You just don’t mess with
Texas New Jersey. Nowhere is this more evident than in Camden, not because the crime-ridden city is one of the most dangerous in the country, with 40% of the population below the poverty level and a police force that was entirely disbanded in August 2012, but rather because of a kickass hulk of steel floating in the Delaware known as BB62, aka Battleship New Jersey.
Built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and launched December 7, 1942–just a year after the Pearl Harbor Attack–the USS New Jersey saw tours of duty in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and was visited personally by President Ronald Regan before being finally decommissioned in 1991. She spent some time hanging around in Long Beach, California, and Washington State for “modernization” and was then brought to Philadelphia for restoration as a museum in 1999. The ship was positioned in the Camden Waterfront and opened for tours in 2001.
Just as New Jersey goes all-in in most things, so as well does its namesake battleship: with a total of Nineteen Battle and Campaign Stars, the USS New Jersey is America’s most decorated battleship and surviving warship.
A labyrinthian set of side roadways leads to the ship–in fact we are not quite sure we even followed the correct way, and ended up parking in what may have been an employee-only area. But hey, it worked and no parking tickets were waiting when we came back. We got our entrance passes ($19.75 each, as the guided version is a must) and waited for a small group to form for the next tour, taking the opportunity to futilely attempt a full-body shot of the warship.
Our guide was a spunky veteran with tons of colorful stories and an abundance of knowledge. We walked along the pier, which features monuments to all of the ship’s campaigns and battle stars, and entered the main deck via a large stairwell. From then began a fascinating foray into the physical and historical depths of BB62. We learned about: the giant guns and how they were operated, the missile systems, the enormous chains, the hierarchy of sailors, the ship’s structure, how to navigate the maze of staterooms, sleeping areas and corridors, and much more.
The lengthy tour was fascinating, it was easy to imagine the drama and excitement of being on a working warship, and there was nothing our guide didn’t know. One quickly learned lesson was that it pays to have rank when it comes to food service and sleeping quarters. Still, we tried out one of the tiny bunks for the rank-and-file sailors and were surprised at how manageable the tiny space was…at least for 30 seconds.
We sat in gunnery chairs, stood in the missile hull, peeped through periscopes, and helmed the control room and much more before being released to the self-guided exhibit section towards the back of the ship. It featured historical items, scene recreations and various curiosities and was a quick walk-through. We exited to stormy skies and a fierce looking helicopter on the rear deck, thoroughly awe-struck by our experience of the previous 3 hours.
The Battleship New Jersey is a nonprofit entity, always looking for help with funding (they need to restore the wooden deck among many other projects) and volunteers. It is a unique location for special events of any kind, offers sleepovers for scout troops and other youth organizations, and frequently has special fundraising outreaches like golf tournaments, fun runs and the like. The best way to start supporting BB62 though is to take a tour–we highly recommend it. Here are some additional photos: