HACKENSACK N.J. -- It’s the end of an era for a group of veterans who have run the New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack since 1973, when the U.S.S. Ling came up the river and docked, allowing the public to take tours on board.
The museum acquired various World War II artifacts over the years, including a Japanese torpedo. But on Thursday, the veterans removed all the remaining artifacts from the site on River Road.
"It's really sad because this is really the closure of us here," said Jack Brown, a trustee with the Submarine Memorial Association.
The museum was flooded in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit the area. The storm filled two structures with water and destroyed a dock to the U.S.S. Ling, which was how visitors could access to the vessel.
Then last month, vandals climbed aboard the Ling and they opened a hatch, flooding the ship.
The 2,500-ton, water-logged sub will be left behind.
"If we had enough money, we’d haul it out of here," Brown said.
The landowner also wants the vets to move on. Since 1973, they’ve paid $1 each year to use the site. Now, the vets said, the owner wants to redevelop.
Luckily, two New Jersey-based companies learned of the vandalism and stepped in after the incident made the news.
"Submarine veterans in Texas saw it," Brown said. "They had a contact with Harbor Freight and he said, 'Sure, I’d to that for the submarine veterans,' and they offered the facility to us, otherwise we’d be out on the street."
Harbor Freight Transport and J. Fletcher Creamer & Son worked together to load and transport the remaining artifacts. Harbor Freight's founder and J. Fletcher Creamer Sr. were both WWII veterans.
"We decided to pick it all up and store it here until they’re ready," said Joe Mattio, executive vice president for Harbor Freight Transport. "All for free."
Some of the artifacts saved include a WWII military uniform, documents and one of two torpedo transporters remaining in the country, according to the museum.
Mattio is also a veteran of the armed services.
"It’s a great honor," he said, when asked why they did it free of charge. "I believe a lot in this country and our veterans."
The naval museum veterans are still waiting to hear from the U.S. Navy about what is to become of the U.S.S. Ling. The vessel is so heavy that it may have to be scrapped, but they are still holding out hope that a private donor may come forward to help them save the massive artifact.