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

USS New Jersey is preparing for an onslaught of visitors

Courier-Post Staff

The Camden Waterfront has a prominent new resident that is the talk of the neighborhood.

Towering higher than anything else here along the Delaware River, the battleship USS New Jersey dwarfs other attractions with its mighty size.

Its skyward superstructure is higher than the Tweeter Center on the banks behind it, and its steel hull stretches more than 887 feet -- almost three football fields long.

With its fresh coat of gray paint and its 16-inch guns elevated, the restored ship appears ready to go to war.

But while the nation braces for a war on terrorism, the most decorated battleship in U.S. Navy history is preparing for an onslaught of visitors.

When the ship opens, visitors will take tours that will give them access to areas above and below the main deck.

Not all levels below will be open until a future date when new income will allow other tour routes to be added.

They will be able to climb inside the 16-inch gun turrets where shells were loaded for firing, see the radio room, combat center, the bridge where captains piloted the ship, the quarters of famous World War II admirals and compartments where sailors ate, slept or worked.

They will see a World War II ship updated with high technology weapons and communications. Its sleek, yacht-like design is silhouetted 200 feet out into the river at a T-shaped pier 454 feet long.

"We have restored it to its appearance in the 1980s after it was modernized with missiles and other new weaponry," said ship curator Scott Kodger, "so the World War II veterans will not see many of the older gun mounts."

He said all tours will be guided and take up to two hours.

The Home Port Alliance, the nonprofit South Jersey group that has refurbished it at cost of $7 million, decided on guided tours so that visitors will have a more meaningful experience, said Kodger.

"All of our docents are trained, and we are always looking for more volunteers," said Kodger.

Tours will start on the ship's sweeping bow in front of Gun Turret No. 1 on the forecastle, where visitors can see the vista of Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty.

It will end two decks below in the galley and ice cream stand known as the "gedunk," where visitors can buy refreshments.

The last tour stop will be the ship's store. There also will be a gift shop at the landside visitor center where tour tickets will be sold.

Lon Somora of Medford, a retired sales manager, wanted to do something challenging so he signed up as a volunteer guide.

"My dad was Navy, but I was in the Army, so when I first came aboard I called the New Jersey a boat. They corrected me right away and said, `Hey, this is a ship!'"

He said he will tell visitors that much of the ship was cleaned and repaired lovingly during a restoration by hundreds of volunteers.

Tour guide John DiBlasio, also of Medford, said he will also point out much of the ship's shiny brass, some of which he spent hours polishing as a volunteer.

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