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

October 19, 1999

Hughes thrilled to be on `Big J'

By CAROL COMEGNO
Courier-Post Staff


ABOARD THE USS NEW JERSEY
Cruising the Panama Canal is not a novelty for William Hughes.

As former U.S. Ambassador to Panama, the South Jersey resident made at least a dozen transits of the canal on cruise and cargo ships.

However, Monday's trip was like no other for Hughes. He and his wife Nancy were aboard the battleship New Jersey, making its final trip through the canal.

"I have made a lot of transits, but this is unquestionably the most exciting for me or anyone," said Hughes, 67, of Ocean City.

"This is the USS New Jersey … the most decorated battleship in the U.S. Navy. That makes a lot of difference."

Hughes served as U.S. ambassador to Panama from 1995 to 1998, after a 22-

year career as a Democratic congressman. He currently is a professor of public policy at Stockton State College in Pomona and at Rutgers University.

Before he was confirmed as ambassador, Hughes recalled, he received a call from Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth. Azzolina, chairman of the New Jersey Battleship Commission, told Hughes the commission would want to bring the ship through the canal so it could return to New Jersey as a floating museum.

This, however, was several years before the Navy decided to donate the ship.

Hughes said he mentioned the issue of the ship while attending his first meeting of the Panama Canal Commission as ambassador. Hughes said the commission members raised their eyebrows "and I could see a lot of pained expressions on their faces because of the challenges that would present."

The battleship is not moving under its own power, but is being towed to a temporary home at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The Navy will decide on its ultimate destination … either Camden or Bayonne.

Eventually, the U.S. government won approval for the ship's transit through the canal.

"I wanted it to come back during my watch as ambassador, but the important thing is that it's happened," Hughes said.

He and his wife said it feels great to be back in Panama. The couple said they especially missed the people, whom they described as friendly and loving the United States.

Panama, said Hughes, "is more Americanized than any other Latin country. They even use U.S. currency."

Hughes noted that he served in Panama during a challenging time, when U.S. officials were negotiating the transfer of the canal and American military facilities to the Panamanians.

While some Panamanians do not want the United States to leave when it turns the canal over to them Jan. 1, Hughes said he believes the United States made the right decision.

"There's no question it makes abundant sense. The canal has become a target of terrorism and U.S. ownership created unrest." USS New Jersey Home Page



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