Visitors aboard the great warship have seen the awesome 16-inch guns, feared by enemies from World War II through combat actions in Korea, Vietnam and Beirut, Lebanon.

They've seen the Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles, the navigation bridge and captain's quarters.

But they've never seen the Battleship New Jersey on Camden's waterfront the way they will see it on Friday, the 65th anniversary of the ship's commissioning.

Previously closed areas of the "Big J" will be opened to provide a close-up look at life below deck for the 55,000 officers and crew who lived aboard the ship over the decades.

The New Jersey's "City at Sea Tour," which will remain open indefinitely, follows the path of sailors to the ship's post office, where they picked up 1,300 pounds of mail a day, and to the convenience store, where they bought candy and other items. It goes through the operating room, sick bay, pharmacy, medical laboratory, dental office, mess hall, machine shops and TV studio.

"These are the people who served on the ship," said battleship curator Jason Hall, pointing to the "signing wall," a bulkhead where more than 1,000 sailors wrote their names and added their dates of service from 1943 to the New Jersey's decommissioning in 1991.

"That's me," said volunteer Russell Collins, 82, of Palmyra, who served on the ship during World War II when it took part in several Pacific-theater invasions, including Iwo Jima.

"I was a machinist mate third class in No. 1 engine room," Collins said.

Walking down a passageway that will be on the tour, he pointed to where his bunk had been, and where he ran into Fleet Adm. William F. "Bull" Halsey - outside the canteen, later called the Quik Stop, that sold magazines and toiletries.

"I was waiting in line to buy something and a Marine walked in and said, 'Attention!' " recalled Collins, who volunteers a few days a week in the tool room, providing equipment to the ship restorers.

"It was the admiral. He said, 'At ease,' and got in line behind me. Then a young ensign walked up to the window ahead of us and the admiral said, 'The line starts behind me.' "

Around the corner from Collins was World War II veteran Don Walker, 86, of Cherry Hill, painting the new tour areas.

Without living museums like the New Jersey, "young people won't know what preceded them," said Walker, a former Navy frogman, as he brushed white paint onto a bulkhead.

Beyond the Quik Stop and its authentically dressed "Storekeeper Edwards" mannequin was the medical area.

"Most ships don't have all this because they don't have the space," said Hall, pointing out ship's lab, 18-bed ward, and waiting, X-ray and operating rooms where IV bottles, medical equipment and mannequins dressed as doctors and patients added to the realism.

The New Jersey "is a city at sea," the curator said.

In the Navy, comfort is relative, added Jack Willard, a spokesman for the battleship. "People on submarines would call [the New Jersey] the Ritz-Carlton."

Walking down a passageway, Hall picked up a telephone that still operates. "We're not afraid of kids' using it because they don't know how to use a rotary phone," he joked.

Nearby was the medical officer's compartment, used as quarters by the comedian Bob Hope on a visit during the Beirut crisis. Hope also spent time on the ship during World War II and the Vietnam War.

"We have a video of him performing on the fantail," Hall said as he continued his tour through the dental offices, berthing area and machine shops. "This ship is alive. We're constantly restoring it."

Allowing the public into the newly refurbished areas - which include the ship's barber shops, laundry and brig - helps preserve the New Jersey, said Troy Collins, president and CEO of the battleship. The vessel's anniversary and the expanded tour will be marked during an 11 a.m. ceremony Friday.

"With this tour, we're making the culture of the ship available," said Collins. "It had its own society."

The ship plans to offer yet another tour next year that will focus on the engineering of the vessel, from the engines and boiler room to the propeller shafts, Collins said.

Before then, though, veterans of the New Jersey will come together for a Sept. 19 reunion on the vessel. That means Russell Collins and Don Walker will be busy spiffing up the place for the guests.

"I feel good to be part of this," Collins said. "I feel like I'm part of history."

If You Go

The Battleship New Jersey is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information and ticket sales, call 866-877-6262, Ext. 108, during business hours or go to www.battleshipnew

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Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.