‘Big J’ will return in the light of fireworks

USS New Jersey expected back in Camden for July 4 festivities

Cayenne Doyle/Special to the Sun
The mighty Battleship New Jersey – the most decorated ship of its kind – is expected to return to the Camden waterfront after months of dry-dock maintenance.

Launched from the Philadelphia Navy Yard to great fanfare on Dec. 7, 1942 – one year to the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor – the Battleship New Jersey went on to become the most decorated ship of its kind in America.

More than 45,000 sailors served on BB-62 – as it was known in military parlance – during its 49 years of active duty. It was finally decommissioned in 1991.

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Known as the Grey Ghost and the Water Dragon to the Viet Cong, the ship’s 16-inch guns pounded beaches and military targets in the Pacific Ocean and Asia during World War II, Korean and Vietnam, and bombed sites in Lebanon from the Mediterranean Sea during that country’s 1983 civil war.

The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial was created on the Camden City waterfront in the late 1990s after the city was chosen over Bayonne for the right to berth the 887-foot vessel. It is expected to return there in late June after dry docking for more than three months of maintenance in Philadelphia.

Crowds of people lined the Delaware River waterfront on March 21 to get a glimpse of the legendary ship being tugged down the Delaware River toward dry dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the same place where she was built. As it approached Gloucester City, the Walt Whitman Bridge was closed to traffic so BB-62 could glide underneath, to the delight of those watching from the Freedom Pier and Proprietors Park.

Nearly a thousand people had already gathered on the Camden waterfront as the mighty ship was turned by tugboats for a journey west witnessed by even more onlookers on the Brooklawn, Westville and West Deptford waterfronts.

Museum CEO Marshall Spevak said recently that he hopes the battleship will be back at its home berth and open to visitors within the next four weeks, in time for fireworks on June 29 and July 3. Visitors can watch both displays from the ship’s main deck or as Admiral VIP guests.

Once back on the Camden waterfront, the Battleship New Jersey will again be open for tours where visitors can learn about its renowned history. That history spans more than half the 20th century, from the ship’s design in 1938 through 1991, according to the Battleship New Jersey website.

“She was launched on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and went on to steam more miles, fight in more battles, and fire more shells in combat than any other battleship in history,” the site notes. “In World War II, the New Jersey led the Pacific Fleet under admirals (Raymond A.) Spruance and (William F. “Bull”) Halsey and fought in the two largest naval battles in history.

“She was reactivated to fight in the Korean War, and again to fight in the Vietnam War, when she was the only operating battleship in the world,” the site adds. “She was reactivated for a third time in the Cold War to halt Soviet expansionism and resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

The battleship went on to fight fascism, communism and terrorism, the website proclaims.

“Today,” it notes, “the New Jersey continues her service as a living museum and memorial in Camden, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, where she was built.”

Thousands of people are expected to watch the battleship’s return trip to Camden. The Sun will post the exact date when that information is available.

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