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South Jersey

November 09, 1999

Pomp, circumstance will greet battleship on its homecoming

Courier-Post Staff

When the battleship USS New Jersey heads up the Delaware River Thursday, it'll do so to an appreciative audience.

Bands will play, politicians will speak and an entire region will stare in amazement as the massive, battle-tested warship nears her home state after a distinguished career.

``I'm going to observe our usual Veterans Day observance here at the post and then head on over to the river with 15 to 20 other guys to watch it come by,'' said Peter Kane, a Navy veteran and member of American Legion Post 7334 in Somerdale. ``I'm really looking forward to seeing it. I expect to see her stay right here in Camden. There's no reason for it to go anywhere else.''

Kane and his buddies won't be the only ones watching history, as the ship completes its journey from Bremerton, Wash., to Philadelphia. It will stay there until the Navy decides whether to permanently berth it as a museum in Camden or Bayonne.

Roadways leading to river observation points are expected to be jammed, along with the airspace above and the choppy waters of the Delaware River itself. As the ship makes its way, news helicopters will hover above, and an armada of commercial boats and pleasure craft is expected to bounce about in the waters off New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

There even were reports that some commercial craft in Fortescue, Cumberland County, were planning excursions to the ship and back for $15 a pop.

Despite the anticipated crowds, the Federal Aviation Administration in Philadelphia says it doesn't plan any restrictions on airplane and helicopter traffic.

The Coast Guard cutter Mako from Atlantic City is expected to rendezvous with the battleship at the Cape Henlopen Sea Buoy in Delaware Bay about 3 p.m. Wednesday, and will be the lead Coast Guard vessel as the ship makes its way up the bay and river.

"We monitor large ships every day and have guided many Navy vessels up and down the river. But what's different about this is that it's the New Jersey. There's a lot more public interest and I expect more boater activity," said Coast Guard Capt. Gregory F. Adams, captain of the Port of Philadelphia.

He said the Coast Guard will close the river to commercial traffic for several hours on Thursday as the ship enters the Delaware River.

He also cautioned boaters that there will be a safety zone around the battleship. He said boaters will not be permitted within 150 feet of each side of the ship, 1,500 feet in front and 300 feet behind.

"We are the most concerned with small craft getting too close to the ship and being affected by the propeller wash from the tugs that will be handling her," Adams said.

The Coast Guard will monitor VHS channel 13 on marine radio.

The Boater Voter Coalition has formed a welcome flotilla that will greet the ship as it passes the Delaware River Memorial Bridge.

Flotilla spokesman Jerry Donofrio of Willingboro said, for $10, the names of welcoming vessels and their captains will be placed on a document that will presented at a later date to the ship as a historical record.

"Bringing the ship up on Veterans Day will be much more appropriate than on Wednesday as originally planned. We don't want to startle anyone, but we plan to fire a cannon from one of the boats to signal her entry into the river," he said.

In addition, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry is operating a special public cruise that will allow 1,000 people to see the New Jersey arrive at the Cape Henlopen Sea Buoy Wednesday.

James Salmon, a spokesman for the Delaware River and Bay Authority that operates the ferries, said the trip was delayed from today until Wednesday because of the battleship's revised schedule. It sold out Monday.

Salmon said proceeds from the trip will be donated to make the New Jersey a museum.

Said Salmon, "We've had a tremendous amount of interest from the public to see the historic homecoming, and we are honored to play a part to allow the public to see the event."

Meanwhile, on land, law enforcement officials in Gloucester County are hoping for the best and planning for the worst. Red Bank Battlefield in National Park will be the site of the largest single celebration on this side of the Delaware River.

A smaller observance is planned for Fort Mott State Park in Pennsville, Salem County.

National Park Police Chief Lin Couch said he expects the first of about 7,000 people to start converging on his town by dawn, providing the weather cooperates. He said he's already placed five of his department's seven policemen on duty that day and that one of them will be stationed at Hessian and Grove avenues to direct traffic along the only roads leading in and out of the tiny borough.

``This could be a nightmare, absolutely,'' he said. He added with a laugh that his job could be made a whole lot easier if the ship were to arrive at night when it was dark and no one would be interested in coming out to see it.

Albert Bucchi is one of those lucky enough to win an invitation to join Gov. Christie Whitman and other dignitaries aboard a special ferry to Philadelphia, where the USS New Jersey will remain until the political tug-of-war is decided between Bayonne and Camden as the ship's permanent berthing site.

Bucchi is the legislative chairman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Burlington County.

``I'm extremely honored,'' said the 52-year-old Palmyra resident, who served in the Army and whose son is in the Navy. ``If I hadn't received this invitation, I'd be at Red Bank Battlefield with everyone else. I'm looking for a large crowd there.''

Augmenting National Park police on Thursday will be at least six officers from the Gloucester County Sheriff's Office.

The only vehicles allowed inside will be those with handicap tags or placards, shuttle buses or groups arriving via buses, and employees, staff and volunteers working with the park.

Organizers of the event encourage car pooling whenever possible.

The county will operate three free buses to the battlefield from neighboring West Deptford starting at 9:30 a.m. Pickup points include the Grove Road soccer fields, the Little League fields opposite the municipal building and the softball field opposite the Thorofare Fire Department.

Public parking will be available at each of those sites as well at the 2nd Street baseball fields in National Park.

Inside the gates at Red Bank Battlefield, the county freeholder board has scheduled a full day of merriment.

One or more bands will perform, several large tents will provide cake, juice and cookies to the countless veterans expected, five or six vendors have been approved to sell food (the sale of commemorative items will not be permitted) and the park's museum will be open as an alternative to just waiting.

The cake, being baked by Gloucester County Institute of Technology students, will be in the form of a battleship. It will measure 7 feet long, 2 feet high and 1 feet wide.

Said their teacher, Charlie McBride, ``The students worked very hard on this project and are excited to be a participant in one of South Jersey's proudest and most historical moments.''

No alcoholic beverages will be permitted anywhere inside the park.

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