in May 1943,'' joked Adams, 74, a deckhand who was one of the ship's original 3,000 crewmen who served in World War II. At that time, he lived in Indianapolis.
In a surprise ceremony Saturday, South Korean officials presented medals to 99 former shipmates commemorating their service to that country during the Korean War.
``To have this given to an American serviceman like me is beyond words ... fantastic,'' said an emotional Bart Porpora, 68, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Porpora later said he plans to boycott the Camden location for the ship by not visiting it.
``I know that was chosen because it was across from where the ship was built in Philadelphia, but I think it should have overlooked Liberty State Park, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and not overlooking a state Aquarium.''
However, not every conventioneer felt the same. ``We've read so much about the fighting over the ship. It became a political football. But all we wanted was the ship back in (New Jersey),'' said Richard McDowell, 66, of Port Orange, Fla.
``Now it's there and I hope it turns out for the best.''
The New Jersey Battleship Commission rejected the New York Harbor site because of cost.
World War II crew member John Horan, 75, of Cherry Hill, spent many hours praising the Camden site to other members. Horan and other New Jersey crew veterans, Robert Levine, 75, of Warren, Arthur Scott, 76, of Hillsborough, and
Walter Olkowski, 78, of Bridgewater, swapped sea stories with their colleagues.
Vietnam War veteran Michael Prime, 51, of New York, recalled that once the ship's captain, Edward Snyder, had one of the gun tub areas NOTE:painted blue inside and turned into a mini-swimming pool. He said, ``It was the talk of the ship and we have the photos to prove it.''