THE U.S. NAVY BATTLESHIP IS ONE of the most impressive weapons platforms ever to “set sail,” with powerful 16-inch guns that made a sound similar to thunder as they fired a Toyota-sized projectile 30 miles with the explosive power to leave a crater one mile deep. Being on the wrong side of this kind of firepower used to fill the toughest of America’s enemies with fear—and rightfully so.
It’s like facing a fire-breathing mechanical dragon the size of Godzilla.
Just like the dinosaurs that once ruled the Earth faded into history, so too have these incredible warships. In fact, there are only nine remaining battleships in the world, and the USS New Jersey (BB62)—the country’s most decorated battleship in U.S. naval history— is still standing tall on the Camden Waterfront, back on the banks of the Delaware River, where she was built several decades ago.
After having served for more than 20 years in active service during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Lebanese Civil War (before being decommissioned in 1991 after a defense cut following the collapse of the Soviet Union), the “Big J” is
currently being operated and maintained as a museum and is now referred to as the New Jersey Battleship Museum and Memorial.
Thousands of visitors from near and far flock to Camden’s waterfront each year to learn more about the ship’s history and to gain an appreciation for the service of our nation’s veterans. As we commemorate Veteran’s Day this month, this mission gives the Big J an even bigger role than its hulking size suggests.
One of the most important demographic groups for these lessons is students and young people, says Phil Rowan, the Battleship Museum and Memorial’s CEO and executive director.
“It’s so important for kids to learn about the role of veterans in their country’s history,” explains Rowan.
Children can take a look inside the ship’s legendary 16-inch gun turrets; visit the Bridge, Communications area, Captain’s Cabin and Officer’s Wardroom; learn about the role the ship played in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf; climb up and down the companionways; examine the lockers that had to hold all of a sailor’s personal belongings; and check out the enlisted men’s bunks. There are also on-board classes, outreach programs and assembly programs where students can learn directly from veterans. There have been discussions about possibly moving the Big J to a different location in New Jersey. The battleship is part of Independence Harbor in a really thriving area of Camden—Philadelphia is literally 217 feet away from the ship.
The USS New Jersey remains a lasting tribute and a constant reminder to current and future generations of the sacrifices and service of America’s veterans.