Bayonne takes pride in its service to our country, from the world wars up to and including our current conflicts.
In the late 1930s Mayor James Donovan lobbied for a military base in Bayonne. What would become the Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY) boasted the largest dry dock on the eastern seaboard. By 1942, it could repair several battleships at once; it is still in use today.
The PT boat was widely used during World War II. Armed with torpedoes, it was designed to destroy small infantry boats and was valued by the navy for its maneuverability and speed. Most PT boats, including the one that John F. Kennedy commanded in 1943, were manufactured in Bayonne by Elco Navy Division.
After World War II, MOTBY was used as a port for the Naval Reserve Fleet, often dubbed the “Mothball Fleet.” Ships were kept in working condition so they could be immediately deployed in an emergency.
Navy Training programs were relocated to MOTBY from New York City in 1946. At a training base near where the 9/11 Tear Drop memorial stands today, classes of salvage divers were trained in underwater welding, emergency boat repair, and retrieving bodies and important items from shipwrecks.
A U.S. Army base was established at MOTBY in 1967 for shipping oversize cargo, munitions, and vehicles.
After serving that same purpose in the Gulf War, MOTBY was decommissioned in 1995. At the time, a few failed bids were made to berth the USS New Jersey there, but it was retired at the Home Port Alliance in Camden.
POWs on our Shores
During World War II, thousands of POWs were held in areas throughout New York and New Jersey. The former Port Johnson Terminal was once shared by a U.S. Army supply depot and a POW camp housing hundreds of Italians who fought for the Axis. After Italy surrendered and joined Allied forces, the prisoners were reclassified by their American captors as volunteer “Italian Service Units,” ordered into noncombatant roles at Port Johnson until the war ended.
Bayonne’s Italian residents frequently visited the prisoners with home-cooked meals, and POWs were taken on sightseeing trips to New York City as a reward for participation. The POWs helped free up U.S. soldiers from unskilled labor, so they could take on more specialized tasks. While many POWs were repatriated after the war, a significant number were allowed to take up residence in town.
Protecting the Past
The legacy of service in Bayonne has been preserved by residents’ volunteer efforts, especially those of local veterans, at the Joyce-Herbert VFW Post 226. Commander Glen Flora Sr., a Vietnam War vet, founded the post’s military museum in 2006 along with curator, Senior Vice Commander Joseph Kennedy.
On Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., visitors may view uniforms, weaponry, equipment, awards, and documents cataloging Bayonne’s role in military conflicts from the Civil War to the present.
Each artifact has an unspoken story that Flora and others are eager to share.
The museum hosts field trips for schools across the county. “We rely entirely on the community, and the donations they’ve made,” Flora said. “Some of this stuff was going to be thrown out. Everything is an authentic artifact. The only replicas are models of boats and planes.”
Donations and inquiries for the museum can be made in person at 16-18 W. 9th Street, by calling 201-858-1416, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Bayonne has three Medal of Honor recipients; Post 226 is currently lobbying for a fourth, Angelo Scorteri. An Italian-American combat medic in Germany, his World War II uniform is displayed in the museum.
“Scorteri was shot seven times while dragging wounded soldiers into a barn,” Flora said. “Back then, many people who were shot or killed in action received only the next-highest distinguished service awards solely because of their ethnic background. Scorteri’s record is still being processed.”
In recent years, dozens of veterans have received the Medal of Honor after being denied it on the basis of their racial or ethnic backgrounds. Many recipients didn’t live to see the honor bestowed.
Post 226 was also involved in William Simmons’s Medal of Honor, awarded for his valor in World War I. His heroism had been unsung because he was Jewish.
While MOTBY lives on as prime real estate for development—projects are in the works for thousands of residential units, a ferry service, and a Hilton hotel—it bustles with activity.
Cape Liberty Cruise Port remains a major boon to Bayonne’s local economy after the Voyager of the Seas made its inaugural departure in 2004.
A Coast Guard base still stands at the site. This station has jurisdiction over New York Harbor, the Hudson River, the East River, Long Island Sound, the Staten Island Kills, and ocean waters, where it oversees marine defense, civilian safety, and environmental protections.
Bayonne Dry Dock and Repair Corp. continues to service military vessels and cargo ships.
GCT Bayonne, also on the site, is a major container port, which loads and unloads cargo from massive container ships.
Amid all this nautical hardware is the 9/11Tear Drop memorial. The metal teardrop glistens in the sun and can be seen from the harbor. —BLP