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South Jersey

November 22, 1999
Historian's battleship dream is coming true

Courier-Post Staff

Naval historian Paul Stillwell has studied many ships, but there is only one he truly loves the USS New Jersey.

His is a passionate affair, carried on for more than 32 years. Now,

his last wish is about to become a reality that the ship be restored to its prior glory so he can go aboard it once again.

"Today is evidence that dreams can come true," Stillwell, the author of the ship's definitive history, told a small group of veterans Saturday at the Sgt. Anthony P. Grochowskicq VFW Post 2071.

The retired naval commander and history director at the U.S. Naval Institute ????in Annapolis, Md., was referring to its return 10 days ago to its birthplace the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and its pending placement as a museum in either Camden or Bayonne.

Stillwell said he prefers to remain neutral on the site and let the Navy decide.

He came here to attend the unveiling by a new South Jersey company of a new color lithograph of the ship, known as BB-62, that now is available for public sale.

It was Stillwell who helped provide the company with the negative of the Navy photo. It shows the ship making headway in the Arctic Ocean in 1956, creating large wakes on both of her sides as she it slices through the water. The photo also appears in his book, The Battleship New Jersey, now out of print.

The company, Maritime Memories of Franklinville, will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from sales to a trust fund for the battleship restoration, said company co-founder Raymond R. Martin. Among those who came to hear Stillwell's tales of the ship and some of its mates Saturday were some members of those former crews and a retired shipyard worker who helped build herit.

"We laid out the gun turrets frim from the blueprints. We built the gun turrets out of wood first for a template. It was to see if everything would work," said William R. Wyatt, 85, of Winslow, a joiner-carpenter at the shipyard where it was built for launching Dec. 7, 1942. Stillwell said it was his dream to serve on the ship when he first saw it in newspapers in 1967 when she it returned to the Navy yard for overhauling.

"I was overjoyed when that first dream came true in May 1969," he told them, describing it as the most enjoyable experience of his life. "I remember the formality, the pageantry, the dignity. She is just a majestic-looking ship,"

"Shipmates are forever. We never met everyone on board because the ship was so big that you got to know mostly the sailors that worked in your area.''

He said "saying good-bye to yesterday" is difficult. "It really is hard, even with time passing. All those like me who had the dream well, last week the dream came true and the ship is back."

Stillwell was a crew member when one of the several decommissionings in the life of the ship was announced in 1969 an event from which he said he never quite recovered.

"I love the ship that Mr. Wyatt and his compatriots did such a wonderful job building. We could never understand how it could be decommissioned during Vietnam when the boys over there needed her firepower," he said.

Bob Walters, 62, of Cinnaminson, served on the ship in the late 1950s as a quartermaster in navigation on the ship's bridge. When he saw the lithograph, he realized he was on board when the original photo was snapped. "It was probably taken from a Navy helicopter. We were on NATO maneuvers," he recalled.

Walters and another shipmate from that same crew, ex-Marine James Wilde of Vineland, had a reunion Saturday at the post, looking through their ship's yearbook and recalling other sailors by name. They agreed the unveiled lithograph was nice-looking but both said they liked some of their own photos of the ship just as well or better.

"It's like a picture of Marilyn Monroe or Ginger Rogers. Any picture of the New Jersey is a good one," Wilde said.

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