Often a journey's full meaning does
not reveal itself until its completion. But in USS New Jersey's case, her 57 years of war
and peace, training and diplomacy, commissionings and recommissionings, established
history's markings long before her Bremerton to Philadelphia voyage of 1999. But it
took this 20th century's last Battleship tow to finally define her future meaning.
When "Big J" pulled out of
Bremerton's Puget Sound Naval Shipyard early Sunday morning, September 12, the Seattle sky
was mysteriously clear, sunny and inviting, causing residents to caution against optimism,
that the rains were bound to return by noon. They didn't; the Sea Victory and the
Battleship headed to sea, and for days thereafter enjoyed perfect conditions.
It was a forecast for the entire
voyage. As Governor Christie Whitman explained to 4th graders from two Pompton Lakes
elementary schools in October, the New Jersey was always known as a lucky ship, and that's
why so many wanted to serve aboard her, and why she suffered so little in four wars.
Her charms also held sway over this homecoming voyage.
The Sea Victory's Captain Kaare L.
Ogaard, Jr., with his meticulous course plots over the 6,377 nautical miles, and his
adriot and able crew with their professionalism always engaged, assured New Jersey's safe
arrival. The Captain's attention to her welfare dominated each hour of the 60 days
to Philadelphia. Transiting the 85-year old Panama Canal on the eve of its historic
transition, the last of her kind so treated before the millennium, showered pride on
Panamanians and Americans alike. The passage was welcomed as a celebration, as evidence
that this historic naval presence promised success for the Canal's future.
The decorated warship's fortunes
prevailed through Panama homeward, as nature's tempests permitted a quiet path for her
return. Such was not always the case, her record shows, but in the Fall of '99, her
homecoming seemed paramount.
Even the face of mechanical difficulty in
the Caribbean did not deter her careful, steady, triumphant return. She barely
skipped a beat, and kept her appointment with the tens of thousands who watched her glide
through the wind-swept Delaware waves on a national day of tribute to her as warrior and
victor, and to her keepers and their kin as protectors for us all.
Then she took her place where she
began. And now waits one more time for history's judgment as to where, finally, she
belongs, and when. January, 2000, is the word from the Navy.
Her contributions, though, live
everywhere in every time. To all those who worked their hands and minds to shape
her fast for over there, to all those thousands upon thousands who kept her fit and ready,
to the countless more whose fear would go as she arrived, to the nations and peoples whose
hopes and dreams and freedoms were kept alive because of her, to those who lined the
shores as she came home, to those who knew but couldn't watch, and to those we lost, to
them, her legacy is clear. For them, her history is a shrine.
This Final Journey was really about
tomorrow. So that the children the Governor spoke to in October may still know, 50
years from now, that USS New Jersey's meaning included them, perhaps especially
them. It was a beautiful voyage.
Her's is a treasured legacy. Our's
is the good fortune.
Submitted by Bob Wernet from Philadelphia, PA