Christine Todd Whitman
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
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"
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.
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.
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 your efforts.
Louis Ferro and the staff of the United States Embassy in Panama
have worked with their usual skill to smooth the way. Thank you,
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.
Panamanian government has also been enormously helpful in making
the arrangements for this historic occasion. To our friends here
course, I want to express the appreciation of all the people of New
the members of the Battleship New Jersey
Commission and its chair, Assemblyman Joe Azzolina.
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 today.
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.
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.
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 Lebanon.
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.
like a valiant, victorious warrior returning from battle, the U.S.S.
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 secure.
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
sailing, "Big J." We look forward to welcoming you home.