South American Tour

Our crew members along with the some civilians, probably at our commissioning ceremony on June 17, 1945 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard (click on photo to view full size)

Before leaving for our five-month South American tour, left Philly to engage in fleet maneuvers around the waters of Newport, RI. I remember litttle about them except that this may have been the time that the hapless Ensign George C. Hastie upchucked on the captain’s main bridge in the middle of a cluster of high Navy muckamucks. Sayonara, George. I heard he was transferred to a battleship, less rock and roll.


Then it was off to San Juan, Puerto Rico, our first stop of the Grand Tour, arriving on Oct. 26, 1945. Googling USS Little Rock ship’s history,we stopped at Norfolk, Virginia along the way to load supplies for the initial phase of our long journey, although I have no memory of this stop. We were all excited to go ashore as we docked at San Juan. “Old Town” was loaded with bars, connected to brothel hotels, the most notorious of which were the Chicago Bar and the All-Americcan Bar. The main clientele was U.S. servicemen.

As we walked down the gangplank on our first liberty. We ran into a group of Navy Hospital Corpsman (Our “chancre mechanics,” “penis machinists mates”). a packet of condoms and a self-adminstering “pro kit” to use right after sexual exposure to prevent venereal disease. In this respect the Navy was realistic and without moralizing. It knew the youing sailors were going to have sex once ashore despite all its boot camp admonishments to practice continence to escape the horrors of “VD.” We had been shown gruesome movies about diseased organs in this earlier indoctrination which were mandatory for us to watch. At Sampson, we even had a lecture by former Heavyweight Boxing Champion GeneTunney, who had been awarded a commission, warning us about sex and disease and sternly preaching total abstinence. Most of us thought: “Get lost, Gene,”

Once ashore and roaming, one of our signal gang discovered an unused basketball court in a rec center. Wearing dress whutes, we stripped down to our waists and undershorts and had a vigorous game of pick-up basketball in the sweltering, humid heat of the Caribbean sun,

After showering and getting back into our dress whites we went to an outdoor bar to drink a few beers. Jim Moran and Gerry Gaffney finally broke my resistance to alcohol and I drank the first real beers of my life, besides the foam from my father’s beer in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition. Finally, I became one of the guys! After dinner in some cafe, we headed for the notorious Chicago Bar and had another beer or so to show I’d broken the ice. A lively band played some hot Latin dance music.

A number of young prostitutes, some quite pretty, were sitting at the tables surrounding the dance floor waiting to be asked to dance. We were mostly young and inexperienced and it showed, as the young women looked at us with some amusement and disdain. I asked a cute, pert andv curvey lass to danve. The idea, of course, was to take a couple of swings around the dance floor and then proposition your partner. So I asked the youing lady if she’d mind, and with no expression on her face, she walked me into the open corridor of the hotel next door and up to a second floor room. A maid was hurriedly spreading a clean sheet over the bed as we walked in..


I slipped out of my jeans and shorts, gave her the money she requested, slipped on a condom awkwardly and established myself in a missionary position on top of her, she being on her back. I did get an erection easily and ejaculated probably inside of a minute. My young lady was not emotionally involved at all, showing me n unsmiling stony face. She was obviously bored and I couldn’t blame her. She seemed tired of rookies like me who really didn’t know what I was doing. She pulled up her panties under her miniskirt and left immediately. As I came out into the hallway, a Navy shore patrolman beckoned me to the rear of the hallway where there was a toilet. He told me to go inside and take a pro with the kit I’d been provided earlier, which I did and returned to the ship.

Abot 300 of us swabbies from the Little Rock “popped our sexual cherries” that first night ashore. A rite of passage of a sort. On Oct. 30, 1945, we left San Juan for Rio de Janeiro. A couple of days out at sea, the officer of the day announced over the PA to congratulate us that there were only three cases of gonorrhea contracted by our crew members in our sojourn at San Juan.


On Nov. 5, we crossed the Equator in the South Atlantic and the majority of the crew who had never traversed this magic line before were subjected to a horseplay hazing ritual that converted us from Pollywogs to Shellbacks. We were in the Realm of King Neptunus Rex, the Ruler of the Ancient Order of the Deep.

This involved a hazing ceremony for members of the crew who had never crossed the Equator before, administered by Shellbacks who had. We all stripped to our shorts while our tormentors lashed us with long strips of leather as we went through their line, and dipped us into giant vats of dirty engine oil. It turned out that our detested communications officer Parker was also a Pollywog and underwent a much harsher beating than any of us enlisted men. I don’t remember if Wee Willie Miller was also a first-timer, but if he was, he would have been targeted even more than Parker. Rank meant nothing during this initiation rite. Our torturers were in command. It took a lot of scrubbing in the showers to get clean again. But the deed was done and full speed ahead southward bound. We hit the Equator at 00 degrees, 00'00# latitude and 36 degrees 59'00# longitude. I still have my Shellback card.


The USS Little Rock in Rio de Janeiro (this photo is the original size)

On Nov. 10, 1945, we steamed into Rio de Janeiro’s spectacular Guanadara Bay, rounding the famous dome-shaped promontory of Sugar Loaf which is featured in all travel books. We docked near downtown along a long pier, lined with ships of all descriptions , a short walking distance from the north end of Rio’s wide downtown main boulevard, Avenida Rio Branco, at that time an elegant shopping district, lined on both sides by stylish storefronts and cafes. Just to the south were the steep hills that housed the vast slums called the favelas, which housed the city’s poor and exist to this very day. With the World Cup soccer championships coming in 2014 some of the slums are being razed for thoroughfares to stadiums which much protest by the city’s favela residents. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games will cause a lot more demolition and building costing billions. There aren’t nearly enough hotels and hostels to house the 300,000 visitors expected for the soccer championships, so that some of the slum dwellers plan to rent sleeping space at perhaps $50 a night to fans in this violent crime-ridden area.

Within sight of where our ship was docked was the famous California Bar, reputedly the longest bar in Rio at the time, popular with the maritime trades. An occasional sight during our visit was the militarized motorcade carrying the then right-wing Brazilian dictator-President Vargas north up the wide expanse of the Avenida. People along the sidewalk would scatter at the sight and duck into storefront entrances until the motorcade passed. The street was lined with small stand-up coffee shops, patronized by well-dressed Brazilian businessmen or professionals who would stop for the tiny strong cups of coffee on their way to work. They would pour copious amounts of sugar into these potent cups. stand and take them down with one swallow, set the cup down on the narrow counter, then head for the street on their way to their office.

We finally hit the street on our first liberty. The seven of us skivvy-wavers who usually hung out together gawked around the shopping district briefly, then hailed a cab that took us through mountain tunnerls to the fabulous beach city of Cocacabana. Once there we spotted an open-air restaurant that appealed to us and ordered the recommended steak and egg dinners, washed down by excellent Brazilian beer. We were all Depression-Era American kids and this was big time for us. Many of us had grown up hungry. I don’t believe I’d ever eaten a steak before that day. We ate, drank, and tipped generously and wandered around the beach awhile ogling at the bikini-clad Brazilian beauties cavorting in the water or sunbathing along the sand. One of my favorite songs has always been “The Girl from Ipamena”, which was another beach community south of Cocacabana. We never did get there.


Night was falling and we grabbed another cab, this time to the notorious Lapa District near downtown Rio with its bars, night clubs, young female bar hookers, and dance spots. Since we’d all bought our own fifths of Four Roses whisky ( about $3 bucks Amerian) which we’d take to the second-floor nightclub we patronized with us. We’d only pay for chasers, each drinking the whisky from our own bottles and sharing it with the cute young hostesses who sat with us. There were rooms in the back of the dance floor for “hot and heavy action” which we avoided that first night out on the town. This became our routine every liberty night, the cab to Coacabana for steak, eggs and beer, and back to Rio for the torrid night life of the Lapa District.

One night, all of us somewhat tipsy, filed out of the club we were in and out to the sidewalk. It was quite dark out on the narrow street with very dim street lights. Suddenly a dark sedan tore down the street past us, subjecting us to a fusillade of gunfire. Fortunately, none of us were hit as the mystery sedan disappeared at high speed into the night. This was the first and only time I’d ever been shot at, so far in all my long life. . Obviously there were people out there who had no use for us imperialist seadogs from theYankee warships. We sobered up fast and returned posthaste to the USS Little Rock.


A daily sight on the dock by our ship was the notorious California Lil , a tall lanky Brazilian woman who would promenade up and down along the ship, trying to attract our attention yelling and gestulating at us, sometimes with her middle finger. She didn’t appear of sound mind. Of indeterminate age, she had reputedly lived in San Francisco at one time, hence her sobriquet. I don’t know if any of my shipmates ever tried to approach her, as she’d incoherently babble in both Portuguese and English. She never missed a day parading by us while we were in Rio.

I only have a distant memory of one “sexcapade” during our three visits to Rio. One night Gerry Gaffney and I were standing alone on a dark street corner in the Lapa District. We were approached by an ebony-skinned Afro-Brazilian woman of about 18, walking barefoot, and clad only in a loose housedress on that steamy night. Neither of us knew Portuguese and she little English; our hand gestures indicated our mutual desires. The young woman hailed a cab and Gerry and I sat in the back while our “date” sat next to the driver. She directed the cabbie to the main road to Cocacabana but had him pull short of the mountain tunnel onto a dirt track to our right which led to a construction crew sandbank. The cab waited for us as we took turns screwing her on a slanted bed of sand. It was dark with only the moonlight to guide us. When done we gave her the money she wanted and we all climbed back into the taxi.

As we were about to enter the highway again from the dirt road we were stopped by a pair of uniformed Brazilian gendarmes, with rifle butts planted to the ground, topped by gleaming bayonets. What the hell was this all about? Our young prostitute engaged in an animated discussion with the soldiers. Soon they let us pass without further incident. The cab took us to the ship, we paid the driver, and left our young woman standing on the dock as we mounted the gangplank to board, she laughing and throwing farewell kisses at us. As I remember, that was the only sexual liaison I can remember having in that glorious city.


Some nights later I ended up doing shore patrol duty with another non-com I didn’t know. Wev wereassigned to a night club toward the seaward end of Avenida Rio Branco, a bit tonier than our hangouts in the nearby Lapa District. There were hot strip shows and the place was packed, with some fervant band music livening up the smoke-filled joint. Our job was to watch out for drunken US sailors who might be headed for trouble. While we wre not supposed to drink alcohol on duty, we took off our SP armbands and hid them and our nightsticks under the long table cloth adorning the table we were occupying, ordered a couple of beers and sat back to enjoy the torrid scene.

Shortly thereafter, a short young blond civilian guy, perhaps in his late twenties, approached us and asked in very broken English for a match for his cigarette. On a wild hunch I asked him in Finnish:“Oletko sinä Suomalainen?” (Are you a Finn?). Sure enough he was as he responded in a language I hadn’t heard since my last leave in Westminster. His name was Yrjö (George in English) Lehtonen and he was a seaman on the Finnish merchant ship “Herakles” (Hercules) which was in port at Rio to unload some cargo. I got to know him very well and we met several times after that while in port. Lehtonen had seen action as a machine gunner in both of Finland’s Winter and Continuation Wars with the Soviets. He had been a merchant seaman before these wars in Rio on another Finnish ship, and had an Afro-Brazilian girl friend he had met on his earlier voyage.

Finland had been without coffee since the Continuation War and had drank some awful ersatz brews since that time as a substitute for their beloved real coffee. The Herakles was the first Finnish ship to the Western Hemisphere since the wars and its prime mission was to go to Santos, Brazil to pick up a load of ever-precious genuine coffee. I don’t know what the Finns themselves brouight to trade, probably some wood product derivatives.

Yrjö wanted me to visit the Herakles and share lunch with the crew. So on that day I stopped at “Small Stores” aboard our ship and bought two cartons of Americsn cigarettes at 55 cents per carton to bring as gifts to my new Finnish friends. The Herakles ship’s cook had prepared a delicious Finnish-style feed for me as guest of honor and for his shipmates who were all present. Of course, there were several bottles of whiskey circulating among us. and I managed to get royally plastered. A pair of Finnish seamen half-carried me back to the Little Rock a short way down the dock and helped me up the gang plank. The day watch was mildly amused as I staggered down below to my compartment to sleep off the drunk.

I met Yrjö and his shipmates again before we left Rio. Lehtonen confided in me that he didn’t plan to return to Finland with the Herakles but would jump ship in Rio to hang out with his girl friends, and somehow try to land a berth on a ship headed Stateside and try to find his long-gone father.He gave me a photo of himself, a mailing address in Rio and his mother’s address in Finland in case something happened to him.We did correspond for awhile after I returned to civilian life at home until I no longer heard from him. I wrote an inquiry to his mother, an extremely religious woman, who said her only son had died in Rio. I sent her a few dollars and never corresponded further with her.


After our first ten days in Rio , we left on November 20 for our next port of call, Montevideo, Uruguay, where we docked on Nov. 24. For many of us it was our favorite port. It was a friendly city. It was a compact town, with downtown pretty much accessible by foot. Lots of bars, lots of available women. At our young ages, few of us were interested in visiting museums, art galleries, historic cathedrals, or other places patronized by older, more affluent tourists. We were mostly “hot to trot.”

The one historic event that fascinated us most was the aborted battle beween pursuing New Zealand Royal Navy warships chasing the German pocket battleship “Graf Spee” in December 1939, which had sought shelter in Montevideo’s harbor, as Uruguay was not then engaged in WWII. The Germans arrived in Montevideo on December 13. The Uruguayan government ordered the Graf Spee to leave. On Dec. 17, the ship left the dock but not far into the waters, its captain Hans Langsdorff ordered the Graf Spee scuttled rarther than try to confront the superior Royal Navy force waituing for it in the international waters to give battle and sink it. Ten days later the German captain commited suicide.

The legend was that thousands of Montevidean residents and their families had gone to the hillside overlooking the Rio de la Plata to watch a possible sea battle in a cat and mouse scenario, carryiing picnic lunches and all. But with the scuttling the blood sport spectacle of sea battk was denied them. We were able to see the upper parts of the Graf Spee still sticking out of the water that had not been submerged during our 1945 visit. . We all sent postcards home from Montevideo showing the Graf Spee in its final resting place.

But our liberty days and nights in Montevideo were mostly spent in the bars and their backrooms, drinking, carousing and making love. I remember getting it on with a big, ample-breasted, giggly but shapely 20-something bar girl with massive well-rounded thighs who I made whoopie with. I sat in a wooden kitchen chair while she straddled me on top of my lap as she commandeered the pace of the action until I ejaculated, she laughing the whole time. It was then then I first discovered my natural submissiveness in sexual engagements.

The one planned trip that many of us shared sponsored by our Uruguayin hosts was an all-day train excursion to a national park known for its bird life, particularly its proud, spectacular strutting peacocks. Unfortunately, a number of my shipmates had their bottles with them and got drunk, chasing and scaring some of the marvelous male peacocks to pull out their tail feathers as souvenirs. I was sober the whole trip and was ashamed of these cruel inconsiderate fools from the Little Rock. We bade Montevideo good-bye on Dec. 3, as we sailed north to the Southern tip Brazilian port of Rio Grande do Sul, snuggled close to Argentina.


As we docked at this steamy tropical port, our officers warned us that a considerable number of Nazi Party functionaries had fled to Brazil after the defeat of Germany, many of whom were said to be holed up in Rio Grande de Sul. Don’t get involved in any incidents and stay clear of these types when on liberty. I do remember seeing two young blond men in short-sleeved shirts and waering dark sun glasses standing on the dock a long time looking us over and talking between themselves out of our hearing range. There was no downtown night club district in sight and the local brothels were scattered along narrow dark seedy back streets without markings. We were warned to stay away from them as it was indicated there was a real risk of venereal disease problems. There wasn’t the open bar culture we remembered from San Juan, Rio and Montevideo.

But that challenge we were going to defy. The back streets were patrolled by detachments of unifomed Brazilian military police, armed with large open sabres as they made the rounds as a unit. The patrol moved along a route of several streets, disappearing around the corner only to return av few minutes later. Acting on a tip, we waited until they had passed out of sight, and rapped on thev door of a darkened building. The door opened and we were led into a comfortable lighted living room with two double beds. The only two women present were a mid-thirties short, chubby, but still attractive blond madam, and a young dark-haired late-teen beauty. Our gang were the only clients in the room. The madam sent an errand boy to buy us some bottles of beer which we paid for on his return.

So both women took turns with us on the beds. I ended up with the madam who was highly skilled in her love-making techniques. She was the oldest prostitute with whom I was involved on our whole trip. After our little party, the madam gave us the high sign when the patrol had passed and we scrurried through the dimly lit streets back to the ship. We then left this glum city and headed north toward the great coffee port of Santos where we arrived on Dec. 17, 1945.


When we docked at Santos parked directly behind us was an old friend, the Finnish ship Herakles, being loaded with its precious cargo for the long coffee-deprived Finns. I did meet. some of gthe crew members again but don’t remember whether Yrjö Lehtonen was still with them, as he may have already jumped ship when the Herakles left Rio as he said he planned to do. The Herakles crew was happy to be headed homeward. Later when on the Pacific Coast leg of our voyage, my mother sent me a letter which included a clipping from Raivaaja which said that when the Herakles arrived in Helsinki Harbor thousands of Finns were at the dock to greet it, with bands, speeches and all. Meantime, Mamma had begun sending clothing and food packages to our war-ravaged Finnish relatives which always included some coffee and suger.once the war was over and shipping lanes clear. She didn’t stint about sending goodies to Pappa’s side relatives, either, once she got addresses for them as they were resettled after their flight from Soviet-occupied old Finnish Karelia. My aunt Maija’s family settled in Oulu and Kemijärvi and my late Uncle Pekka’s descendents ended up in Lahti.


São Paulo’s US corporate community and the Little Rock had big plans for us crew members, a giant barbecue outdoor picnic to take place over two days for 600 hundred of us in some park in that great then-industrial metropolis. The first 300 left by speial train already on Dec.18. I was on shipboard duty that day and was scheduled to go in the following day’s contingent as part of the shore patrol. Swift and Armour, General Motors and other US capitalist concerns operating in Brazil were our hosts. Captain A. T. Mahan once said that “the countries with the biggest navies will inherit the world.” The USS Little Rock was part of the mightiest fleet the world had ever known in our “good will” mission or “big stick” diplomacy. However, things didn’t turn out all that rosy for all our might in São Paulo on Dec. 18.

Our first day’s partiers were royally wined and dined with a day time barbecue by the American corporate community in some outdoor venue in São Paulo. After this, the guys were given the free run of the downtown of that vast then-primarily industrial metropolis. Most everybody went sight-seeing or rubber-necking, but a handful became involved in some serious drinking and started to strut around downtown as if they owned the place. There were thousands of São Pauloans waiting in long lines to board the open air streetcars that served the city’s mass transit needs. Many of them were attractive young women in their summer dresses. The drunken fools of ours considered these Brazilian women fair game to get laid and began to lift their skirts in the trolley line.


Immediately the men in the queue became enraged and jumped these drunken swabbies, beating them up. The word spread through the streets like wildfire. “The gringos were sexually assaulting our women!” The anti-communist Vargas dictatorship kept a tight lid on most leftist dissent, but the public rage over this incident was unstoppable. There were leaflets on the streets in minutes. So beneath the surface there was reason to believe that there was plenty of left-wing organizational networking which had been alerted to the task. Growing hundreds of men chased our uniformed sailors all over downtown to give them a thrashing.

Soon the Brazilian police and army were in the streets herding the Little Rock sailors they saw in the downtown area behind some makeshift barricades, from where they were transported to the special excursion train at the railroad station. Two of our signalmen, SM2Cs Hart and Goldblatt, had opted to see a US movie after the barbecue and upon exiting the theater, saw a bunch of angry civilians descending upon them. Fortunately for them, a military jeep pulled up to them as they started to run and brought them to the barricades from where they were evacuated to the train.

Thev demonstrators converged on the railway station and began to smash the windows as the sailors were being herded into the passenger train vans. and they were forced to lie on the floor to try tos escape the flying broken glass as every last window was smashed.



So it was a sad sack trainload that returned to Santos late that night. We had heard about it earlier on the ship well before the return of the train. It was a sorry lot that came up the gangplank, many cut and bruised with their dress white uniforms dirty, bloodied and torn. Telegrams flew back and forth beween the US and Brazilian governments and the ship. It was an international incident with profuse apologies by the State Department as Intelligence agents were flown almost immediately to Santos to investigate. So the Navy got the worst end of the Big Stick instead of wielding it. It goes without saying, our next day’s excursion to São Paulo was cancelled. as we licked our wounds. The popular resentment against Yankee imperialism had broken loose with a vengeance. There was no joy in Mudville as we left Santos to sail north back to Rio, docking there on Dec. 22, where we stayed over the winter holiday season.

RIO (Second Time)

We wondered what the reaction would be by the people of Rio about the news of São Paulo which by now would have been spread like wildfire all over Latin America. We were allowed only four hours of evening liberty for one quarter of the crew at a time under the circumstances. I was in a group of six shore patrol petty officers who were sent to duty at Cocacabana Beach. We were left off in pairs from the truck at different points along the beach community with a monetary allowance for dinner and for any emergency phone calls.We were told to phone immediately if any problems arose and the Navy Black Maria wiould be dispatched to the scene.

As it was,we were completely ignored by the populace. Nobody spoke to us and only a small handful of Little Rock seaman came out to Cocacabana at all that evening., probably becuse of fear. Our shore patrol was pretty nervous, too. But absolutely nothing happened. The Black Maria picked us up as the liberty period drew to a close to take us back to the ship. As we were driving back to Rio the officer of the day opened up a bottle of whiskey and offered us all a couple of snorts in appreciation. But the cockiness we had displayed on our first trip to Rio was now pretty much subdued. We even heard that some high society Brazilians had approched members of the US corporate community social elite and inquired about “when are those beasts going to leave?” We had made some pretty dubious history in São Paulo.


On January 3, 1946, we left for Recifé, further north along the Brazilian Coast where we arrived on Jan. 7. From January 12 to 15 we visited the Port of Bahia. I can’t remember which city it was that had a public marketplace on the beach level, at the bottom of some high cliffs which could be scaled by outside elevators to other parts of the city along the top of the cliffs. I remember taking the lift to the top and walking around a residential neighborhood. My memory of the marketplace in one of these cities was the sight of a beef carcass hanging by some hooks in the hot sun and covered with flies. Almost made me want to become a vegetarian on the spot. I faintly recall some shipboard military maneuvers from one of these ports where the Little Rock wanted to show off its gunnery capabilities to top officers of the Brazilian forces and the country’s political elite. We repeated these exercises later when we arrived on the Pacific Coast. It was showcase time for the Big Stick.


We returned to Rio on Dec. 17, to take on provisions for the long trip south where we would sail aroind Cape Horn and head for Chile. I think it was at this point that we picked up a section of the US Navy Band which flew down from the States and would remain aboard our ship for the remainder of our we headed for Pacific waters. I suppose one purpose of the band was not only to play for us swabbies but to the communities of the ports we would visit to give a more positive image of our mission after the debacle at São Paulo.


The weather started getting colder as we headed out of the tropical zone and sweaters, wool caps and peacoats came in handy standing watch. on the signal bridge. We saw the Falkland Islands faintly in the distance through the fog to our starboard as we were nearing the Horn. I was on watch one day when I spotted a freighter to our starboard heading east to our west. We exchanged identity signals with them by Morse Code with our flashing lights. I chatted that way with them for a little while and found out that the freighter was coming from New Zealand and headed toward Great Britain. At times we saw schools of whales in the distance.


As we hit the Straits of Magellan we were overwhelmed by a monster four-day gale. Our big shipwas like a fragile leaf as we plowed on, or bow plunging out of sight into the water and then rising upwards like the legendary Moby Dick, the Great White Whale of Herman Melville’s great novel. Below in the mess hall, our dinner trays would slide off the tables as we lurched side to side, up and down, unless you kept a tight grip on them. Trying to sleep on your bunk was like riding a roller coaster gone beserk.

Going on watch was crazy for what could you see in the howling darkness with being practically drowned by the waves coming at you accompanied by fierce winds? One had to really clutch the railing tight going up the “ladder” (stairs) to the signal bridge frrom below. On watch it was best to lash yourself to something secure to prevent some mammoth surge of a wave from sweeping you overboard. In trying to survive the elemental forces of the gale, made our 1938 New England hurricane seem like a gentle summer breeze in comparison. It was the worst storm I’d ever seen, even since. Four days of hell on earth! Finally, we rode out these fierce elements and calmer seas returned Fortunately, we lost no sailiors to the storm but the ship looked like a floating wreck.


We were in sad shape when we pulled into the southern Chilean port of Concepcion for January 29th and 30th. We spent the entire time repairing and scraping and repainting the ship so we could move on. We weren’t allowed liberty at Concepcion as I recently read in a log of th Little Rock’s itinerary it was because of the unstable “political climate” of the city. My guess is that there was a strong leftwing movement in Southern Chile and Captain Wee Willie Muiller didn’t want to chance another Sao Paulo.


The starboard side of the ship in Valparaiso, Chile (click on photo to view full size)

From Februruary 1-11, we visited Valparaiso, Chile, a rather charming port city that at one time was a favorite destination for Grace Line passenger ships emananting from New York. My Aunt Olga, Uncle August’s third wife, told me later that she has been a dining room server for some years on the Grace luxury liners and knew Valparaiso very well. So were invited to a dinner and dance party at a clubroom hosted by the Valparaiso business community and the US diplomatic corps. I talked with an older Scottish entrepreneur who operated a printing plant in the city. He was accompanied by his Chinese wife and a heavy set Eurasian daughter about my age. I talked to the man about my ambition about becoming a journeyman typographer upon my return to civilian ,life.

It was probably during our Valaparaiso stopover that the Radio Shack passed us the word about another imbroglio by the crew members of the newly-commissioned giant aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt in Rio de Janeiro. Apparently the FDR was on a “good will” tour of its own on the Atlantic side of the continent while we were churning north along its Pacific Coast. Word was that on their first liberty night, hordes of its seamen had taken over the notorious California Bar near the waterfront that we remember so well from our experience, a drunken fight may have ensued and the FDR crewmen employed their manual “weapons of mass destruction” to totally demolished the joint. So the Navy continued to escalate the anger of the host country like some of our idiots had done in Sao Paulo. Ironically, the late President Franklin Roosevelt, in whose honor the carrier had been named, had always acclaimed our “Good Neighbor” policy with the nations of the Southern Hemisphere. In reality, these kind words masked the hard-line US imperialism of the Monroe Doctrine When FDR was told that we were supporting the elder Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua as a dictator, he responded: “Yes, but he’s OUR dictator.” It wasn’t until the 1979 Sandanista Revolution that the Somoza family dynasty was overthrown in Nicaraugua.


I don’t recall whether it was at our Valparaiso visit or at the next Chilean port of call at Antofagasta that we put on our Pacific Coast show of the gunnery skills of the mighty Little Rock for the country’s military and members of its political elite, to convince them of our prowess as a war vessel. We had two small fighter planes moored to our main deck, and they took off when we went out to sea, pulling drones on long lines resembling kite strings in their wake pulled to serve as targets for our mighty guns. For the longest time and a number of attempts our gunners kept missing the drones as they passed by in the skies. This hardly made much of an impression on us and our Chilean guests. The issue of our artillery just kept whiffing through the air. We were afraid the shells would hit the planes themselves. The Big Stick wasn’t working the magic that the Navy had planned. I think that I was more accurate at 17 with a shotgun during my hitch in the Massachusetts State Guard in blasting away clay pigeons catapulted into the air for our weapons practice. Finally, at long last, the drones were blown to smithereens after too many rounds of aim, fire, and miss. I would grade this bungled exercise with a D+.


I don’t recall getting ashore at either of these two northern Chilean ports. We stopped at Antofagasta from Feb. 13-15 and Iquique from Feb. 16-21. Both were in arid areas rich in copper ore and saltpeter. Iquique had one time belonged to Peru and Antofagasta to Bolivia before they were finally claimed by Chile after a three-way war between these three countries in the Battle of the Pacific in 1879. Chile mined these areas for their copper, saltpeter, nitrate and other minerals. As is usually the case, the miners who worked in these industries were treated as the lowest wage slaves by their bosses. But they also organized into militant unions to fight for better working conditions and wages. In 1906 in Antofagasta 3000 railway workers who hauled the ore were organized in the Ferrocarril Antofagasta de Bolivia, went on strike They marched to the Plaza Colon (main square of the city) for a demonstration. The army was waiting for them and shot and killed 58 of the workers, which became known in Chilean labor history as the Massacre of Plaza Colon. Same story in Iquique in 1907 in a strike of the saltpeter miners. The workers met at the Santa Maria school and marched into the center of town. They were met full force by army troops who killed 500-2000 strikers in what became known as the Santa Maria de Iquique Massacre.


Before we sail on to Peru, I just want to mention that in the 1920s the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the radical class-based union seeking worker emancipation from the rule of capitalism, had a major presence in Chile. It functioned independently from the IWW’s General Adeministration in Chicago. I’ve been a proud member of the now small but feisty IWW in the US since 1969. Founded in Santago in 1919, it became one of the largest regional affilates of the IWW in its history in Chile. At one time it published ten newspapers, the most prominent being Accion Dirtecta (1920-26). It had meeting halls, printing plants, and libraries and a strong prsence in many cities, including: Santiago, Valparaiso, Concepcion, Antofagasta, and Iquique. Militant workers in many industries belonged as well and it had large student support.

But it was continually under corporate and state repression, led by the nitrate barons of Northern Chile. It was perodically attacked violently not only by corporate goons, army and the police, but which were augmented by clergy and students from Catholic colleges. During the White Terror of 1920, its facilities all over were raided and trashed, and IWW members were killed, beaten, jailed, with its foreign-born deported. But it in the brief perios of calm that followed each wave of attack from the ruling class, it would rebuild its assembly halls, set up new printing plants, and start publishing newspapers and other periodicals again. During the frequent episodes of terror, Accion Directa would be published on IWW presses in Chicago and smuggled into Chile by Wobbly merchant seamen. But there were success stories, too, during its tumultuous existence. IWW bookbinders won a 44-hour week in a successful strike in 1924.

There hasn’t been all that much written about the Chilean IWW, but for more background information I would suggest the reader to utilize:,, or check out Google. .


On February 23, 1946 we docked at Callao, Peru the port city west for metropolitan Lima, the ancient capital. For many kilometers as we approached the port, the ocean surface was covered by an amazing spectacle of the colorful Portuguese men-of-war sea creatures as far as the eye could see for hours on end. A splendid, beautiful sight, but falling off the deck into their midst would mean sudden and cartain death. In 1532 an army of Spanish conquicadores led by Francisco Pizzaro defeated the warriors of the Incan Empire led by Atahualpa in battle. On Feb. 18, 1535 Pizzaro founded Lima, originally called Ciudad de los Reyes (City of the Kings). The oldest continuing university in the Western Hemisphere, the National University of San Marcos in Central Lima was founded on May 12, 1551. Much older than our own Harvard University. Lima was taken over by an army of Chilean and Argentine patriots led by General José San Martin, and became independent of Spain. Lima was mobbed and destroyed by Chilean troops during the famous Batlle of the Pacific of 1879-83. Also during this perod, mobs of Lima’s own angry poor destroyed the property and many lives of the rich. Class warfare! Slowly the city was rebuilt and featured wide, splendid boulevards inter-lacing the city. Six years before our visit, the population of Lima was about 0.6 million. Today in March, 2014 it approaches eight million.

Lima was a must-see destination for most of us Little Rockers. At that time we commuted from Callao to the capital by open-air street cars or motor buses, I can’t remember which. We walked the streets in awe, admiring the stately buildings dating back to the the Spannish colonial era. The perimeter of San Marcos University was a must-see. Just meandering and observing was a history lesson for us young seamen of an urban culture much older than ours.


Our biggest treat of this visit was an all-day special train excursion high up into the Andes mountains. We ascended precipitously from a winding river valley at near sea level. Soon the river became only a thin silver ribbon winding its way far below we chugged along with our coal burning engine. All along the steep inclines as we kept moving upwards were terraced farming plots providing a precarious living for these Peruvian Indian farmers. I don’t know what they grew but they made do for themselves and theur families in a hard scrabble way, as there were numerous terraces one below the other descending down the mountainsides. How they managed to irrigate their plots remains a mystery to me.

It was freezing cold and windy when we reached our ultimate destination high up in a mountain valley mining town. We walked outside the train huddling in our sweaters, peacoats and woolen watch caps. The ruddy faced Inidian miners and their families, kids, babes and all, came out to stare at us strange, mostly pale-faced creatures from an entirely different world, huddled together just trying to stay warm. It was difficult to communicate even by gesture. Many of thse miners may not have even known Spanish, comminicating in their old tribal tongue in their isolation in this mountain village. Our long descent via the route we came shortly ensued and we reached the train station in LIma in pitch darkness, and grabbed our trolley connection to the port.

Our next port of call after leaving Lima, was Santa Elena, Equador, where we sojouned from March 7-9. I never went ashore here, either but tried to take in what I could from the signal bridge via “long glass” or telescope.

Panama Canal Zone


On March 11 we docked at Balboa on the Pacific side of the Canal Zone, the port for Panama City. Panama City was the last time I got ashore before our return to the States later that month. It wasn’t a liberty night for me but another stint on Shore Patrol. We were sent to the Zona Temperencia or Zona Rojo, a gritty slum district marked by several blocks of bucket-of- blood gin mills in Panama City, along with prostitution. . The jeep dropped me and another SP off on a block where the north side of the street was lined by a string of bars and cheap cafes. On the south side of the street was a burnt out bare hill which was pock-marked by the makeshift cribs of the sorriest, end-of-the line prostitutes I’d ever seen. Their ramshackle sheds burrowed into the hillside were propped up by boards and sheet metal scraps, with maybe a mattress on the ground with tattered curtains at the entrances for whatever action took place. The women on the hillside were scraggly, emaciated, and actually aged beyond their years, worn out and sickly and shabbily dressed. The women we had partied with in Rio and Montevideo, looked like runway model call girls in Las Vegas in comparison.

We were under strict orders not to let any US servicemen up the hill in the unlikely chance someone would be willing to chance catching venereal disease by so doing. These desperate looking sad creatures came up to us begging us to allow prospective military clients to go through to see them. They were even willing to split their fees in half with us if we would cooperate with them. We really felt sorry and saddened for them as they cried to us in desperation but we adamantly refused their pleas. For they were Third World victims left to linger and die as victims of Yankee Imperialism which controlled and exploited their small country for power and profit. “No, no, no es posible, Senoritas,” was all we could say.


Shortly thereafter the jeep returned to pick us up with the O.D. saying we need to respond to an emergency elsewhere. We climbed aboard and were taken to a corner bar a couple of blocks away. A bunch of merchant seamen had gotten into a drunken brawl as we showed up. Since there were no US Navy or other military personnel involved we were ordered to stand aside and just observe the melée. A squad of tough Panamanian cops tore into the scene swinging.their clubs. They were mean little guys and their hatred of anything gringo showed itself as they came down mercilessly with their weapons as they dragged the bloodied seamen into paddy wagons at the corner. I saw pair of hands appear under one of the swinging doors to pull a helpless seaman lying on the floor out by his feet to safety. It was like a scene from a Wild West movie. It all took only a few minutes and it was all over. So that ended my one-night stand in Panama City, comparable to what can be seen on weekend nights in US-Mexican border towns where death is a frequent visitor. .


So now we proceded to head for Colon on the Atlantic Coast of Panama through the Canal as we were elevated by locks to higher levels on the first part of our passage. We were scheduled to arrive in Colon on March 15. It was a thoroughly impressive expereince as we moved on lock by lock, with lush jungle foliage besieging us on both sides to the water’s edge as we listened to the endless exotic animal and bird sounds for choral accompaniment. But we were treated to another phenomenal meeting as we began our descent toward the Atlantic side of the Canal.

A strange silent armada of hundreds of old ships began to pass us on the lane of locks to our left going in the opposite direction. They were of all shapes and sizes, both military and merchant, bound for the Pacific. They were headed for the Enewetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the far Pacific as target ships for further long term atomic testing that took place between 1948-58. It marked the escalation of nuclear weapons programs as the Cold War gatherted steam since the Russians and others were developing nuclear arsenals as well. As if the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t enough. It led to a perilous standoff among nuclear-armed nations in the shadow of which we still exist with realistc fear. The almost endless parade of scrapped ships went on for hours as we proceeded.

We were only in Colon for a day or so and proceded to our last foreign stop, Cartagena, Colombia in the Caribbean from March 16-18. I wasn’t that interested in going ashore, as I was totally focused on getting to the States for my discharge from the Navy and into civilian life again.

Norfolk, Here We Come!

The Stateside port that was our destination was Norfolk, Virginia, where the dischargees of the crew would disembark and be dispersed to the various parts of the country to be mustered out at Navy locations closest to their homes. We were scheduled to arrive on March 23rd. As we churned north along the Atlantic, the lieutenant commander who was our communications officer and a decent chap approached me and tried to persuade me to re-enlist for a four-year hitch as he thought I was a good signalman and an asset to the Little Rock. He said he’d guarantee my promotion to Signalman Second Class if I’d agree to do so. “No thanks, Sir, for I have other plans for the future.”

We hit turbulent seas as we approached Norfolk and had to render assistance to a merchant ship in distress which we accompanied slow motion all the way to port, where we arrived late at night well behind schedule. We waited for hours to disembark with our seabags loaded for departure along with our handbags that contained toiletries, papers and other small items for immediate access. It was 3 AM when several dozen of us hit the receiving barracks for assignment to sleeping barracks where we would spend whatever remained of the night.


Among us were several African-American officers’ stewards who had lived in segregated quarters on the Little Rock from us caucasian crewmen. They were ranked as high as warrant officer and and included chief petty officers. None of us had slept for about 24 hours and were dead tired with the only thing on our minds was finding bunks on which to crash. Presiding over the receiving barracks were several masters of arms to process us. Big strapping white guys with first or second class petty officers with hash marks on their sleeves to indicate they were regular career Navy. Out of nowhere, their leader bellowed to the African-American stewards: “Hey you guys, grab some brooms and start sweeping down these barracks!” The stewards who had been exposed to white racism all there lives refused courteously but firmly. The MA yelled at them again. A spokesman for the stewards responded: with dignity: “If this was a commissioned officers’ wardroom aboard ship we would comply, but we’re here to be discharged and not obligated under your orders to work.” So the MA’s marched them out of the barracks, perhaps to a lock-up.

The rest of us were stunned and pissed, as this harrassment was unfair and totally uncalled for. Yet none of us white guys had dared to speak up to the bullies in defense of the stewards. This was probably the first time most of us had seen this kind of racism inn action. What would have happened if we’d all expressed our solidarity with our Navy comrades of color? Who knows? Yet I very much regret that night and my ineptitude in trying to do something about it.. We were just returning home from a war that was supposedly for democracy against totalitarian fascism, but witnessed a taste of fascism on our first night on home shores. We were eventually assigned to a sleeping barracks where we dragged our seabags and crashed into our bunks.


Morning came and we hung out all day waiting for our assignment for train transportation to whatever city where we’d be discharged. There was a large contingent going to New York. I was in a draft of six who would go on to the Fargo Building in Boston where we’d be mustered out of the military. The ranking petty officer of our Bay State group carried our paperwork. We and the New Yorkers were assigned to sleeping cars to leave late that evening, my first ever Pullman experience. We got to NYC about 6 AM the next morning and our Boston unit had a couple of hours wait to catch our Boston train.So we had breakfast at a Manhattan cafeteria and then stopped at a bar for a celebratory drink. So we belted down our first shots of whisky since our return to the States. Since we were in uniform the bartender never asked for our IDs.

Later that day we arrived at Boston and the Fargo Building. It took time to be cashiered out with our honorable discharges. The Navy didn’t waste any time but had us attend meetings trying to get us to re-enlist. Since there was a mass exodus since the war was over the Navy worked hard to try to replenish its ranks to a functional minimum. But for most of us it was no go. We wanted out. While in Boston, the Navy served us its equivalent of gourmet chow. But most of us remembered the rot-gut we got from time to time, “shit on a shingle”, (chipped beef on toast), that the lure of good food didn’t fool us into re-upping.

During our tenure at Fargo, I ran into Joe Testarmata of Fitchburg with whom I’d enlisted.. He was awaiting discharge, too. He had been a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy when we first met but no more. Joe was trembling and shaking and there was fear and terror in his eyes. He must have gone through some traumatic battle experiences in the Pacific theatre to be in that state. Now we call it “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) since the Iraqi-Afghanistan war. At one time it had been called “shell shock” but now it was clinically identified and named as PTSD.

On March 27 the great day came. I propped my seabag on one shoulder with my zipper bag in the opposite hand and headed for North Station to catch the Fitchburg train. From there I’d pick up the Flanagan’s bus line to Gardner and get off at Westminster to begin the next phase of my young life at age 20 now.

End of Installment 6