Thank you General Glazer, and thank you, ladies and
gentlemen. It is truly an awe inspiring honor to be here today to pay tribute to the
"Big J," the Battleship New Jersey, and to wish her well as she begins
the final leg of her 6,000 mile journey home.
It is also a pleasure to help salute the Panama Canal
and the men and women who, for most of this century, have made this engineering marvel a
vital part of world commerce and, in times of war, our national defense.
On behalf of the people of New Jersey, I want to
begin by extending well-earned thanks to some of the people who have made this final
journey of the "Big J possible.
Mr. Paul Schneider and the men and women of the U.S.
Navy have worked long and hard with our Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs to
make today possible. Thank you, Mr. Schneider.
Captain Ogaard and the crew of the
Sea Victory are
doing a magnificent job in bringing the New Jersey home. We've enjoyed
following your progress as reported by Bob Wernet on the Battleship's web site.
Thank you, Captain Ogaard and all the good people of Crowley Marine.
Louis Caldera, Chair of the Panama Canal Commission
and Secretary of the Army, has extended us every courtesy in arranging the New Jersey's
passage through the Canal, with just inches to spare. Thank you, sir, for all
Ambassador Louis Ferro and the staff of the United
States Embassy in Panama have worked with their usual skill to smooth the way. Thank
you, Mr. Ambassador.
Our Congressional delegation has been united in its
support for bringing the "Big J" home, so I want to thank Senator Lautenberg and
Congressman Frelinghuysen, who are here today representing the delegation, for all the
hard work you and your colleagues in Washington did.
The Panamanian government has also been enormously
helpful in making the arrangements for this historic occasion. To our friends here
in Panama, muchas gracias.
And of course, I want to express the appreciation of
all the people of New Jersey to the members of the Battleship New Jersey Commission and
its chair, Assemblyman Joe Azzolina.
For the better part of twenty years, the Commission
has been working to bring this great ship home, once she was ready to retire. Their
faithful, steadfast service recalls the immortal words of Captain James Lawrence:
"Don't give up the ship!" They never have, and that's why we're here
Fifty-five years ago, the Battleship
New Jersey made
her maiden passage through the Panama Canal, bound for duty with the U.S. Fifth Fleet in
the South Pacific. Filled with more than 3,000 of the finest young men America had
to offer, this magnificent ship was embarking on a career that would surpass that of any
other Battleship in the history of the United States Navy.
The world was at war on the January day that the Big
J first entered the Canal. The terrors of tyranny, both in the Pacific and in
Europe, were seeking to destroy the forces of freedom. The men who stood at the
rails of this ship, watching the lush, green landscape go by, did not know whether they
would ever again lay eyes on a tranquil, peaceful land.
Again in 1951, then again in 1968, and yet again in
1983, this majestic warrior and her gallant crew would transit the Canal in answer to the
cry of battle, steaming to provide Firepower for Freedom off Korea, then Vietnam, and then
Over the years, the
New Jersey distinguished
herself as no other. The most decorated Battleship in Naval history, she earned 16
Battle Stars and numerous achievement awards in four wars over a span of four decades.
Her effectiveness in war helped build a legacy of peace.
And now, like a valiant, victorious warrior returning
from battle, the USS New Jersey prepares to make her last passage through the
Canal, on her final journey home, in a world blessed by the bounty of a peace she helped
Today, no men line the "Big J's" rails.
Her bridge is empty, her billets unoccupied, her engines are silent, her guns will
roar no more.
Yet as I walked across her sleeping deck just a few
minutes ago, I could feel the presence, the living presence, of the thousands of men who,
over the years, served on this ship with honor, courage, and commitment.
They put aside self for country. They sailed to
distant lands, to places their friends and family back home would have trouble finding on
a map, in answer to their nation's call. And they have left a legacy as proud and as
brave as the ship on which they served.
To all those who served on the "Big J" -
those who are here today and those who are with us in spirit - I offer you the abiding
gratitude of the people of New Jersey.
So we gather today, at the Pacific entrance to the
Panama Canal, to salute this gallant warrior. And we would be remiss if we did not
also pause to salute the proud history of the Canal. For as the esteemed historian
David McCullough wrote, "The creation of the Panama Canal was far more than a vast,
unprecedented feat of engineering. It was a profoundly important historic event and
a sweeping human drama not unlike that of war."
When construction on the Canal began on May 4, 1904,
the eventual success of America's effort to link the two great oceans across the Isthmus
of Panama was by no means assured. The challenges were enormous. Previous
efforts had failed miserably. The economic, engineering, political, and geographic
obstacles were daunting.
But less than ten years later, the Canal was finished
and the first complete passage from sea to shining sea was accomplished. And today,
some 85 years later, the Canal remains a true marvel of engineering, a living
monument to the vision of those who conceived it, the sweat and toil of those who built
it, and the dedication of those who have operated it.
Tomorrow, the "Big J" begins her tenth and
final transit through the Canal. And Just as this passage closes a chapter in the
history of the Canal, another chapter will soon be opening. At noon, on December
31st, the United States will transfer authority for the Canal to the Republic of Panama.
There was a time in the memory of most of you here
today when transferring control of the Canal away from the United States was unthinkable.
Indeed, when President Carter sent the Panama Canal Treaty to the United States
Senate, ratification was far from certain.
But today, the fears and concerns that surrounded
that decision have faded. The world is a different place. The conflict and
tension which, for so much of this century, seemed to leave us teetering on the brink of
war, have yielded to a new sense of security for the forces of peace and freedom.
The achievement of this security would not have been
possible without the contribution of the great ship which now lies peacefully behind me,
and of all those who served on her. All those who treasure freedom and cherish peace
must honor their service and their sacrifice.
So we are bringing this ship home to her namesake,
where she will be returned to the fullness of her glory for all to see. By so doing,
we will also ensure that her role in moving the world away from the desolation of war to
the tranquility of peace will never be forgotten.
Smooth sailing, "Big J." We look
forward to welcoming you home.