November 04, 1999
Ship makes her final journey home
By CAROL COMEGNO
Chris LaChall, Courier-Post With the Ancon Hills behind her, the USS New Jersey is pulled into the entrance of the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal on Oct. 18, on its way from Bremerton, Wash., to Philadelphia.
The long journey home is about to end for the graying battleship USS New Jersey the most decorated vessel in U.S. naval history.
The ship's tentative arrival on Veterans Day next week would be a fitting tribute to cap a two-month voyage of 5,800 miles from Bremerton, Wash., home to her namesake state to become a floating museum and memorial in either Camden or Bayonne.
The Navy is expected to decide the ship's final resting place within the next two months.
She is not only the most honored, but also one of four of the Iowa-class battleships the largest ever built by the U.S. with a length of almost three football fields. Her nine 16-inch guns can hurl shells the size of a 6-foot man more than 20 miles.
The aging steel hero has survived three major wars since World War II, as well as other minor naval skirmishes. Her combat history began with her launching on Dec. 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
For her naval heroics, the ship was awarded 16 battle stars and honors.
The New Jersey cleared her biggest navigational hurdle when she was towed through the Panana Canal on Oct. 18 to 20 with no difficulty and with just inches of clearance along the sleek warrior's 107-foot-wide midsection. An engine problem with her towing tug has delayed her arrival in Philadelphia.
We are planning a great welcome home back to the Delaware River and we hope it never leaves here, said Capt. David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance, a nonprofit group based in South Jersey that is seeking eventually to place the ship on the Camden Waterfront near the shipyard where she was built by craftsmen from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, chairman of the New Jersey Battleship Commission, hopes the commission's application to put the ship in Bayonne will prevail but says the most important thing is to get her back to the state.
Standing on her wooden deck with other New Jersey dignitaries as she passed silently through the Panama Canal, Azzolina said of her imminent return to New Jersey after more than 20 years of effort, I feel exhilarated and consider this my greatest accomplishment.