“To perpetuate the memory of our shipmates who gave their lives in the pursuit of their duties while serving our country.”
When driving along River Road in Hackensack, New Jersey one may be astonished by
the sight of two periscope masts glistening in the sunlight that protrude from the grey conning tower of USS Ling SS-297, a vintage WWII Balao class submarine
resting peacefully in the still waters of the Hackensack River. To the uninitiated she appears
to be a forgotten relic of by-gone days. But to the contrary,
she is beloved and cared for by a generations of men, woman and youngsters who
since her arrival in 1971 have doted on her by donating their time, skills and money in order to preserve and keep her afloat physically, as well as financially, for future generations under the continuing care and watchful eyes of the Submarine Memorial Association (SMA) /NJ Naval Museum.
The site is considered to be a “living memorial” by its hosts, the SMA, the United States Submarine
Veterans, and the Submarine Veterans of WWII because memorial services are held frequently
on the site to honor those who have perished while serving in the Silent Service and all the other
units of the United States Navy. The ceremonies are somber occasions that are highlighted by a wreath laying ceremony and a tolling of the ship’s bell accompanied by the calling out of the names of each lost submarine whose crews are said to be on “eternal patrol”.
In addition to the USS Ling 297, the museum and grounds offer visitors a treasure trove of artifacts that document the exalted history and tradition of the all voluntary United States Navy Submarine Service. The exhibits include a memorial to the 52 submarines and 3500 crewmen that were lost in combat during WWII, and other casualties of the Silent Service such as USS Thresher SSN 593 and USS Scorpion SSN 589, both lost at sea with all hands during the Cold War. There is also a Vietnam war era PBR river patrol boat, the first submarine launched Regulus missile, a Poseidon ICBM missile, Japanese and German two-man submarines, WWII vintage submarine launched torpedoes, as well as a Poseidon A1 ICBM missile.
Guided tours are open to the public and are conducted by volunteers, some of whom are Submarine Service veterans who draw on their own personal experiences and knowledge to enhance visitors’ enjoyment and understanding of submarine operations and history. In addition, the museum offers special events such as children’s party packages, and sleep overs and can accommodate special group tours for scout troops, class trips and corporate and fraternal organizations.
The museum buildings and grounds were heavily damaged in 2012 by Super Storm Sandy including the destruction of the dock which rendered the submarine inaccessible from the shore. The SMA did not have flood insurance coverage and it has been difficult to raise enough funds for repairs. Therefore, it has been a struggle to keep the museum open to the public and is currently only open on a part-time basis.
More recently a new challenge has cropped up for the SMA in that the Borg family, publishers
of the Record newspaper and the Ling’s landlord has moved its newspaper production to New Rochelle NY, closed the current on site plant, and is now in the process of selling the property for development into mixed retail and residential use. The proposed buyer, Lennar Corporation is not including the USS Ling in its redevelopment plan. And, although there have been meetings
between the SMA and all parties concerned including the U.S Navy, and Hackensack city officials, no action has been initiated that will save the submarine Ling and the Museum. The SMA has now been served with an eviction notice, and, since the Ling only floats during high tide and the bridges downstream are inoperable, it would be extremely difficult and enormously expensive to move the submarine to a new location. The nearby town of Bogota has shown some interest in including the Ling in its future waterfront development plan, but is only in the planning stages at this time and would require moving the submarine and the museum downstream a short distance and to the opposite side of the river. This however, would still be two years or more away. The SMA is prepared to keep all of the artifacts in storage until then, but for some reason the USN has voiced its position that they do not want them in storage because they should be on public display.
Consequently, this week the Navy dispatched a team to inventory the objects with the intent of recovering them for either disposal or redistribution.
The Navy has no intention of taking back the submarine and the financial burden of moving or disposing of the Ling rests with the SMA which doesn’t have the required funds. So, her long term fate appears to be to sit and rot in the river for years to come; a sad conclusion to a USN warship that has served her country and community for over 70 years.
The News show “Chasing News’, which is broadcast on WWOR-9 in New York and FOX in the Philadelphia area, has taken an interest in the plight of the Ling and on Monday, June 6 the host of the show, Hank Flynn, arrived at the NJ Naval Museum site to videotape and interview the principal parties in the dispute for a segment on the show that has not aired at the time of this writing.
CBS News also picked up the story too and ran it on their 5 p.m. newscast on Wednesday, June
7 and in it, CBS News Correspondent Meg Baker, reported that the future for a North Jersey veteran’s memorial has become uncertain since being evicted from its home.
The land near the Hackensack River had been promised to the Submarine Memorial Foundation for $1 a year in 1972, but is now facing eviction from the property. “We received an eviction notice a month ago, effective June 1,” Gilbert De Laat, President, NJ Naval Museum, said.
“This memorial is to memorialize the 52 submarines and 3500 men that were lost”, Les Altschuler, Vice President, Submarine Memorial Foundation, added. The land upon which the museum and memorial sit is owned by Stephen Borg of MacroMedia - the parent company for the North Jersey Media Group. Borg’s grandfather was a veteran and brokered the original deal. “Since 1994, the company has only had a month-to-month arrangement with the association, which we terminated on May 31, 2016,” Borg’s lawyer said in a statement. Borg is planning a redevelopment project with mixed housing and retail, leaving the veterans and the artifacts with nowhere to go.
“The memorial was erected by WWII submariners, some still here today — 95 going on 96, still volunteering,” Altschuler said. On Tuesday, the Navy was on site logging the artifacts and trying to figure out how and where to move the pieces of history. The Hackensack River has not been dredged since the 1960s and veterans say the USS Ling, a submarine, cannot be moved in such shallow water. Local officials have been working to get funding to relocate the memorial. “Recognizing that development does take place, change does happen,” Assemblyman Gordon Johnson said.
The assemblyman added that as an elected official he has an obligation to find a place for the artifacts. The site clearly has a lot of meaning, and for now, no one knows what will happen to the
memorial when it is torn down. The veterans are pushing to have a museum and memorial on the water next to the submarine they served on.
In addition to the current news reports, efforts are being made to provide more media exposure and to bring public attention to the situation in the hope of putting some pressure on the parties involved to come to a mutually agreeable solution. As mentioned in the CBS report, the SMA has
put forth a proposal to the Lennar corporation to build a breakwater around the USS Ling that would raise her out of the water and require only an acre of land for a museum building. So far Lennar has not responded.
As of June 7th a Navy contingent boarded the submarine to confirm that all torpedoes on board are inert and has informed the SMA that they will take back all of the artifacts in its possession. So, for the time being, the future of the USS Ling SS-297 and the NJ Naval Museum looks bleak.