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

Ex-crewmen hope to hold reunion on `Big J' in 2002

Courier-Post Staff

C.R. ``Bus'' Kelver can't wait until he can stand again on the battleship New Jersey, on which he once served.

But he will have to wait two years before that happens. Kelver is a member of USS New Jersey Veterans Inc., which decided to postpone holding its annual reunion in Camden until September 2002.

``Camden's just fine with me. You can bet we will be there in two years,'' said Kelver, 73, of Osceola, Ind., a former boiler tender who boarded the ship in 1950 in Bayonne.

The veterans organization is a national association of nearly 1,200 former crew members of the Navy's most highly decorated warship.

Members want to hold a reunion as soon as possible, but were fearful that restoration would not be fully completed when the ship is due to open as a museum and memorial in September 2001.

``We don't want to go aboard just to be on the top decks,'' said Richard Esser of Loraincee cue, Ohio, who was re-elected group president Sunday. ``We want to go below deck to see the areas where we lived and worked.''

At a private meeting last weekend, Esser met with New Jersey group members and with retired Navy Capt. David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance, the South Jersey group in charge of overhauling the ship and creating the floating museum near where the ship was built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

McGuigan told them the intention is to open the ship by Labor Day 2001, even if work is not completed.

There is still dissent among some veterans over the recent Navy decision selecting Camden as the permanent site for the ship instead of Bayonne. Some, including several New York members, cited Camden's national reputation as a poor city with a high crime rate.

George Whitlock, of Buffalo, N.Y., proposed a petition drive opposing Camden via the group newsletter, though others said the tactic at this date will accomplish nothing.

``Only by working to make the alliance an all-inclusive board can we mitigate these negative feelings,'' said McGuigan. To that end, he has proposed a committee of crew member veterans to work with the alliance.

Esser appointed John Horan of Cherry Hill to head the liaison committee and will be appointing other members, including Robert Walters of Cinnaminson.

``The war is over, let's stop crying,'' said member Robert Levine of Warren, Somerset County. He said some North Jerseyans are responsible for creating the discontent.

Esser said his group hopes to have a reunion in New Jersey as soon as possible because many of its World War II members are passing away. Nationally, the group gained 96 members last year, but lost 46. One World War II veteran, Frank X. Cullen of Pennsylvania, died Saturday at the convention hotel while he slept.

``He died where he wanted to be,'' association officer Richard McDowell said, ``doing what he wanted to do.''

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