A battleship named for the state of New Jersey is a museum today, but she had a storied past that led her to become the most decorated battleship in history.
The ship is a museum docked in the Delaware River off Camden.
Each Dec. 7 on Pearl Harbor Day there is a solemn ceremony that includes tossing a wreath into the river as a bugler plays “Taps” to honor those who lost their lives in World War II.
This year the observance was quite different. The date also celebrated the birthday of BB62 - the Battleship New Jersey. The ship was launched a year after the war began in 1941.
The late Tom Bruce of Upper Greenwood Lake in the Township of West Milford served on the battleship when it was involved in heavy fighting during the Korean War. Tom had such pride in the ship and when it finally became a museum he enjoyed visiting it with his friends and sharing memories.
Living at the lake he was a quiet doer and an active volunteer and president for the Upper Greenwood Lake Property Owners Association and Greenwood Baptist Church. Bruce was a local businessman who owned an excavation and paving business. He was 85 when he died on Aug. 22, 2014.
Melinda Kane, who was liaison to the Camden County Office of Veterans Affairs, tossed a memorial wreath into the river with others participating in the observance. Tribute was paid to Pearl Harbor survivors and all veterans who served or lost their lives protecting the nation.
The Korean War
Bruce’s time aboard ship was during the Korean War. The United States, after being in World War II, was involved in war again in June 1950 and battleships were needed in the fight. Only the Missouri of the four Iowa class battleships had remained activated after the end of the world war.
The ship was soon in action off the shores of Korea. That war in the last part of the year was a bloody series of dramatic successes and bitter defeats.
The peninsula, with hundreds of miles of shoreline and key costal locations, was a place where heavy bombardment capabilities could be used. The Navy quickly started reactivating the reaction process of the other three big battleships, including the New Jersey.
The BB62 was the first one ready and on Nov. 21, 1950, was commissioned.
On April 16, 1951, the ship was headed out from Norfolk, Va., on the way to war again, this time with Tom Bruce aboard. His job was to keep interior communications on the ship working. He was an IC electrician in the E-division.
Tom Bruce enlisted at 17 years old
This was the second time Tom enlisted. He first joined the Navy when he was only 17 years old and served on the USS Wilkesboro light cruiser from 1946-1948.
The second time around he was in the thick of things as the New Jersey’s guns fired at the enemy coastline.
The ship sailed into Yokosuka, the naval base in Tokyo Bay that became the American Navy’s main logistical support installation during the War. Eight days later, the New Jersey serving as the flagship of the Seventh Fleet, was off Wonsan Harbor.
That night, May 20 the ship’s big 16-inch guns roared for the first time since 1945.
Seaman Apprentice Robert Osterwind
The second day the crew soon knew what a dangerous place they were in. During New Jersey’s firing mission on May 21 crewmen saw splashes to port moving steadily closer.
Enemy shore batteries were active from a jut of land known as Kalmagak.
The forward 16-inch turret took a direct hit, causing little damage and no casualties. But as the crew was answering the call to battle stations, a near miss off the port quarter sprayed shell fragments onto the weather deck.
A piece of shrapnel penetrated the life jacket of a seaman, hitting him in the chest and killing him. Three other men were wounded. Seaman Apprentice Robert Osterwind, just 17 years old, was the only man to ever lose his life to enemy action while serving aboard the New Jersey.
The continued bravery of the crew and the ship throughout the war are recorded in history. Tom was glad to have survived and that he was able to support the nation in its fight for peace. Completing his Navy duty he headed home.
Viet Nam, than Lebanon
However, the New Jersey battleship was not done. In 1969 it was back on the firing line in support of South Vietnamese Marines south of Da Nang. More heroic deeds of the New Jersey are found when reading about that war. And still another chapter was to come. Despite a 13-year hiatus permanent retirement was still not for the feisty New Jersey battleship. Resurrection day came on Dec. 28, 1982. With some upgrading that included adding a missile system -Harpoons and Tomahawks and four Phalanx Close-In weapons systems the BB62 was off again on a mission to Lebanon.
The ship was relieved by the Iowa after spending 191 days on station in the Eastern Mediterranean.
July 7, 1999
On July 7, 1999, Gov. Christie Whitman signed documents to officially bring the USS New Jersey Home to be used as a floating museum and memorial. She included $2 million in the 2000 budget to cover cost to tow the ship from its berthing in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.
An additional $7 million was given to the site chosen by the Navy for the ship’s permanent home.