HomeBerlin Letters & OpinionsTemporary stay for 'Big J': A reminder of how the battleship got...

Temporary stay for ‘Big J’: A reminder of how the battleship got here 

Battleship New Jersey/Instagram The Battleship New Jersey sailed beneath the Walt Whitman Bridge on its way to Paulsboro, where it will remain for about a week before heading to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, site of its original construction in 1940.

When the Battleship New Jersey left its longtime home in Camden last month, it marked the first time in 32 years that the storied vessel – the most decorated battleship in U.S. history – would be dry docked for maintenance. 

According to battleshipnewjersey.org, the ship was guided by tugboats from its brief stay in Paulsboro for the approximately two-hour trip along the Delaware River to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where the Navy vessel was built, then launched a year after Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1942.

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The maintenance is expected to last about eight weeks, and the ship will likely return to its Camden home in late May or early June, according to www.battleshipnewjersey.org.

What’s often forgotten about “Big J” is the pitched battle that surrounded where she would end up once Congress voted to let her serve as a floating museum: North Jersey or South Jersey.

After it was decided the ship should end up in the state for which she was named, according to battleshipnewjersey.org, the war between North and South was on. The USS New Jersey Battleship Commission lobbied for Bayonne in North Jersey, the Home Port Alliance for the Battleship New Jersey pushed for Camden.

Bayonne supporters claimed having the battleship there would offer the best access for New Jersey residents, two-thirds of whom lived north of Trenton at the time, according to a 1999 article in The New York Times. Besides noting its connections to Philadelphia, Camden backers wanted the ship to be the crown jewel in that city’s revitalized waterfront just across the Delaware, the Times article recalled. 

State officials agreed to back whichever group won approval from the military; the Navy eventually accepted the Home Port Alliance bid, according to the battleship website. On Sept. 11, 1999 – two years to the day before the tragedy of 9/11 – the New Jersey was guided by tugboats from Washington state through the Panama Canal, into the Atlantic Ocean and up the Delaware to the Naval Yard, where it was greeted by more than 25,000 people.

“Big J” finally arrived at her permanent home on the Camden waterfront on Sept. 23, 2001, and opened as a museum on Oct. 14, according to battleship history. Three years later, the ship was added to both the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey version. 

The length of three football fields with a history of service that includes World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the warrior vessel has accommodated birthdays and bands, commemorations and camps, dinners and delegates. Bestselling author Tom Clancy celebrated a birthday party on her fantail in 2007, with guests Sean Connery and Stephen Spielberg. 

“The Battleship New Jersey is one of – if not the – top tourist destinations in South Jersey,” ship CEO Marshall Spevak told the Courier-Post. “This 45-ton, 887-foot historic gem attracts more than 80,000 visitors to the Camden waterfront each year.”

The ship can now be visited during its dry docking, too. Guided tours will run every Saturday and Sunday while the battleship maintenance goes on. Visit battleshipnewjersey.org for info.

For one of the ultimate sources on the history of USS New Jersey and how it got here, read “From Birth to Berth,” by writer Carol Comegno. Published in 2001, it’s available on Amazon.


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