A couple of weekends ago, my two youngest children got to experience sleeping on board the USS New Jersey. It wasn’t that I had tired of their antics and decided to ship them out to learn some military discipline; it was an event with their Scout troop. I did not actually go with them. I happily and wholeheartedly volunteered to stay home with the older two boys. In the past, I have spent the night in a historic prison and an abandoned farming township but this time I felt that Mr Pict should have the sleepover experience. This was not just because I wanted to stay home cosy in my jammies but also because I would have been the only mother on the trip and – quite frankly – because I did not fancy trying to sleep in a situation where I felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
The USS New Jersey is a battleship with a long and interesting history – well, interesting if you like military history which I don’t but which Mr Pict does (another reason why he was just the parent for the job). It was launched in 1942 and not completely decommissioned until the early 1990s so it saw action in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. I really cannot accurately relate any of its detailed history, however, as I was not on the tour and – though I did listen to my husband’s report – I did not absorb and retain the information. That’s what Wikipedia is for.
The USS New Jersey became a museum ship in 2001 and is permanently docked in Camden, New Jersey. It can be visited during the day by members of the public but getting to stay overnight was only possible because of the kids being Scouts. Soon after they arrived, the troop was taken on a guided tour by knowledgeable volunteers. They got to see a wide variety of spaces on board the ship and learn about the different eras of its history. Our youngest son even got to sit in the Captain’s chair, a position he apparently rather enjoyed. After the tour, the group dined in the mess area. My kids are cheese snobs so were not impressed by the box mac’n’cheese on offer but having to eat food you don’t necessarily love probably added to the whole naval experience. They were lucky they didn’t get hard tack. Their bunks for the night were the exact same bunks the navy personnel would have slept on when the battleship was active. The photos of the kids slotted into the narrow beds made me feel queasy so I was very glad that we had made the choice to have Mr Pict act as chaperone.
After breakfast the next morning, they got to have a daylight wander around the ship, look at the Philadelphia skyline from the vantage point of the deck, and then it was time to head home. As lukewarm as I a about military history, I think it’s a pretty cool thing for them to be able to say that the slept overnight on a battleship.