November 09, 1999
Merchants gearing up for arrival of `Big J'
By KIM MULFORD
It's anyone's guess how many people will descend on Red Bank Battlefield Thursday, listed as the prime viewing spot to see the USS New Jersey come up the Delaware River that day.
Estimates run between 5,000 and 10,000 people. This much is certain merchants are scrambling to get ready for the throng.
Gladys Thompson, 59, plans to hit the park early with enough hot dogs, hot chocolate, soda and bottled water to feed a couple hundred people from her cart with the blue umbrella. The National Park retiree has been selling dogs and kraut at the park for the past 10 years.
``I'm bringing a few hundred dogs,'' Thompson said. ``That doesn't mean they're going to buy them. It's hard to judge.''
Her daughter, Michelle, will help her that day, too.
Michelle also manages the Heritage's convenience store on Hessian Avenue, where the staff will be doubled Thursday to handle the extra business.
``We're stocking up, that's for sure,'' Michelle said.
Phil Tomeo, manager of Pat's Pizza next door, hadn't heard about the battleship coming.
``I'm glad you told me,'' Tomeo said.
He turned to an employee.
``You're working Thursday.''
At Kelly's News Agency on Hessian Avenue, Monica Bilbow, 45, said she will watch the store, while her husband watches the ship come in.
``My husband will probably be down there with the camera,'' Bilbow said.
She expects a crush Thursday, but she will be the only employee there, selling lottery tickets, newspapers, candy and soda.
``It will be all right,'' she said.
A battleship banner is already posted on the front of Duer's Pub on Hessian Avenue, where Wendy Sue Donapel tends the bar. Between customers, she has been cutting more than 11,000 lengths of blue ribbon to give to visitors Thursday.
The ribbon campaign is just part of the welcome effort of National Park's Blue Ribbon Committee, which met at the bar last week. A petition to keep the ship on the Delaware River was posted at the bar.
The battleship dominates the lunchtime conversation. Even the customers were enlisted to help hand out ribbons.
John Lafferty, 51, of Mount Ephraim, tied a few ribbons on the antennas of cars in the parking lot. He'll also hand out ribbons to visitors on Thursday.
``I hope to get down to see it,'' Lafferty said.
Another customer, John Mamming, 52, of West Deptford, is rooting for the ship to be berthed in Camden.
``These people in this town are very involved,'' Mamming said.
If there's one man in town who is excited to see the battleship, it's Bob Duer, whose son, Mike, owns the bar.
``The old man is walking around like it's Christmas,'' Mamming said.
Duer, 79, was a sheet metal worker who helped put the New Jersey together in the early 1940s. Three months before the ship was complete, he quit and enlisted in the Navy.
Duer served on a 450-foot attack transport ship, delivering Marines to the beach at Okinawa. He was awed by the firepower of the USS New Jersey, which sidled up alongside his ship and blasted the island.
``They really softened that place up,'' he said. ``That was a fantastic gunship.''
Duer has been helping at the bar with the ribbon-cutting, the signature-gathering, and the cheerleading to keep the ship on the Delaware.
The ship's arrival is a monumental event for National Park and for Duer.
"I can't wait,'' he said.