Battleship New Jersey Gets a Hero's Welcome in Return to NJ After $10M Makeover

People gather in Gloucester City, N.J., to view the USS New Jersey moved down the Delaware River
People gather in Gloucester City, N.J., to view the USS New Jersey moved down the Delaware River Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

David McIntyre, of Fanwood, was one of eight people who splurged on a $5,000 ticket for a rare chance to sail on the famed Battleship New Jersey on Thursday.

He said his two-hour drive from Union County to Paulsboro — where the Navy warship was stationed before departing — was worth it for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As a Cub Master, McIntyre took local Cub Scouts on overnight trips to the Battleship New Jersey, and soon became a fan, regularly tuning into the museum’s updates, he said.

“And then when this opportunity came up, I was sort of like ‘well, when am I ever going to get to sail on a battleship,’” McIntyre said.

Over a dozen Battleship New Jersey museum volunteers, veterans and ticket holders, rode on the USS New Jersey during its two-hour ride to Camden.

The vessel returned to its home pier Thursday, after a long 12-week repair journey at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

The Battleship New Jersey was dry docked at the Navy Yard from March to earlier this month to undergo a $10 million renovation. It was the first time it had left its dock in decades.

With repairs completed, the ship started the first leg of its return back to New Jersey on June 14 and made a stop in Paulsboro. It was towed to Paulsboro for deballasting, which involves removing water from the ship’s hull that was needed for dry docking.

“Big J” was then pulled down the Delaware River by tugboats on Thursday, approaching the Camden pier as hundreds of onlookers anticipated its arrival.

It returned with a fresh coat of red paint on its hull, which took around 5,000 gallons to complete, along with a new anti-corrosion system and replaced anodes to protect the ship’s metal structures from erosion.

For Marshall Spevak, CEO of the Battleship New Jersey Museum, the highlight of the repair project has been witnessing it come alive while underway.

“There’s probably nothing better than being on the battleship while we’re underway,” Spevak said. “To me, that’s the ace of the deck and that’s been my most memorable experience.”

While on the ship, guests took turns firing its 40mm saluting gun and explored the deck as it slowly traveled down the river at 5 mph.

Some shared stories about their years of volunteering on the battleship, while others recounted their experiences serving in the military during the years when the ship was in commission.

“The people give the ship life, when you think of the thousands of people that have been on it,” said Mike Haddock, who has been volunteering at the Battleship New Jersey museum for over four years.

Fifteen tickets, selling for $5,000 each, were available to ride aboard the battleship with Capt. Steven Halle as it arrived in Camden. And, hundreds of others bought tickets to cruise alongside the battleship on the Spirit of Philadelphia or its sister ship, Rendezvous.

“We take a lot of pride in being named after the namesake of New Jersey,” said Halle, the Captain of the PCU New Jersey, a Virginia-class attack submarine set to be commissioned in September.

Back in Camden, the festivities kicked off at 11 a.m. as attendees eagerly awaited the ship’s return, enjoying carnival games, food trucks and live music from the Bruce Springsteen tribute band, the B Street Band.

While the ship was in the dry dock, over 6,000 people from all over the world purchased tickets to tour underneath the ship while it was out of the water. In an opportunity that had never been offered before for an Iowa-Class ship, guides provided tours with a 360-degree view of the ship, showcasing its exposed hull and 18-foot tall propellers.

According to Navy regulations, decommissioned museum ships must undergo dry docking for maintenance every 20 years. This was the first time in decades that the USS New Jersey had been dry docked for maintenance.

Funding for the dry-docking project came from various sources, including $5 million from the state budget, a $750,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust and a $3.25 million bond issued with backing from Camden County. The museum is covering the rest of the repair costs through private fundraisers, officials said.

The Battleship New Jersey is not only the most decorated but also the longest and fastest Navy warship in the 248-year history of the U.S. Navy, according to museum officials. Adorned with 19 battle stars, it holds the distinction of being among the last American battleships to serve during World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War.

The battleship’s return to Camden may have been the last time many of those who served aboard could see it come alive again. Crews served on the ship from 1938, when it was launched on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, to 1991, when it was last decommissioned for a fourth time.

In 2001, the vessel docked on the Camden waterfront and opened for public tours.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” said Spevak as he rode on the ship. “But now we’re going home, we’re happy to get home...but it’s been an incredible journey a lot of us will cherish for a really long time.”

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