officials tour battleship
Gov. Christie Whitman and
her husband John tour the USS New Jersey in Panama City on Sunday.
Today, the ship will enter the canal locks.
Gannett State Bureau
CANAL ZONE, PANAMA
Christie Whitman on Sunday praised the Battleship New Jersey
as a gallant warrior and paid tribute to the Panama Canal, calling
it a true marvel of engineering. She spoke just a few feet away
from both. Today, the battleship will enter the first lock of
"Over the years, the New Jersey distinguished herself
as no other," Whitman said. "The most decorated battleship
in naval history, she earned 16 Battle Stars and numerous achievement
awards in four wars over a span of five decades. Her effectiveness
in war helped build a legacy of peace."
The governor toured the ship's deck with Sen. Frank Lautenberg,
D-N.J., and others, posing briefly in front of the "Big
J's" huge 16-inch guns, which could fire a shell with the
mass of a compact car 23 miles. They created so much smoke when
they fired, the ship was also known as the Black Dragon.
The governor said the deck stroll connected her to the ship's
past and those who served aboard the vessel.
"As I walked across her sleeping deck and through her
quiet passageways just a few minutes ago, I could feel the presence,
the living presence, of the thousands of men who, over the years,
served on this ship with honor, courage and commitment,"
"And now, like a victorious warrior returning from battle,"
the governor told an audience seated under tents in the blazing
heat, "the USS New Jersey prepares to make her last passage
through the canal, on her final journey home, in a world blessed
with the bounty of a peace she helped secure."
The battleship is being towed to Philadelphia, where it will
await a decision from the Navy on where in New Jersey it will
be anchored as a floating museum and tribute to people who have
served their country.
Whitman noted this will be the grand old battlewagon's 10th
trip through the canal, which she praised as a living monument
to the vision of those who conceived it, the sweat and toil of
those who built it, and the dedication of those who have operated
The United States will turn over the canal to Panama at the
end of the year, an event made possible, Whitman said, by a world
with an increased sense of security.
"The achievement of this security would not have been
possible without the contribution of the great ship, which now
lies peacefully behind me and the achievement of those who served
on her." The governor was eloquent. But Lautenberg displayed
his quick wit, often poking fun at himself.
"The New Jersey was launched Dec. 7, 1942, and I don't
know who looks the worse for wear, but that was the week I enlisted
in the Army. We're both stilling going
and I'm going under
my own power."
The audience roared with laughter. Then, he turned to the
Spanish language translator and quipped, "Do you have to
translate or shall we let it go?"
The state's senior senator also joked about the size of the
ship in relation to the locks on the canal. There is a clearance
of about eight inches on either side of the ship.
"It's a tight fit, but New Jersey is a tight fit anyway,
between New York and Philadelphia. We always managed to come
out on top."
He recalled the ship motto, "Firepower for Freedom,"
and recalled, I saw her firing those `Volkswagens' she
used to shoot in Lebanon. It was a frightening thing to just
witness, but it was a comforting thing to know that that was
our ship and those were our people who were out there defending
the free world."
Lautenberg introduced legislation to take the battleship off
the Navy's active duty register so that it would be available
as a floating museum.
"I know that all of us who helped make this voyage possible
are thrilled that the New Jersey will be spending her later years
in the state for which she is named."
He praised the New Jerseyans who have worked to bring the
ship to its namesake state and predicted hundreds of thousand
of tourists will visit the ship and learn about history.
USS New Jersey Home Page