November 14, 1999
South Jersey salutes 'Big J' in tumultuous homecoming
How does one describe what happened Thursday? Technically, a ship was pushed and pulled up the Delaware River and docked at the former Navy shipyard in Philadelphia. Actually, the arrival of the USS New Jersey was so much more.
Now that the battleship has returned to where it was built, we should pause, catch our collective breath and acknowledge the history that has been made.
The "Big J" is back home because of the efforts of many people and organizations - certainly far more than can be listed here.
Politicians from all levels of government have rallied to the cause. Various government agencies have put up funds to give South Jersey a solid financial package. The Home Port Alliance has put South Jersey in an excellent position to be the battleship's permanent home port. Thousands of people have signed petitions, written letters and otherwise volunteered their time and efforts to bring the USS New Jersey home.
On Thursday, they and the rest of South Jersey were rewarded.
Some 25,000 people turned out to catch a glimpse of the magnificent ship. They were in a small armada of personal watercraft that escorted the USS New Jersey home. They were standing and cheering on rooftops in Gibbstown. They were at Red Bank Battlefield Park at 4 a.m. to get a good spot. They started popping pictures at first sunlight, both startling and touching the captain of the tugboat that brought the "Big J" home. They waved signs and flags, laughed and cried, and felt a terrific sense of pride in their country.
And they came from all walks of life. Veterans who spent time on the USS New Jersey stood beside children who might not have truly understood what was going on, but, wow, check out the big boat! Those who built the ship smiled broadly as their handiwork floated by. People from everywhere, every community and every background stood and cheered together.
We don't know if the Navy officials who will decide where the USS New Jersey finally is berthed were on hand Thursday. If they were, they now know for certain what this ship means to all of us.
South Jersey stands united behind the "Big J." We want this ship. We believe we deserve this ship. We will support and care for this ship.
Anyone who doubts that wasn't along the river when South Jersey said "welcome home" to our very own USS New Jersey.