Famed Battleship USS New Jersey Floating Down Delaware River to Philadelphia for Maintenance

by Braxton Taylor

From prime viewing spots along the Camden waterfront and aboard ships cruising the Delaware River, hundreds of people witnessed history Thursday as the Battleship New Jersey left its home pier for the first time in 25 years to be dry-docked for repairs.

For many veterans who served on the vessel — which holds the distinction of being the most decorated in U.S. Navy history — that moment may be the last time they will ever see the massive ship move.

At 12:10 p.m. sharp, saluting guns boomed through the air as the USS New Jersey started its departure from the Camden dock. With the help of tugboats, it headed south toward Paulsboro for a four-hour trip to begin a maintenance project. It is scheduled to move again to Philadelphia next week for the remainder of the repairs.

“The story of the battleship is also a uniquely New Jersey one. Ultimately, she’s just another in the long line of truly great Jersey girls. She’s not scared to strut her stuff. She’s not taking nothing from nobody. And she doesn’t pump her own gas,” Marshall Spevak, chief executive officer of the Battleship New Jersey museum, said before the ship left the dock.

The celebration in Camden kicked off with speeches from Gov. Phil Murphy and Navy veterans, accompanied by music from a local high school band. Then, the crowd bid farewell to the ship as it left for several months of repairs.

“This is an incredibly powerful day for the state, for this community,” Gov. Phil Murphy told the crowd.

“You think about World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and Lebanon. And you all know this as well as I do, there’s no battleship in the history of our nation that comes close to the legacy created and lived by the USS New Jersey,” Murphy said.

In 2001, the USS New Jersey made Camden its home after being decommissioned and turned into a museum ship. Thursday’s trip marks the first time in over 30 years that the ship is being dry-docked for maintenance work.

The first stop for the battleship will be the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, where the ship will be ballasted, or balanced to prepare for dry docking.

On Wednesday, the vessel will travel to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for the next part of the maintenance project. That is the same Navy yard where it was originally built and launched in 1942, just one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The ship is not moving through the water under its own power, but instead, is being towed and guided by four tugboats.

During the towing, the battleship’s engines will not be on because when the ship was decommissioned for the final time, the Navy covered its engines with preservative grease in case they need to be reactivated for service again, according to museum curator Ryan Szimanski.

And although the force pulling the vessel through the waterfront is enough to spin the propellers, the Navy has also welded brackets in place to keep the propellers stationary and prevent any damage to the ship during the move, officials said.

The repair work on the Battleship New Jersey is overdue. Decommissioned museum ships are required by Navy regulations and guidance to undergo dry-docking every 20 years, officials said.

At the naval shipyard, the USS New Jersey will undergo four major preservation and maintenance projects, including hull repainting, anti-corrosion system maintenance, through-hull opening inspections and aluminum anode replacements.

Before it was moved to Camden, the Navy battleship served for five decades in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf wars.

While it’s dry-docked in Philadelphia, tickets can be purchased for walking tours underneath the ship on Saturdays and Sundays from April through May.

The entire maintenance project should take about two months, according to officials. Once complete, the ship will return home to its dock in Camden where it will once again serve as a museum.

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