The four United States Navy’s Iowa-class battleships have been preserved as museum ships, and each survived combat operations in World War II and beyond, but it is time and the elements that have been the greatest threat to the mighty battlewagons. Efforts continue to restore and maintain the warships for future generations to explore and learn.
Just this month, it was announced that Battleship New Jersey will receive $512,339 in federal funding that will enable the museum ship, which is located on the waterfront of Camden, New Jersey, to operate after it was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Patch.com reported.
The funding will come in the form of a grant from the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, which was set up to provide emergency assistance for eligible venues impacted by Covid-19. The program is being administered as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
“It is an honor for South Jersey to be home to the most decorated battleship in U.S. history, stationed right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, where our country was founded 244 years ago,” said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.).
“This past year has been hard for so many small businesses, and I am pleased that the American Rescue Plan was able to provide funding for the Battleship New Jersey,” Norcross added. “It will ensure that this historic ship continues to be a destination for veterans, families and historians for generations to come and learn about our nation’s history.”
Efforts to preserve not only the ship, but historic items related to USS New Jersey (BB-62), began even before the pandemic. For three years, Ryan Synmanski, curator at the Battleship New Jersey Museum, had been seeking to recover lost relics related to the ship, including mechanical parts as well as the blueprints to the original Iowa-class vessels.
The original parts were sought out as these could be used either as displays or to help maintain the ship – and Synmanski learned that the parts and related documents were actually located not on USS New Jersey, but at the Philadelphia Navy Yard just across the Delaware River from Camden.
“There were these legends that one of the ships over at the Philadelphia Navy Yard was full of boxes with old USS New Jersey parts and documents,” Symanski told NJ Advance Media. “Over the years I’ve tried to figure out if there was any truth to it.”
The documents and parts were stored in the cargo hold of the USS Charleston, which had been decommissioned in 1992 and was docked less than nine miles away. However, that warship was scheduled for scrapping, so Symanski and a team of volunteers had to gain permission from the U.S. Navy to take stock of what was stored on Charleston and what could be easily removed.
“It was a little bit like the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ warehouse, in that there were these huge boxes filled with smaller boxes stacked floor to ceiling in this cargo hold,” Symanski added.
In the end, it was determined that as many as 300 boxes held valuable parts for the New Jersey. Those too big or too numerous to carry out were tagged and photographed for later recovery. These included bridge windows, diesel engine parts and even a World War II whistle – used to command those on board for announcements. Among the greatest finds may have been HVAC parts, which could save the museum from needing to make more significant air conditioning renovations.
Saving the New Jersey
USS New Jersey, which remains the U.S. Navy’s most decorated battleship, has called Camden home since 1999. Now thanks to the efforts of volunteers, support from the Navy and the recent grant the warship’s future looks bright.
“Without the various federal assistance programs helping nonprofits like us, the Battleship New Jersey – which lost over 90% of its revenue last year – would be in dire straits,” said Battleship New Jersey Chief Executive Officer Jack Willard. “While we’re not completely out of the woods financially, we’re slowly getting back on our feet with great summer weather and the ability to return to live events. The ship is open for business, and we encourage everyone to come out and tour the most decorated Battleship in the 245-year history of the United States Navy.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.