By Ron Leir
Seventy-one years from the day it was torpedoed by a Japanese sub and sunk, killing all but 10 members of its nearly 700-member crew – including the five Sullivan brothers – during the Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS Juneau was remembered last Wednesday with Hudson County’s dedication of a newly refurbished warehouse in part of the former Federal Shipyard complex in south Kearny as a permanent memorial to the ship and its victims.
The memorial, comprising a model of the Juneau, copies of letters written by the crew to loved ones and friends back home, vintage photos of the shipyard and the Juneau’s launching and other memorabilia collected by the county and relatives of the crew, will share space with various county offices.
Numerous county and local officials, area veterans and relatives of some of the 20 sailors from Hudson County who were among those who perished attended last week’s dedication of the USS Juneau Memorial Center.
Among the invited guests was a visitor from Juneau, Alaska, for which the ship was named. Randy Wanamaker, a local assemblyman and former deputy mayor, said that when the ship was commissioned, his mother, Eunice, was one of many locals who participated in a fundraising drive led by the fire company and “collected dimes” used to purchase a silver setting and other items” intended for use on the cruiser.
A bit later, Wanamaker said, his mom morphed into “Rosie the Riveter,” helping out the war effort by doing factory labor while his dad served with the 3rd Infantry Division, seeing combat throughout the European Theater.
Wanamaker told the crowd that packed the enormous exhibition space, that in concert with the special recognition being accorded the ship and its crew in New Jersey, the mayor of Juneau had “proclaimed this day as Juneau Remembrance Day.”
Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said the shipyard’s legacy carried a “powerful resonance” in the West Hudson town, given that more than 300 ships – including the 6,000-ton Juneau cruiser – were “built and launched on the Hackensack River” from the 175-acre complex for 32 years until its closing in 1949.
At the peak of its operations, the shipyard employed nearly 30,000 civilian workers, many of whom lived in Kearny, who turned out “an average of one destroyer launched every 13 days,” Santos said.
The Juneau tragedy in 1942, in which 687 sailors perished, was “amongst the darkest days of the war for the community and the country,” Santos said, and represented “the greatest mass casualty since the start of the war.”
“This building is a fitting tribute to their sacrifice [and will be] a permanent visible monument to honor their memory,” he added.
Santos credited Kearny Museum Committee member Donald Moss with coming up with the idea of naming the building for the Juneau after discovering that six of the dead sailors were from Kearny. Kearny residents Norman Rutan, Paul Shalvoy and Pete DeMonte aided dedication committee chair Joann Northgrave with additional research.
John Gomez, a local architectural historian who extensively researched the shipyard’s history, told the audience that the original Warehouse 77 was built between 1917 and 1918 in the style of the then new “skyscraper” construction and was part of Federal Shipyard’s 175-acre campus which remains intact today.
Part of his research included reading selections of the Juneau crew’s correspondence, donated by relatives, and Gomez quoted an excerpt from a letter from Jersey City sailor George Muldoon who had enlisted to avenge the death of a friend stationed at Pearl Harbor.
Muldoon’s sister Mary Muldoon, of Colonia, and her niece Kathy Perry, of Lake Hopatcong, were among the several hundred guests who came for the ceremony.
Mary Muldoon, who was 4 when her brother was lost at sea, said her brother was just 17 when he enlisted in the Navy. “My mother was not too happy and my dad was upset,” she said. After the attack on the Juneau, Mary said that information about her brother was hard to come by. “First we got a letter from the Navy saying that he was missing,” she said, and sometime later, “we got another letter signed by President Franklin Roosevelt telling us there was no hope of recovery.”
Perry recalled that her brother Philip had written to the Navy trying to learn more about George’s fate only to be informed at the time that was “classified” information. Since then, there have been published accounts of the attack on Juneau and other U.S. ships.
From the Juneau, George Muldoon wrote home when he could. His last letter, sent to an older brother Jerome, asked how Roselle Park High School fared against archrival Roselle High in the teams’ annual football game, Mary said, harking back to the time the Muldoons had had lived in Roselle Park before moving to Jersey City.
Last week’s event was particularly moving for Kevin Barry, Hudson County deputy director of roads and public property, whose dad, Edward Thomas Barry, worked at the shipyard from 1937 to 1944 after graduating from Jersey City’s Ferris High School, and then joined the Marines.
“He was a pipefitter and he contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos at the shipyard,” Barry said. His dad was 58 when he died.
Much later, Kevin Barry – in his county position – found himself being called on to help restore Building 77. Despite the bittersweet nature of his dad’s experience, Barry said: “It’s been a labor of love renovating this building.”
And that job, according to County Executive Tom De- Gise, was quite a struggle. The structure had fallen into disrepair ever since the Navy turned it over to the county following WWII demobilization.
“Eleven years ago, when I first went there to check it out, the place was filled with seagulls,” DeGise said. It was being use for storage of supplies for the county jail jail and its inmates. Under a partlyexposed roof, DeGise recalled, “there were stacks of underwear, toothbrushes and the rest of the place was strewn with debris, but in a space that was big as an airplane hangar. We decided we should be doing something productive with it.”
So in July 2010, the county – using $28 million in federal and county funds – undertook “a complete gut rehabilitation” of the 80,000 square foot building, explained John Delutis, the county’s assistant to the director of roads and public property. “The only part of the original building remaining is the steel structure.”
At the time, Delutis was in the private sector, working as the project’s construction manager, in tandem with general contractor Dobko Inc., of Wayne, and architect Musial Group, of Mountainside.
The renovated building now boasts 60-foot-high bays, a new façade, and various energy efficiency installations: a 400-foot-deep geo-thermal well for heating and cooling, a roof-top 84 KW electrical unit, a wind turbine to generate power and a 10,000-gallon rain water harvesting tank for recycling and an aluminum exterior configured with translucent polypanels and inflated ponds allows sunlight directly into the building, Delutis said.
Then, in 2012, superstorm Sandy struck, flooding the building and compromising electrical, mechanical and fire protection systems. So the county had to spend an additional $3 million on repairs, including raising the building’s elevation out of the flood zone, said Delutis.
Now, at long last, it’s ready for occupants.
Aside from the Juneau Memorial, the county is installing these units:
The Office of Emergency Management command center will occupy 5,000 square feet of mezzanine level and OEM vehicles and equipment (water tankers, Hi-Los, boats, generators, etc.) will be stored in a 15,000 square foot garage space on the first floor.
The Prosecutor’s Office will maintain a climate-controlled records and evidence storage center in a 15,000 square foot space.
And the Corrections Department will use 45,000 square feet on the first floor to store supplies and to house its Internal Affairs unit, work release staff and other personnel.
Juneau crew members from Hudson County who perished were identified by the county as: Kearny residents Adrian Cahill, Earl Hall, Thomas Kane, George Willoughby, Raymond Phillips and Wilbur Wood; Harrison residents Thomas Beers, Andrew E. Welsh, William Meeker and James Seramba; Jersey City residents John Hermans, Benjamin Lipowski, George Muldoon, Kenneth Satterfield, Roy Taylor and Walter Zubos; North Bergen resident William Davidson Jr., Union City resident Timothy Hardwick, and Bayonne residents James Mooney and Joe Selobyt.