“You’re in the Navy Now”

A few days before graduation, I had received a notice to report for active duty, six days after receiving my diploma. I was to report to the Fitchburg Navy recruting officer who had initially signed me up to join a draft of men at the Fitchburg railroad depot to take the train to boot camp. Our destination was the Sampson Naval Training Station near Geneva, New York in the Finger Lakes region in the northwestern part of the state.

My parents and Irma drove me to the Boston and Maine railroad station to begin the long trip Mamma got quite emotional as we left the house, crying: "Goodbye, dear home.". It was a depressed mood in the car, like I was about to face certain death. Not saying anything, I was looking forward to the adventure. Pappa was silent and morose the whole trip. As we got to the depot and I started to climb the train stairs, my father gripped me by the hand with his saddened blue eyes and said in a strained voice: "Be a good soldier." They then watched as the train pulled away. Long afterward, my mother told me that Pappa had broken down and cried on the way back to Westminster.

Thev same fellows I had enlisted with, Joe Testammata and Joe Altieri, plus several others who I don't remember by name made the trip together with me to New York State. Both Joes were great company and had themselves just graduated from Fitchburg High. We clowned and joked the whole trip, looking forward to what was in store for us.


Since the Normandy landing when boot camp had been only three weeks duration to some of the landing craft seaman before being rushed overseas, it was now again expanded to its usual twelve weeks. This meant we'd be at Sampson the whole summer.

Since basic training was such a common experience for millions of us during World War II, I'll spare most details and will cite only those experiences which had significance to me personally. It was my first long absence from home, and opened up new worlds for this New England farm boy. Most of my boot camp buddies were recent high school graduates, class of 1944. There were some older men, as well, who had been drafted. I got to know young men of many walks of life and ethnicities. But there were no Blacks in my training company, nor Asians, nor do I remember seeing any around the base. This was an age of severe racism raising its ugly head not only in the military but everywhere. There must have been segregated Black companies elsewhere, but I didn't see any at Sampson that I can recall.


The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. But it was assumed then in the military that everyone was religious and had to state their preference in during your neck. One of the letters C, P, and J were also stamped on it to indicate whether you were Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. If you claimed no religion, you were in a catch-all category stamped P for Protestant. No matter if you were an atheist, agnostic, humanist or some other religion besides the Judeo-Christian framework. I assume you were then just labelled Protestant. I never met a Muslim or a Hindu while in the Navy so I don't know how they fared. I thought this was quite arbitrary, being a conscious atheist myself, already at age 18.

Worse, on Sunday mornings you were marched off compulsorily either to the Catholic or Protestant services. If you were among our few Jews, you went to the synagogue on Friday nights, in formation, of course. All this went against my grain. But I found a handy way to beat the rap. We did our laundry by hand in the barracks washroom and hung it out to dry on clotheslines outside of the building to dry when the weather was good. This laundry sometimes got stolen as it was drying, so during the day we took turns standing clothes line watch. This was a good way to sit down outside and read while tending to the laundry as it dried. The clothesline watch included Sunday mornings. So what I would do was to trade watches with others who felt compelled to go to church. In that way I was able to spend my Sundays religion-free.

I understand all this has changed in recent years. I read of a pagan Wiccan group that met at an Army base in Texas. A Bfundamentalist Christian group demanded that the Wiccans be banned. But the Army at the base showed its liberal side, and ruled on the grounds of religious freedom that the Wiccans had a perfect right to practice their beliefs. Secular humanist or atheist groups now also exist in the military, although frequently subject to hostile pressures by majority religious dogmatists. The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is particularly notorious for that. But I also maintain that the First Amendment also means freedom from as well as freedom of religion


We all were assigned to specific physical chores for a two-three week period during basic training. The one detail most "Swabbies" feared the most was getting assigned to the deep sinks. This was the clean-up crew of the mess halls, which included the scouring and washing of the pots and pans and serving trays The hours were long and hard, the work was dirty and your work uniforms and tee-shirts would be grimy and greasy when you retuned to the barracks late at night. It was mandatory to keep your clothes clean, but no amount of scrubbing and washing could prevent the yellowing of your white tees and shorts. The best litrerary comparison to this detail can be found in George Orwell's memoir Down and Out in Paris and London, of living in abject poverty as a penniless writer who ended up working 18 hours a day as a dishwasher (plongeur) in the sub-basement kitchens of Parisian restaurants.

But again here I was lucky. When my assignment was announced I was sent on four-hour shifts to watch over the pool tables at one of the base rec halls. My job was to issue pool cues to the players, to see that they were properly racked up afterwards, to see that the tables were kept clean with the balls properly racked when it wasn't in use. I also had to watrch the juke box to see that nobody would insert slugs in place of nickels to play the latest hit music. Talk about soft duty!


I've always detested the Prussian hierarchical chain of command of military discipline, where orders had to be carried out to the letter from top down, from both commissioned as well as non-commissioned officers ranked or rated above you. It was a veritable caste system, with commissioned officers having most of the privileges, better food and living conditions and being served dinner by stewards, mostly African-Americans who lived in their own segregated quarters aboard ship. The non-coms were part of us and our relationship to them was more democratic, though some could be brutish and authoritarian as well. It was truly a military dictatorship. These institutions and their practices nurtured the anti-authoritarian inclinations which have become part of my political and social being. No discipline but self-discipline for me. Regimentation of any kind goes against my grain..


One positive thing that Navy boot camp did for me was to improve my physical condition and to peel off most of my gross body fat, At my worst, at age 17, I weighed 227 pounds, standing 6 fewet tall and obese with a big flabby gut. When I checked into the militarty, I still weighed 215 pounds, a very unhealthy state. With our rigorous physical training over the three-month period, I checked out at 152 pounds, as I left for home on boot leave! I looked better, felt better, and the loss did wonders to my health. With all of the current evidence on the dangers of obesity, even to youngsters, has undoubtedly been a significant factor in extending my life to my current advanced old age.


I sent letters home almost daily from Sampson and Mamma responded as frequently, Pappa seldom. But as the summer progressed, Mamma's letters described Pappa's illness as getting worse. Finally, he was taken to Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg for tests. My mother didn't drive but had to run the farm by herself. Fortunately the Fitchburg Co-op grocery truck came by weekly so there was never a food problem. and during the summer we had our own vegetable garden. A fish truck also came by weekly with ocean fish packed in ice. But most of our fish came from Wyman's Pond which abutted our farm when my mother found time to dig up worms to try to catch some perch and pickerel for the evening meal for Irma and herself. On Saturdays kindly neighbors took Mamma and Irma shopping in Fitchburg. Most often it was Kalle and Ida Arvio, whose farm was at the far end of Westminster., They never told my mother at Burbank what our father's problem was, which was lung cancer, the pay-off for a life of heavy cigarette smoking.


One day Pastor Matti Anttonen of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church on Rollstone Street, made his rounds at Burbank Hospital to see his parishioners who were patients there. He saw my father's name on the roster, and although Pappa was not a church member, Anttonen stopped by his bed anyway. Pappa became furious and ordered the pastor out of the room, saying in effect: "I've never needed you in my life before, and I certainly don't need you now! Get out!" Anttonen beat a hasty retreat,. Perhaps if Pappa hadn't been consumed by his constant chest paiin, he might have been more civil in his dismissal of the clergyman. Ernie Pyle, a World War II-era battlefield news correspondent, once said, "There are no atheists in the foxholes." (Which isn't true.) But there was no deathbed conversion for Pappa. Nowhere close! His powerful atheism and bitter anti-clericism were an indelible part of his very being.

Somewhere toward the end of my boot training, Burbank Hospital saw it could not help my father any more, and had him transferred to Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston with its more sophisticated, soecialized options. Pappa's decline continued.

Boot Leave

Boot leave came in mid-September. I don't remember if it was for two or three weeks. We were to report back to Sampson for further assigment, either to be designated for service school for specialized training or sent out for ship assignment on either coast. We had all taken various aptitude tests for further training. We could all state our preferences for various specialties although there was no indication that our wishes would be necessarily granted. My first choice was for radio operator's schooling, and secondly for signalman's training, specializing in visual communication which included using Morse code for flashing signal lights, semaphore flag usage, and the colorful flag hoists for fleet maneuvers.

I travelled East on the same train as Joe Testammata and Joe Altieri, all of us now sporting Seaman Second Class on our uniform sleeves. When I got home to Westminster I immediately began to help Mamma with the chickens. We soon got word from Massachusetts Memorial for my mother and me to come to Boston to consult about Pappa's condition.

Before we wer4e allowed to see Pappa, the doctor told us that he hqad a terminal case of lung cancer. They haddone exploratory surgery and found both lungs riddled with cancer. At mosdt he had no more than month to live. Of course, both Mamma and I were crying. They told us they could do nothing further for him, but they'd provide us an ambulance to take him to a convalescent home in Fitchburg that very afternoon. We agreed, and would accompany Pappa in the ambulance.

When we got to see Pappa he was totally emasculated, a powerful, husky man reduced to skin and bone. He was delighted to see us. He asked me what "polyps" were, as the doctors had told hin that these were what was bothering him. Of course, we knew the truth, but couldn't tell him. While his discharge was being processed, Pappa slipped me a dollar bill and asked me to go out and buy him a pack of cigarettes and matches as the nurses wouldn't let him smoke. So I thought, why not? He wasn't going to be with us very long, so might as well satisfy his nicotine craving.

Finally, the ambulance came and we left for Fitchburg, sharing Pappa's last ride of his life. It was an emotionally heavy trip. We passed a poultry farm along the way and my father gave a wistful look at the hens outside, his last sight of what made our livelihood possible after he had quit the bakery. We checked Pappa into the convalescent home and friends gave us a lift back to the farm. It was going to be a sorrowful, depressing time for us. We'd do the chores by rote and every day Mamma andI would makethe trip to Fitchburg to see Pappa. They wouldn't allow Irma to come the place.

His chest pains were getting worse and they kept increasing his morphine dosage. I wrote to Uncle August and told him Pappa was and dying and to come see his brother while he still had the chance. Less than a week after we brought Pappa to the place, I took a bus trip into Fitchburg alone to see him. We had a nice talk, probably one of the most intimate we'd ever had. He apologized for not showing up atmy printing department reception on the night ofmy graduation at Worcester Trade, and told me that assoon as he git well we'd visit the school together so he could meet my prining teachers. I knew that could never be, but appreciated his comments. We bade good bye. That was the last time any family member saw him with a clear, rational mind. That night they increased his morphine dosage again.

The next morning Uncle August drove up from Connecticut, and along with Mamma, wewent to Fitchburg to see him again. When we got there, Pappa was delirious and couldn't even recognize his brother. with whom he'd shared a lifetime. A day or so later the convalescent home phoned our neighbor Eeva Hämäläinen that Pappa had passed away. The date of his death was September 27, 1944, exactly a month before his 56th birthday.


We could hardly sit around and mourn while our hearts were heavy. It was the transition to a new and different era in our family history. Mamma was now 50 years old and Irma 12. Funeral arrangements had to be made pall bearers selected, and relatices and friends notified of the funeral. Arrangements were made with Sawyer Funeral Home of Fitchburg by Mamma and me. Since Pappa wasn't religious and neither were we, we needed a secular person to deliver the eulogy. The logical person was Raivaaja editor Oskari Tokoi. He was the first Socialist or Social Democratic prime minister of Finland,who my father admired very much. In recent years, I've read that Tokoi was the first Social Democratic head of state in the history of the world.

The other project that needed to be done was to get an extension of my boot leave as I couldn't leave my mother alone in these circumstances. The Red Cross in Fitchburg telegraphed Samson to request extra leave for me, as did the chief petty officer at the local Navy recruiting office where I had enlisted, as well as Captain Guy Ralph, the commanding officer of my Massacusetts State Guard company in Westminster. The Navy granted me ann extra week, with orders to report to Sampson at its expiration

The funeral was at Sawyers Funeral Home where Tokoi spoke, the burial in Woodeside Cemetery in Westminster, and a reception with refreshments at the Westminster Town Hall. Both Uncles August and Otto were there and were among the pall bearers.. People came from the farmers Co-op in which my parents had been active, old family friends from Quincy, Worcester, Norwood, Fitchburg, gardner and Ashburnham. Cousin Lempi was unable tomake the funeral but came a few days later just as I was leaving for active duty. Lempi was an enormous help to Mamma in the transition. With her bubbly, cheerful and enthusiastic personality she was able to lift my mother and Irma out of their worst doldruns and helped out with the chickens during the couple of weeks she was able to stay. Mamma was one of those amazing Finnish immiigrant women who were not afraid of hard physical work that they had done all their lives and was able to manage the farm by herself at least for the near future. She wasn't the only middle-aged Finnish woman in that siuation. in Westminster. One of our neighbors Eeva Hämäläinen operated an eight-cow dairy farm with a niece she had sponsored from Finland, and another, widow Ida Sillanpää operated a chicken and turkey farm about a mile away on Worcester Road. Gutsy, tenacious women, all.


I returned alone to Sampson via train and bus since my boot company had come back a week earlier and had already been reassigned. A goodly number of my company had been dispatched for amphibious landing craft training at Shoemaker, CA (near Dublin) to prepare for Pacific Island warfare as Allied forces were now well estabished on the European continent driving Eastward, while Soviet troops were pressing West after their turnaround into an offensive mode from their victory at Stalingrad and were plunging on toward Germany. So the Pacific offensive was picking up speed. I remember a gallows humor-type song we used to sing in the barracks at Sampson: "Take down the blue star, dear Mother/ Replace it with one made of gold/For your son's in the amphibious forces/He'll die 'fore he's 19 years old/T.S., oh, T.S., he'll die 'fore he's 19 years old."

Fotunately, I was selected for four-months' trainuing in Signalman's School at Sampson, with my class to occupy an entire barracks for ourselves. These skills were not of much use in civilian life but required a certain degree of competence as far as shipboard duty went. We did get a week's training in the quartermaster specialty, which would give us a look at a potential future as a ship's officer in the merchant marine in the post-war era. So I spent a whole winter at Sampson. Winters in Northern New York near the Great Lakes region were colder than I had ever experienced in Massachusetts. We were shivering mightily for a couple of days when the boilers heating the entire base went out one day, before the problem was solved. One big advantage over boot camp was our regular weekend liberty. So I was able to go home for a weekend frequently.This included a bus ride to Syracuse, train to Albany, with a switch to the Boston train that stopped at Worcester, from where I'd either hitch-hike to Westminster along Route140 or take the Flanagan's bus service terminating in Gardner. Many of my classmates went carousing in Rochester or Buffalo for their liberty (Although most of us were under the legal drinking age of 21, if you were in uniform, no bartender would card you. "If he's old enough to fight, he's old enough to drink," was the idea.) But I was still a farm boy homebody, although my weekends home were very short. One time I petitioned for an extra day, so I could help my mother on the farm by cleaning one of the henhouses. My request was granted. After all, farming was part of the war effort.


Finally thesignalman training was over and we graduated. We were all promoted to Seaman First Class/Signalman Striker., which meant alittle extra in the pay packet and a third stripe on the sleeve of one's jumper. Then would come a post-graduate leave and reassignment to other duty. Anxiiety set in again as tere was still a war on and few were eager to go into live combat.

We got wind of a draft of fifty or so who would be sent to Treasure Island in San Framncisco Bay for Armed Guard training as signalmen on merchant ships, mo stly in the Pacific theater. That was considereed choice duty. On a merchant ship the food was better, where you'd feel more like a civilian and not as militarily gung ho. The Armed Guard consisted of a contingent of Navy gunners and signalmen to protect the ship. But the biggest bonus of all was being sent to San Francisco, the best liberty town in the world. "Booze, broads and fun" in a reputedly wide open t6own for young men with raging hormones. Lots of free-loving women all over. Why, there was even talk of a notorious night club on North Beach called Finnocchio's, with female impersonators where :men dressed like women for entertainment. The other rumor was for a large contingent earmarked for amphibious training at Shoemacher, California that everyone dreaded, withmajor landings pending in the Pacific theater against Japan.

Politics played a part in getting the choice assignments to "T.I." We had a sharp operator from Chicago in our class named Joe Pink, about 27, older than the rest of us. He had been a bookie in civilian life and a poker shark. He'd hang out with the non-coms, Masters at Arms, our instructors, and play poker with them into the wee hours of the night and drink booze that Pink managed to provide. No booze was allowed on the base although petty officers could get it. so could us trainees if we knew the ropes on how to sneak into town past the guards to score some liquor or beer. The secret path was called "The Burma Rode" and Joe Pink was in the know about it. He was smooth and cool and buddied up to all the non-coms by slipping them bottles of booze during poker nights in the barracks office, while the rest of us were in our bunks sleeping. Another kid in our company from Massachusetts, John Peters, was an obvious brown nose. He'd always butter up the non-coms in plain sight, bringing them boxes of candy he had picked up during liberty weekends. He was overly effusive and obnoxious. Nobody likes a suck-up.

Came time for our assignments to be posted. We all crowded around the bulletin boards. The "T.I." draft consisted of 50 men from among those whose surnames ranged from A to M alphabetically, except for one guy. And that was our Chicago bookie, Joe Pink. Peters again was unceremoniously dumped into the other large draft--to Shoemakerr, with heavy combat in the offing in short order. A smaller draft was sent to the West Coast as replacements for the signal bridges of destroyers.

I don't know how luck always seemed to ride with me. I was included in a small draft of six men assigned to a pool in formation on pre-commissioned ships at the U.S. Naval base at Newport, R.I., 90 miles from home! Others assigned to my draft were signal school classmates John Clark from Oneida N.Y., Ernie Huffcut from a small town in Central NewYork State, William "Billy Bob" Greene from Roseville, Ind., Manny Smalline, a Jewish lad from Rochester, NY, the sixth I don't remember.


After my two-week leave in Westminster, I took a bus to Newport. via Providence. Our assignment was to wait around to be designated for a new pre-commissioned ship. THen when it was ready to host a crew, we'd be shipped to the East Coast port where it'd be commissioned, ready for its shakedown cruise. In the meantime there'd be hundreds of us hanfing around around the barracks not doing much of anything. A number of the guys were combat veterans waiting for reassignment. We had plenty of evening liberty, as well as on weekends. I'd start hitchiking home on Friday nights, to return on Sunday evening.

Occasionally during the day the Masters at Arms would stop by the barracks where we'd belying around,reading, playing cards, writing letters or "shooting the bull," to march us off to various work assignments. So we had volunteer sentries posted on the porch keeping an eye out for the M.A.'s. Once the sentries spotted two or three approaching, they'd spread the alarm throughout the barracks and everyone would take off, scatter and hide. Our combat vets were the real experts at the art of scrtewing off. "Do as little as you can, don't volunteer for anything" for you might regret your assignment was their advice. These lessons we learned well as part of Navy life. The combat vets taught us every screwing off dodge we got to know.

Finally the Newport brass got wise to our disappearing acts. First thing after breakfast every morning they'dmarch us off to muster at a parade ground where the MA's would assaign us to various details, including the dread deep sinks. But the swabbies were resourcefull. As we were marched off to muster, as soon as we'd round a barracks, the rear echelons would peel off and disappear and head off to their choice hiding places. By the time we reached the drill field, maybe half of our several hundred that started from the barracks would be missing. Soon, the brass got wise to that tactic. This time we'd have a contingent of MA's surrounding us as we marched as if we were prisoners of war


In fact, we had more guards around us than did the actual war prisoners on the base. We had large numbers of Italian and German POWs on the base doing various details. The Italians were happy as clams astheyn had gotten out of a murderous war, for which many of them had no use for anyway,nomore than they had for the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. They had no guards around them and waved and laughed at us sitting in the backs of trucks taking them to work, while the MAs were marching us to the drill field. The Italians had other reasons to be happy. After, all, they were Depression-Era youngsters from Italy who were probably eating the best meals of their lives at Newport. We also had German POWs serving us in the chow lines of the Navy mess halls. They were surly and arrogant, resentful of their status of obeisance to us decadent Americans as it appeared to the eye. These men were well-indoctrinated in the Nazis' Aryan super race ideology.


Fortunately, soon after this surveillance structure of the work pool had been established, an obese Athleic Specialist First Class had picked us, the Samson signalman school quartet for his work detail. The six of usually marched as a cluster to the drill field and so he picked us as a group. He walked usto a rec hall as he was a recreation specialist petty officer. All he had us do was to sweep down and swab the decks from the night before, rack up all the pool balls and cues, and empty the waste baskets. This took nomore than anhour. Then he told us we could leave for the day. We'd generally hang around for an hour or so, shoot pool or play ping pong. By then it was time for the morning mail call at the barracks. After mail call it'd be time for lunch. The rest of the day we madeourselves scarce, sometimes sitting around the rocks at the shoe, as summer was approaching. On March 18, 1945 I turned 19.

The Rec Spec would come around every weekday morning and select us Sampson boys as he liked us. One morning he was a little late and an MA came by picking men for a two week stint at the mess hall "deep sinks." He pointed at me as one of his prey. I looked around behind me and he bellowed: "I mean YOU!" He trusted no one and started to ask us one by one to see our dogtags to write down our names and serial numbers. I was at the rear of the pack and while he was busy with the guys in front of me I started to walk backwards, and as I reached the corner of a nearby barracks, turned around and took off. I hurried to the Rec Building and the Rec Spec wondered why I wasn't with my buddies that morning at the drill field. I told him my story and he said that from then on he'dmake sure he got to the work pool on time so I wouldn't end upin the deep sinks.

During evening liberty, I'd take the bus to downtown Newport with a few others and at most would hang around a soda fountain and have a milk shake and a boring evening. A lot of the slightly older swabbies headed for the notorious Blue Moon Bar getting loaded with the well-battered female bar flies whon were looking the separate the sailors from their money. The ultimate payoff for a number of the swabbies was a dose of gonorrhea


On the afternoon of April 12 I was hanging around the barracks alone with Manny word came over the radio that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died that day. It was a sad day for me as FDR, as father of the New Deal helped millions in need, was a great hero to me. I cried for the first time since Pappa's death and genuinely mourned the loss of this man loved by many and detested by the right wing in America. I was stunned for days.


We still had no clue of ship assignments yet although we had been at Newport for several weeks with the war in Europe in its final stages. (V-E Day finally came on May 8, 1945 and the European phase of the war was over.) Finally, full-time adavanced signalman training classes were organized for us signalman strikers. No more work details. Our classes occupied every weekday, with the exception of noon day chow breaks. Plenty of drills in reading Morse code with flashing lights. I was able to read at about 11-12 words a minute, which to an unhtrained eye would seem like a steady blur with periodical momentary flickers. I had perfect 20-20 vision those days with no need for eyeglasses. So I got to the top of my games as a signalman.


At one point I was the only signalman picked to go for a week's sea voyage on a destroyer for a training run to Norfolk, VA and back. I was attached to the regular signal gang on the bridge as an "apprentice" for practical experience at sea, including standing regular watches. Thiswas my first ocean-going experience. We did get a one night liberty on the Naval base at Norfolk and I was able to catch a movie. At one point while at sea we got word about a Japanese propaganda radio broadcast claiming that their planes had sunk this very destroyer I was training on somewhere in the Pacific. But here we were sailing along the Atlantic Coast with nary a Japanese plane in sight.


I had problems with a pylonidal cyst on my tailbone even at the time I enlisted. which hurt like hell and opened up from time to time to leak some mucous fluid. It got worse at Newport so I was admitted to the Naval hospital on the base for surgery. All the regular wards were full so I was given a bunk in a ward reserved for venereal disease patients., veterans of the battle of the Blue Moon Bar. I heard everybody's "sea story" of what had happened to them. One poor chap was being treated for gonorrhea and his wife was scheduled to visit him the following week at Newport, unaware of what her hubby was sweating. I'd walk into the "head" or men's bathroom in the ward. Toilet seats were labelled for those with VD, those without VD, and separate ones for those with "open chancres." I hardly dared put my bare feet on the floor while I was in that ward. No wonder the Navy wags called the Hospital Corpsmen who were the nurses and other attendants in the hospitals and sick bays by the choice terms "chancre mechanics" or "penis machinists' mates," just like they called the yeomen who were our male office workers as "ball-bearing " or "titless Waves." At that time our regular female Waves did not serve on warships. Finally, my tailbone had healed enough for me to return to regular duty though I still had to wear gauze bandaging to stem the leakage as the carved area had to heal from the inside.



Finally, after three months at Newport our assignments came. We were slated for duty on the light cruiser USS Little Rock (CL 92) which was having finishing touches put on it at Cramp's Shipyard in Philadelphia. Clark, Huffcut, Green, Manny and me were to become rookie crew members on thesignal bridge of the ship we called "The Big Pebble."

This light cruiser was designed to be used as protection for aircarft carriers which were being increasingly threatened by kamikaze suicide pilots. We were more heavily armored than the standard cruiser with heavier artillery and more of it. This cruiser would also be used for offshore bombardment of the Japanese Coast in case of amphibious landings of U.S. ground troops.

However, our departure to Philadelphia was delayed a few more weeks as completing the work on the ship was behind schedule. So we went back to the signalmen's classes at Newport, which were augmented by gunnery training to be able to load the ammunition onthe big guns if wer were needed. The horrendous blasts from the artilley fire in this training against our unprotected ears may have lead to my near-deafness in my later years. We were given no protective devices for our ears in those days. So our whole new crew as assembled just hung out at Newport. It wasn't the worst duty. At least we weren't being shot at.


After the work at Cramp's was completed, the ship was moved to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for final touches before leaving for our Caribbean shakedown cruise. So our large Newport crew entrained for Philly to live aboard our ship. The "finishing touches" took longer than expected, so we waited aanother month for our laqunching. So there wass plenty of "liberty" and free weekends. We'd take the rickety streetcars every liberty night from the Navy shipyard to dowetown Philly.

We usually hung out at the American Federation of Labor outdoor dance plaza which took up a whole city block. We were ever on the lookout for young women who came tomeet servicemen at the dances. There were thousands of military personnel on the loose every night in Philly, but for a shy 19-year-old like me the "make-out" score was precisely zero. I'd never had sex at that point and left for sea still in a virginal state. But a lot of my older shipmates who'd had combat experiencewearing ribbons to show for it would hit the bars and would score sexually quite frequently. Ther town was wide open and nobody asked us for IDs at any bars. It wasn't that we teen-agers didn't want to make out, as that's mostly what we talked about in our hyped-up horny hormonal states. Yet I was still an abstainer from alcohol and tobacco. I didn't even drink coffee.


I did spend a couple of weekends at home, which was a long trip. Once I went to New York and visited the Finnish Socialist Hall at Fifth Ave., and 126th St, which I'd seen once before in 1940 when I'd been at the New York World's Fair with Pappa. I ate dinner at the hall's co-op restaurant the night of my liberty.

At cousin Lempi's urging I went to Brooklyn to see my ex-Aunt Ida who had expressed a desire to see me to see me. I stayed overnight on their living room couch. Aunt Ida, who had been a zealous Communist during the 1920s, by now had morphed into an equally zealous and rabid Republican. She cited Roosevelt-hating right-winger Walter Winchell as her favorite commentator. Whereas I had been weened on the pages of the social democratic Finnish newspaper Raivaaja and the columns of liberal Democratic pundit Drew Pearson who I then admired. Ida vented her political passions on me and also said she had forgotten her Finnish, which my parents never believed. Her husband Jimmy Gamble, a shipyard worker at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a Tammany Hall-type Irish-American Democrat, roared with laughter and told me: "Listen to that woman talk. When I met her she was as Red as they came but look at her now!"


Another weekend about three or four of us spent a long weekend in Washington, D.C. where none of us had ever been. Word was out that there was a 4-1 ratio of women over men in the nationa's capital most of these women working at government office jobs. So w2e figured this woulb be one great "make-out" town. We rented a hotel room where we could party if the opportunity came. I don't remember the names of any of my shipmates except for one shy, quiet Italian boy named Mastroianni It turned out to be a rather conventional weekend and we met no women. So we did the touristy thing of seeing all the famous government buildings that visitors usually take in. We even sat in a Congressional gallery listening in on the so-called debates. Hardly anyone was present on tbhe floor. Some Southern politician was droning on on some issue aaffecting his state to a nearly empty room. He was really speaking for the Congressional Record. One Rep was reading a newspaper. Another was dozing. A couple were standing by the corridor door talking. Nobody was interested in his speech, including us bored swabbies up in the gallery.


We did take in some major league baseball games in Philly, all free for service personnel, and saw both the American League's Philadelphia Athletics at Connie Mack Stadium, and the National League Phillies at Shibe Park. Both wartime teams were made up of aging castoffs and 4-Fs (men rejected from military service due to physical or mental disabilities) as many prime-time players were off fighting in the war. I saw a one-armed player named Pete Gray playing for the St. Louis Browns who were taking on the A's. The only distinct thing I remember about any of the games was the sight of "Buck" Newsom, an overage pitcher for one of the Philly teams with a hanging gut. There he wason the top of the mound with the fans looking on, reaching into his trousers through the waist all the way to the crotch, either adjusting his jockstrap or scratching his balls. Who won the game? Who knows? Who cares?


There were many other freebies for the military men and women. Some of the leading big bands of that era a large downtown theater. We were entertained by Kay Kayser, Jimmy Doprsey and Gene Krupa and their bands. A movie I can recall was "Anchors Away", featuring a young Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly dancing and singing away. Whether we saw that in Philly or during our D.C. adventure, I don't recall.


I made new friends in the Signal Gang, some of whom already had somecombat experience or extensive sea duty prior to their Little Rock assignment. Heading the Signal gang was Chief Petty Officer Clarence Axelson who had been in the regular Navy since the early Depression years. A gruff but hearty and decent chap who nicknamed me as "The Russian." Our coloful signalman first class who was the de facto boss of our group was a hip Boston Irishman named McVey who sported an ear ring and tattoos and wore a spiffy tailor-made uniform while on leave or liberty , who had a "booze and broad" arrangement in an apartment he shared with a young woman in downtown Philly. Second class signalman Ogden had recently been released from extended submarine duty in the Pacific for psychological reasons. He was an enigmatic and studious type who read a lot.

Another second class skivvy waver was another Bay State boy Robert Lawrence who served on landing crafts in the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942-43) who helped to ferry Sea Bee constructionn crews ashore on that hard fought scene. He claimed to have killed a Japanese soldier on the beach with a shovel, and was the only sailor I met during my time in the Navy who had killed someone in hand-to-hand combat. He also openly boasted about one of his nocturnal liberty practices downtown. There were some older gay men known as "chicken hawks" who cruised around the AFL dance plaza in their cars trying to pick up young servicemen. Lawrence said he'd earn $10 a pop as he allowed himself to be solicited and fellated in the back or front seat of the cruiser's car. Ten bucks in those days could buy a lot of beer and even two or three dollars could buy a female streetwalker, which Lawrence didn't hesitate to take advantage of either, Surpringly, nobody on the signal bridge made this an issue with him, at a time when homosexuality was grounds for immediate discharge from the military and homophobia was rife, until the Obama Administration eliminated such restrictions on sexual preferences. Yet if anybody in the crew had called him a "queer" to his face this husky, short, somewhat belligerent lad would probably retaliate with a bust in the mouth. The word "bisexual" was unheard of in those days. Such was the strength of denial of one's complex sexual tendencies at the time.

Bernard Kyle Hoover was another second class petty officer who hailed from rural Idaho where he had worked in the potato fields during the Depression years. He swore he'd never go back in the fields after discharge and would try to operate a small business in his hometown of Nampa. I kept in touch with him for some years after discharge by letter, and he had failed in a dry cleaning effort and was having a tough time running a small gas station at a location where there was one of them at each corner, others offering full service to customers. Last I heard of him Bernie was trying to get a printing apprenticeship in an International Typographical Union shop.

Nolan E. Riley, from Little Rock, Arkansas, had been busted to seaman second class after being picked up for desertion and had done a year at the Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire. His earlier ship had been scheduled for Pacific area combat when he jumped ship just before its departure and holed up with a woman he 'd picked up in a bar until he was arrested. Since the Pacific war was still on he was given a second chance on the Little Rock. Nolie was a big drinker without limit on liberty. A number of times several of us had to carry half-carry him back to the ship when we ended our night on the town. I was still a teetoler at the time, confining myself to soft drinks. He was also an obsessive poker player and would invariably get cleaned out in the shipboard card games on paydays. He trusted me, so on pay days he would give me half of his money and told me that under no circumstances to give it to him if he lost what was left in a poker game no matter how hard he pleaded. I'd adamantly refuse his requests and would only give him the other half as we left for liberty. So at least he had beer money. Riley was also an expert on the ship's sewing machine He would repair all the bunting on the signal bridge that got torn as well as other official assignments. Since he had free access to the ship's sewing compartment, he'd also do repairs and adjustments on his shipmate's uniforms for a fee, which earned him extra money. Nolie was a warm-hearted, generous Southerner.

Cook First Class Carnahan was along-time regular Navy man, another heavy boozer and a whoremonger. As the Navy grew during wartime, somehow he made first class as a cook. But he was totally hapless as a real cook. So the mess hall wouldn't let Carnahan anywhere near the food. The only thing he was allowed to make was Kool-aid which he'd ladle out into our glasses as we passed by in the chow line.


Besides my old Sampson friends I became close to several others with whom I hung out on liberties the rest of the time I was on the Litle Rock. They included a guy from Jersey City named Jim Moran who liked to read as much as I did. He was the first to introduce me to JamesT. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan" series which could be found in the shop's library. It was there I first ran into popular Southern writer Thomas Wolfe, whose "Time and River" and "You Can't Go Home Again," which I devoured. There were Gerry Brown and Gerry Gaffney, two Irish lads from Brooklyn. Larry Bachman, another Brooklynite, had been a printing pressman in civilian life and a member of the Pressmen's Union, with whom I discussed trade unionism. Tom Boyd was a Signalman Second Class from Erie, PA. Roger Bellows was a rebel and shipboard prankster whose father was a business administration professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Joe Belonis from the radio shack hung out with us skivvy wavers quite a bit as well.


As I've mentioned I learned to dislike the caste system of commissioned officers over enlisted men. Therewere some decent officers like Commander J.T. Hazen who was the ship's Executive Officer, a former Merchant Marine Officer who was warm and humane toward enlisted men. But our Captain William E. Miller, Annapolis Class of 1919 or so, whon was the onlyone of his class who hadn't made admiral yet, who had no combat experience. So he was eaer to get into Pacific action to pick up combat credits so he could to be able to get promoted to the admiral's rank. A short, mean, little bastard whom we disdainfully dubbed as Wee Willie Miller. He was a harsh authoritarian disciplinary type, who looked on enlisted men as so much spittle. He ran the shiplike an arrogant tyrant, a Captain Bligh. His chief Communications Officer, an arrogant sort named LT(JG) R. W. Parker was of Miller's ilk, also thoroughly disliked by enlisted men.


The wartime Navy was chronically short of officers, so when a likely prospect was sworn in, they'd be rushed through a 90-day training program befrore commissioning and then rushed into active duty. They were called "Ninety-Day Wonders."

One such was Ensign George C. Hastie, a 20-year-old Ivy Le ague type, good-looking, well-mannered, and incredibly naive. He was something of an innefectual bumbler. We all considered George a big joke. About the only order I ever heard him give was an admonition about our shoeshines. We'd be in the middle in our usualblue collar garb of dungarees and blue work shirts, chipping paint on the signal bridge prior to repainting, but the only concern the good ensign seemed to have was that our shoes weren't glistening enough in their polish.

Ensign Hastie also got seas-sick after maneuvers after our shakedown cruise with other warships off Newport, RI, He was on the main bridge with the captain and other high brass, got pale and upchucked on the deck. An enlisted man was called to clean up Hastie's mess. A few days later he was transferred to a battleship, where the rocking and rolling wasn't as pronounced as it was on our ship. Imagine how he would have been as an officer on a destroyer?

Our "90-day wonder" was also very religious in some fundamentalist Protestant belief. While he was on our ship he offered to conduct Bible study classes to thesigfnal Bridge gang, But the only disciple he succeeded in getting was a gay, skinny radioman striker who was more in heat for George's athletically-honed body than for any religious indoctrination. He seemed indifferent to the ensign's preachings nor did he get near the officer's skivvies who was oblivious to his charge's designs.


Around this time I was asked by First Mate McVey to start studying for promotion for Signalman Third Class. I needed to pass written as well as practical tests dealing with semaphore, flashing signal lights and flag hoists and petty officers' standard duties. I worked hard to prepare and was successful in the promotion.

One of the duties of petty officers was to serve on shoe patrol duty during liberties. Your name was placed into a pool, and you got called up in rotation as SPs from time to time. Signalman POs got to serve along with boatswain's mates during man overvboard drills on lifeboats, Although we weren't in a combat area yet, I was assigned to my battle station during our shakedown, which was being the non-com in charge of Signals Aft, a backup station to the main signal bridge in case the latter was blown away during battle.

Signals Aft was an open tub, high above near on the rear masts to which we climbed up a rung steel ladder attached to the bulkhead of the ship. Just below our bridge was a gun tub with a detachment of Marines manning some 40-millimeter rapid-fire pieces. Their job was to blast away at Kamikaze planes which would be trying to crash into our ships or at aircraft carriers our cruiser was designed to protect. As a result we signalmen would be totally exposed to any aircraft trying to plunge into us as we had no shelter. If a Japanese Zero was to zoom down on us, we were instructed to aim our signal lamps to blind the pilot's eyes hoping he'd crash into the sea and not into us. (Thanks a lot, guys!)

While we were still at the Philly Navy Yard a badly battered cruiser came into our docks from the Pacific war zone for major repairs. It had been in heavy combat and both signal bridges had been blown away by Japanese air strikes resulting in heavy personnel casualties. A nice feeling, since we were projected to join Admiral Halsey's fleet for a possible invasion of Japan.

Caribbean Shakedown

Finally, the USS Little Rock was commissioned in Philadelphia on June 17, 1945. On July 21, we left on our shakedown cruise in the Caribbean with the naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba our destination.. The shakedown cruise of several weeks was to check out all the bugs in the new ship and to engage in maneuvers to test its utility. It offered the crew pracrtical training in operating a warship at sea. There would be a lot of gunnery practice. Most of the crew was young, with no combat or other sea-going experience. Guantanamo Bay had been a US naval base since it defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Although Cuba was nominally an independent Republic, the Platt Amendment in 1902 gave the USA the right to operate the base at Guantanamo in perpetuity to this day.

Today "Gitmo" retains its notoriety as a prison for Iraqis and Afghans rounded up indiscriminately during our invasion of these countries after 9-11. Although nominally independent, for years our capitalist imperialism had effect say-so in Cuba's politcs and sugar-based economy, collaborating with corrupt and dictatorial Cuban governments until the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship by the Castro Revolution of 1959. Actually, Fulgencio Batista wasn't even in Cuba in 1945 during our shakedown. He had served as president from 1940-1944 and temporarily bowed out of the top job and was living in the US at the time of our visit. In 1952 he came out of exile and seized power in Havana and exercised increasingly corrupt iron rule, catering to US crime bosses who controlled gambling and prostitution patronized by free-spending tourism.

We saw none of this as our four-hour liberties were confined to the naval base. We weren't able to visit Guantanamo City where most of the Cuban civilian work force commuted from daily to theiir jobs on the base. I wasn't drinking yet then, although my ship-mates told me the Cuban beer at the base bar was excellent, compared to the weak 3.2 composition allowed in the United States after repeal of Prohibition, so I just stuck to soda pop during liberty,which was shorter than four our ship was anchored out in the Bay because the water was too shallow for it to dock, forcing us to take longboats to reboard after our Wee Willie Miller limited outings.

Perils of Gunnery Training

We left Gitmo shortly, out into the choppy Caribbean waters, where we maneuvered for hundreds of miles, putting the ship through all kinds of trials. Then off to the Island of Culebra, near Puerto Rico for fusillades of gunnery practice. The local fishermen didn't appreciate us very much, but they weren't able to do much before the might of the world's foremost military power which ruled Puerto Rico as a colony. At that time we had no protective devices for our ears which were exposed to non-stop explosiveness of our big guns for days on end. Besides that, the Marines in the gun tubs below our Signals Aft, were making merry with the firepower of their 40-millimeter guns making it even tougher for our ears. I attribute my current near-deafness at age 87 to that early Navy experience at age 19-20. I did OK until my early 60s when my hearing began to deteriorate. We had more heavy artillery and firepower than cruisers generally do because we were designed for aircraft carrier protection and offshore coastal bombardment.

"Man Overboard" Drill

One aspect of our at-sea trainuing was lifeboat drill. A dummy would be thrown overboard unannounced and then the alarm of "man overboard" would be spread. Therewere lifeboat crews designated for every watch aboard ship, including one signalman. I was designated for that chore on my watch. When the alarm sounded, we'd all head for the lifeboat, quickly don foul weather gear to protect us from the sea's turbulence as the boat was lowered. We'd bob upand down in the rough, choppy Caribbean and sometimes our mother ship would pull awayn out of our sightline looking for the dummy. My job was to watch for flashing light code from our signal bridge which would indicate the dummy's location for us, once it was sighted from the cruiser. I'd acknowledge the message and pass the word to the coxswain and we'd head for the dummy and retrieve it when spotted. Then I'd send a message back to the ship with my light to indicate the dummy had been secured. The sea would be so rough when I stood up use my light that two men would have to hold on to me so I wouldn't be washed overboard. It was a memorable adventure for me.

Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the War ends

On August 6, 1945 we got a strange message through the Radio Shack. We had a daily bulletin on events of theday through the radiomen of world events (censored), but the radiomen would often let us know what was happening before the printed bulletin arrived Since the Radio Shack was on the deck directly below the Signal Bridge, sometimes we'd hear these messages before the captain did. This was one about a strange bomb none of had ever heard of dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima which pulverized it. Of course, this was the atom bomb which later became the doomsday threat of the Cold War, the spectre of which still hangs over our heads. It turned the city into powder and ash and decimated about 140,000 people. On August 9, another A-bomb levelled the city of Nagasaki with about 70,000 obliterated instantly. Over the following five years another 130,000 of both cities died of radiation poisoning.

"What the hell is this," we pondered as we had countless questions and few answers. On August 15 we heard another message that Japan had surrendered. Outside of the Radio Shack \"sparks", we Signal Bridge "skivvy wavers" were the first to hear of it. The joyous word spread like wildfire throughout the ship. The swabbies were ecstatic and celebrated the best they could, without alcoholic beverages as we didn't have the rum rations that the old British Navy reputedly had.

Actually, the captain may have been the last to hear of it, as he was eating his supper in his sea cabin on the deck just above us. I saw a Marine orderly rush past us to inform him of the Japanese surrender. He had his dinner tray on his lap when the Marine arrived. Accoding to what the Marine told us later, contrary to the explosive ecstacy of the crew, Miller was so enraged that he allegedly threw his food tray toward the ceiling when learned that the war was over. Now his dream of combat points was shattered as was possibly his ambition of being promoted to rear admiral. I felt he was the type to that would have sailed into Tokyo Bay alone with guns blazing to delight in the glories of war and promotion. He was our Captain Queeg, the mad Captain Ahab.

Back to Git'mo

Immediately following the end ofthe war, the commander of the cruisers of the Atlantic Fleet ordered all cruisers to report to their nearest port of call to celebrate with a three-day holiday from all deuty.We were 300 miles from Guantanamo and off we went. As we sailed into the harbor to anchor I was on watch and was studying the action through a long glass. The harbor was teeming with hundreds of vessels all celebrating the war's end. I looked up at the sun-drenched burnet-out hillside and saw some strange movement all along its slopes. As we moved closer, it turned out to be dozens of GIs stripped to T-shirts and shorts, drunkenly rolling down the hillsides in ecstacy.

All the ships in port were a filthy mess, deserted except for a skeleton watch, wit the rest getting smashed around the clock. Our executive officer Cdr. Hazen was delighted. but not Wee Willie Miller. The USS Little Rock was not part of the celebration. Millerr ordered an intense three-day work detail in port where the ship wopuld be scraped, painted, and scrubbed to get it into A1 shape.He allowed only one-quarter of the crew to go on liberty each night, and only for four ours, while most of the crews of the other ships were ashore having a ball around the clock

Our spirits were dampened. I never got to go ashore at all , because on the fourth day, my liberty turn, we were at sea again. Being Depression-Era youngsters, many of my shipmates were planning to reinlist and make the Navy their career for its job secuirity. But after this draconic experience under Wee Willie Miller, most changed their minds. Including our friend Radioman Joe Belonis.

Reflections on the Bomb

In the foregoing paragraphs I described the celebratory joy of us servicemen when we realized WWII was over. Yet none of us thought anything about the monumental horror that was visited upon the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with our A-bombs. This factor remained remotely abstract to us as our own personal wishes had finally come true. I've reflected on the significance of this travesty ever since during my life and concluded this was totally unnecessary and was the mother of all terrorism before and since, and this time under official US government initiative and sponsorship. We can hardly pass judgement on other aggressive war making powers when we ourselves are as guilty of such monstrous crimes against humanity then and ever since. .

General Douglas MacArthur considered that the devastation of the bombings was of no military significance but they did terrorize and murder huge numbers of civilians in densely settled areas which has haunted the survivors and their descendents ever since. All this happened during the young Presidency of Harry S.Truman, aided and abetted by cohorts like James Byrnes. Japan knew it was thoroughly beaten even before the bombs and was desperately seeking to surrender through various sources. Truman knew this, referring to a telegram sent to Russia seeking peace, writing in his diary about the "the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace."

One argument for the bombing that 80-90% of Americans still believe through constant mainstream capitalist media misinformation, is that the lives of countless Americans would have been lost in any land invasion of Japan. Truman himself in that debate pulled a figure out of the air of 500,000 casualties while Churchill added to the hyperbole with a million. But that country was totally defeated and it leaders desperate to give up. There was no reason for an invasion.

Another prominent dissenter was Joint Chiefs of Staff head Admiral William D. Leahy who said: "The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender." General Dwight D. Eisenhower pleaded with Truman along similar lines and was ignored. Ernest J.King, commander in chief of the US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, stated that the naval blockade and prior bombing of Japan in March, 1945, had rendered the Japanese helpless and that the use of the atomic bomb was both unnecessary and immoral.

One primary reason said to have motivated the final decision to bomb was the late entry of Russia into the war against Japan, as a warning shot against the Soviets' bow, to keep their noses out of the US sphere of influence. British scientist P.M.S. Blanchett wrote that dropping the bomb was "the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war against Russia." But to try to obliterate the population of two Japanese cities to prove that point is beyond me. Just plain evil. The assaults on Hiroshima and Nagasaki also had a class angle in their prelude in the saturation fire bombing of huge working class urban centers in the European theater like Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, besides Tokyo, intended to demoralize their civilian population who sustained what was left of their industries. In essence it showed that the Allied Forces outdid the fascists at their own game in their war against civilians.

I have been opposed to the obscenity and insanity of war ever since that time and have been active in campaigning against them as instruments of corporate domination of the world in an imperialist mission to exploit its human and material resources. When Truman ran for a full term as President in 1948, I did not vote for him due to his crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but supported the Progressive third party candidate Henry A. Wallace who did badly. Not that it made that much difference, but I should have registered a protest vote then for Socialist Norman Thomas, whose basic philosophy was closer to my basic values as they evolved through the succeeding years. .

If readers of these Memoirs wish to examine evidence of my arguments against the use of the Bomb, do read the late historian Howard Zinn's last book: "The Bomb'", City Lights Books, 2010, 79 pages, and Gar Alperovitz's "The Decision to Use the Bomb."

Return to Philly

With the shakedown completed off we sailed back to the Philly Navy Yard for repairs on flaws that were discovered during our Caribbean training cruise. It looked like our deployment to the Pacific region was now history. After we docked the Captain went to Washington DC on business for a week. Cdr. Hazen became acting captain in Miller's absence. He realized Miller's vengeful behavior to the crew at Guantanamo on liberty restrictions and more than made up for it. Three-quarters of the crew were allowed on liberty every night and didn't have to return until morning. We were a happy bunch. Hazen's generous, humane spirit was appreciated by all of us.


After the LittleRock was declared "shipshape" after the renovation and repair period, we awaited our next assignment. My active Naval Reserve status called for a discharge six months after the resolution of the war. There was a point system in place which determined the time of your discharge. I still had a long way to go as my reserve status was activized in June, 1944. Most of the longer-serving men were let go immediately unless someone wanted to ship over. So newer recruits came aboard as replacements, including our Signal Bridge. Commander Hazen was promoted to Captain and was assigned a ship of his own. We were all sorry to see him go, and had hoped it would be Wee Willie who was reassigned. To no one's surprise, he instituted a more stringent liberty policy on his return to command. Parker was promoted, and although I've forgotten his name he was replaced by a more decent sort of communications officer to oversee the Radio Shack and Signal Bridge. Our morale greatly improved as a result.

South America Next

Some weeks later our new assignment came. The USS Little Rock was instructed to go on a five month "Good Will" tour of Soutrh America. Since it would be months before we were discharged our signal gang looked forward to this new adventure. To get to see this vast continent was exceptionally appealing. Our first port of call would be San Juan, Puerto Rico, then on to Rio de Janeiro, which we would visit three times and several other smaller Brazilian ports, inclding the coffee port of Santos, the rail gateway to the teeming metropolis of Sao Paulo. Then we'd head south, round Cape Horn and hit several Chilean ports including Valparaiso. Next would be Callao in Peru, the port for the ancient city of Lima. From there we would briefly visit Santa Elena in Equador, on and through the Panama Canal Zone stopping at Balboa and Colon, and sail into the Atlantic. Our last South American stop would be at Cartagena, Colombia. As it turned out, our terminal stop was at Norfolk, Virginia.

Now that I look back on it, it was to assert the Monroe Doctrine through which the US expressed its dominance and control of the Souithern Hemisphere, as being in its sphere of sole imperial linfluence. This would include demonstrating our gunnery's overwhelming fire power to Latin American politicians and military chiefs. I concluded even then that it was more than a Rooseveltian "Good Neighbor" gesture among equals.We were to skip Argentina, then under the popular fascistic rule of Juan Peron and hostile to the USA. We did visit other authoritarian countries who were our pals because they' allowed our capitalist investors to run amok in their economies. The Monroe Doctrine spelled out that "speak softly but carry a big stick,' whether it was the Republicans or Democrats in power. In this instant case, the USS Little Rock would be the Big Stick.

    Click here for a map of my itinerary.

Mamma Sells the Farm

Meanwhile, back in Westminster my mother was wondering what to do with the farm. She was managing the chickens by herself and making a fair debt-free living.But she couldn't take the hard physical labor indefinitey. She had been widowed at age 50 and had a young child to raise. She didn't know how to drive with only the Flanagan's bus line offering service a few times a day to downtown Westminster. To get to Fitchburg for heavier shopping, like Blanche DuBois, she had to frequently "depend on the kindness of strangers." So she asked me if 'd want to run the farm after discharge now that I wouldn't be a combat casualty. But now that I'd seen a bit of the world, I just couldn't see raising chuickens in Westminster, which never really appealed to me. I guess the old WWI ditty spoke to me: "How ya gonna keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree." I didn't want to see her breaking her back any longer than she had to. So I suggested she peddle it .althouigh the farm had provided the only home I can remember having. My own post-discharge plans were to complete my printing apprenticeship, hoping to become a journeyman printer and a member of the International Typographical Union. So as we set sail for South America, Mamma put the farm up for sale, the farm my parents had worked so hard to build. During the five months that I was gone, she succeeded in selling it to a retuning second-generation Swedish-American Army veteran, who was able to utilize his GI Bill benefits to purchase the farm He had a Finnish-American wife and young daughter at the time. When the farm changed hands, Mamma rented an apartment in downtown Westminster and moved there with Irma to await my return. I will end this installment now, and when I find time to write it, I'll be highlighting my South-American cruise for you as the next stage of this Memoir.

End of Installment 5