‘Living history’

Onlookers watch Battleship New Jersey come home to Camden

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Spectators take in the scene from the Gloucester City waterfront fishing pier on June 20. The storied battleship underwent three months of repairs in Philadelphia.

Hundreds of people gathered along the Gloucester City waterfront on June 20 to watch the Battleship New Jersey return to its berth in Camden after three months of repairs.

“This is the closest vantage point,” said Patrick Ward, of the Gloucester City Historical Society, who waited under a tree on a warm day with a light breeze for the battleship to appear around the bend of the Delaware River on its journey back to the Camden waterfront, where it serves as a year-round museum.

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“This is the narrowest point on its journey,” noted Ward, who had watched the battleship journey to the Philadelphia Navy Yard in March while he was on the North Wind schooner, which docks at the Freedom Pier in Gloucester City. “We had to stay at least 500 yards away,” he added, as tugboats guided the ship on its journey.

“I was here in March,” said Chris Concannon of Bellmawr. “Today is a lot nicer. This is literally living history passing by right before everyone’s eyes.”

Concannon said the USS New Jersey means different things to different people. He was on the pier to honor his late father, Thomas Concannon, who served on a Navy landing craft during the Battle of the Philippines in World War II.

“I took a tour years ago,” his son recalled. “The size of the ship is amazing.”

After passing Gloucester City and going under the Walt Whitman Bridge, the 45,000-ton, 887-foot ship was welcomed at its Camden berth at about 1:15 p.m. On hand were hundreds more people.

“For the past three months, the 82-year-old vessel has undergone extensive maintenance work to support its lifespan,” noted Camden County Commissioner Melinda Kane. “It’s an incredible piece of history that completes the Camden waterfront, and we have eagerly been awaiting its return.”

Regarded as the most decorated ship in Navy history, the Battleship New Jersey was a commissioned military vessel from 1938 to 1991, when it was retired. It served through World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Cold War and conflicts in the Middle East.

Constructed in and launched from Philadelphia on Dec. 7, 1942 – the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor – the New Jersey saw more combat than any other battleship in U.S. history, earning 19 battle and campaign stars during 49 years of service.

More than 45,000 sailors served on the mighty vessel with the big 16-inch guns that was known to its Vietnamese enemy as the Grey Ghost and the Water Dragon. Those guns pounded beaches and military targets in the Pacific Ocean and Asia during Vietnam and America’s major conflicts and bombed sites in Lebanon during that country’s 1983 civil war.

The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial was created on the Camden waterfront in the late 1990s, after the city competed with Bayonne for the right to berth the storied vessel so future generations could learn about its history.

The mighty ship is now home in time for Independence Day and is an excellent spot to view fireworks during the Camden County Freedom Festival this evening.

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