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South Jersey

November 04, 1999

Retired workers are eager to see ship they helped build

Avi Steinhardt, Courier-Post
Former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard workers (from left at front table) Sam Trambo, Jim Devlin, Tony Leon, Jack Cleaver, John Borek, Joeseph Larkin, (from left at back table) Buck quinn, Stan Lampfield and Jim Campbell gather at O'Donnell's Restaurant in Gloucester City to reminisce about helping to build the USS New Jersey.


A group of retired friends gathers here periodically to talk of ships.

And in one ship they have more than a passing interest the battleship USS New Jersey.

The group members are retirees of the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, some of whom either helped build the ship during World War II or overhauled her in 1968.

The battleship, on the final leg of her voyage to her namesake state, was a lively topic of the last dinner meeting of the group that calls itself the Hump Club. Many of its members saw the New Jersey launched on Dec. 7, 1942, but have not seen the ship for at least 30 years, and in some cases, more than 50 years.

The ex-yardbirds, among 70,000 employed at the ship yard during World War II, say they cannot wait to inspect the ship. They believe “Big J” should be docked in Camden on the Delaware River near where she was built during World War II.

“I'd like to go back on board and see the things we worked on and the equipment that was installed, like the area for the missiles and the helo pad,” ex-sheet metal worker Jim Devlin, 70, of Washington Township, said at the club's meeting at O'Donnell's Restaurant in Gloucester City.

John Borek of Winslow, also a sheet metal worker, helped build many parts, including the magazine elevator that carried gunpowder to the turrets of the massive 16-inch guns.

“I can't wait to get back on the ship to see some of the places where we once worked building her,” said Borek, 81.

That prompted Joseph Larkin, 80, of Bellmawr, and Tony Leon, 72, of Philadelphia, to recall the chain of command at the yard.

“You were a quarterman (a general foreman) and Tony and I were just peons,” they joked.

Borek and others remember witnessing the launching of the ship on the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.

“She was so big she went almost across the width of the river and sent a huge wave onto the banks at National Park,” said Borek.

Larkin said he worked on the New Jersey in 1968 when the crow's nest, living quarters and gun turrets were replaced, improvements were made to the crew's mess and air conditioning was installed.

The group meets every few

months at the restaurant to catch up on one another's activities, health and families, as well as reminisce and take playful verbal jabs at one another.

Like the club's convoluted name, some members also have unique nicknames given by their comrades.

They said the club's name was chosen because Jim Campbell, 78, of Philadelphia, former superintendent of sheet metal shop 17, has been their perennial and only president for the 30 years they have been meeting.

“You see, we pronounce his name “camel” and we all know camels have humps, so we just decided one day to call ourselves the Hump Club,” Borek said.

There's “Big Joe” Bochanski and “Big Mouth” Larkin, too.

Rigger Jack Cleaver, 64, of Brooklawn, said he has a vivid memory of the first time he saw the ship in 1968 during the overhaul. He moved equipment out of the engine room and marveled at the thickness of the steel in the superstructure and hull.

He and the others agreed the ship should return to the Delaware River where she was born.

“Most of the sweat and blood was here,” Borek said.

Stan Lampfield, 74, of Philadelphia, said the ship should be in Camden on the Delaware because her builders came from New Jersey, as well as Philadelphia.

“Nobody came from Bayonne to work on the ship,” he said.

Campbell said he always was more impressed with the two battleships the yard built the New Jersey and the Wisconsin than with any aircraft carrier.

“They are impressive, the battleships. Their big guns could shoot shells 6 feet long and 2,700 pounds more than 20 miles. They (the shells) could go through 35 feet of concrete,” he said with no less amazement today than he said he had nearly 60 years ago.

The ship fired shells onto the battlefields of many islands in the Pacific Ocean during World War II to destroy strategic enemy positions and provide cover for allied troop landings.

“It was the GI's answer to a prayer when you saw her coming over the horizon,” Borek said.

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