U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
USS LITTLE ROCK ASSOCIATION
2006 REUNION, Braintree, Massachusetts
July 14, 2006
Interviewee: Charles "Charlie"Ives
Interviewer: Nick Perillo
PERILLO: I'm PERILLO. This is July the 14th in the Hotel Sheraton-Braintree. We're on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts.
I'm going to be interviewing Charles Ives. Charlie is from Guilford, Connecticut. Charlie was onboard the USS Little Rock; the CL-92, and we're going to being asking him today about some of his experiences on the USS Little Rock.
Charlie, could you give me some background; summarize your early life, your education and work experiences before you joined the U.S. Navy?
IVES: Before I joined the U.S. Navy I was a student in high school and the war in Europe had been over but the war in Japan was still going on, and my father was a Navy man and I felt that I didn't want to be drafted into the Army so I joined the Navy at a very young age and I was just barely 17.
I went to Sampson Naval Training Station in upper New York state and promptly caught pneumonia in boot camp and stayed there for a couple of extra months and then I shipped out to the USS Solomons, which was stationed in Mayport, Florida and I was onboard the USS Solomons which was a CVE; small aircraft carrier. They used them in the anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic. Those ships were the ones that broke the German wolf-packs that sailed around and sink so many of our merchant ships off the coast of the U.S.
The Solomons was badly damaged in a storm that we hit coming up from Mayport, Florida and it was supposed to be decommissioned then put in mothballs, but was so badly damaged that they decided to scrap it.
And from there I went to the Fargo Building right here in Massachusetts, and then I got orders to report to the USS Little Rock. On May 23rd, 1946 I went onboard the USS Little Rock. I was totally and completely impressed by such a marvelous beautiful ship after getting off the Solomons, which was a baby aircraft carrier and it looked more like a ball field than anything else. And you know I did have some great experiences onboard but nothing like what happened to me on the Little Rock, which I absolutely enjoyed.
I was assigned to the NAN Division, which is where I was on the Solomons, and I was also a bugler. So I played bugle and although the bugle master rating, from what I understood, was a dead rating and it would probably be discontinued, I chose to strike for quartermaster rating and that's what I did. I played the bugle along with another shipmate who was also a bugler. Decosta was his name. I forget his first name.
IVES: Yes, Paul Decosta, a wonderful guy. And he and I both took turns playing the bugle and I guess he was in the NAN Division too.
And I had many wonderful experiences. Some, kind of hair-raising experiences, on the Little Rock but a few of them stick out in my mind.
PERILLO: Let me just backtrack a little bit for you. You went to Great Lakes Naval Training Center for boot camp?.
IVES: No, Sampson.
PERILLO: Okay. Could you describe your boot camp experience because I went to Bainbridge and most of the guys that I served with all went to Bainbridge. Okay?
IVES: Okay. Well Sampson Naval Training Station is what they called it. It was right on Lake Geneva, which is one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York and we used the lake too [chuckle] for ridiculous reasons. But it was built very, very quickly and the buildings were just thrown together, and I found out later that they used novelty siding and so forth in boiler rooms and so forth. We had I don't how many units. I think we trained about 5,000 men at once at Sampson Naval Training Station. And we had a main dispensary for everybody that got sick.
One of the jobs that I volunteered for, because I could drive a truck, was driving truck, and little did I realize they put me on a garbage truck and the garbage truck went to all of the dispensaries all throughout the facilities and we would pick up the garbage or rubbish from the dispensaries or hospitals; sick bays. And of course you had to get out of the truck and cart these big barrels of sputum cups [laughter], garbage and so forth. So I promptly caught pneumonia first hand [chuckle]. And so that's what happened to me in boot camp other than the training. Of course we ran the mile around the grinder every morning and that sort of thing and the food was deplorable.
PERILLO: Just describe your impression of the ship. Did you get on the Rock in Norfolk?
IVES: No, I got on the Rock in Philadelphia. It was being outfitted with, I would say, practically a new crew because nobody seemed to know anybody. It seemed like we were almost like switching crews or whatever. Of course I knew no one.
PERILLO: What year was that?
IVES: That was in 1946, in May. My impression of the Little Rock was, "Now here is a real warship" and she was beautiful, you know, with a teak main deck and the beautiful guns bristling out and all spit and polished. She was just a gorgeous, gorgeous ship.
PERILLO: Can you describe some of the ship's cruises and the operations while you were onboard the ship? You went to the Mediterranean. (Editor's note: The cruise described in the following was in Northern European waters, not the Mediterranean.)
IVES: The Mediterranean cruise stood out in my mind like a bright light. The Mediterranean cruise was absolutely marvelous. Our first port of call in the Med and which became our homeport was Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, England was real great. And you can imagine my surprise when I looked at the sea charts as we approached England that there was this little tip of land off the tip of Lands End called Point Ives. I said, "I wonder if this is where my name originated because my father was English?"
But at any rate, we landed in Plymouth and of course my impression of England, all of England, was it was always raining and drizzling and always cold. But Plymouth was the port where the British Academy was; where the British Merchant Academy was, so consequently they welcomed sailors and especially American sailors. We were just welcomed with open arms by the British people. They were just marvelous. And of course, like so many other guys, I promptly met a girl and every time I went on liberty....
PERILLO: Do you think we should erase this part?
PERILLO: Okay, we'll leave it in.
IVES: My wife knows all about my past experiences.
PERILLO: I'm only joking with you, you know that.
IVES: [Laughter] Okay. Well she knows. But I met this girl and she was a redhead and the fairest most beautiful skin I'd ever seen. Her name was Kathleen Roberts. I remember it to this day, and I promptly fell in love with her. Of course I was only 18 years old and you fall in love with everybody then, and I was a romantic. But we had a wonderful time. She showed me Plymouth and it was just wonderful and romantic.
And the ship; the Little Rock, didn't pull into a dock. We had to anchor out at a buoy and we had to take a boat in every time we had liberty, but it was delightful. And Plymouth became our homeport while we were on the Mediterranean cruise.
Well later on, I forgot the first real port of call that we made after Plymouth, we were in ScandiNANian countries, which impressed me tremendously; in Denmark and Sweden and Holland. Those three countries just impressed me tremendously.
PERILLO: Was there anything special that happened when you were in those countries as far as the ship and visitors?
IVES: Well as far as the ship is concerned, everywhere we went, especially in the ScandiNANian countries, they welcomed us with open arms. In fact they gave us parties and banquets and invited all the sailors that could have liberty to all kinds of onshore activities. And I remember I was always a boater, could always say a motor-boater in civilian life because my dad always had a boat on Long Island Sound, but when we got to Amsterdam the Dutch gave us sailors a yachting party and they supplied little yachts. They called them yachts but they were just little sailboats. And we sailed on the lake. It was called the Bottserlan Lakes I believe. Anyway, it was two girls and two sailors and a sailboat that they gave to us. Of course I had never sailed a boat and never did my buddy who was with me. And it was marvelous that the girls could literally speak English. But then I found out later that it was mandatory for most of the ScandiNANian countries, for them to go to their gymnasiums; what they call their high schools, to learn English, so it was great.
And then when we were in Denmark the Danish sailors gave us a banquet and we had this lovely banquet and we ate and then we played some of the games that the Danish sailors would play on shipboard. And of course we didn't play any games on shipboard unless you were on an aircraft carrier. You might play some basketball and that was it. But these Danish sailors had a game where they played on Puma horses like they would use in a gym and they would sit on the Puma horses and swing these pillows at each other and see who could get knocked off first. We always lost [chuckle].
Now I can't remember whether it was in Stockholm or whether it was in Denmark or Copenhagen, but we had established special sea detail to leave, and prior to leaving we had sort of like an open house where we invited some of the civilians onboard the ship to tour the ship, and then we put them ashore and then we left sometime in the afternoon. Being a quartermaster on special sea detail I was up on the bridge when we were leaving and we were steaming out. We had the pilot with us. Like I said, I don't remember whether it was in Sweden or Denmark; where it was, but it was one of those two cities. And as we were steaming out a messenger who had gone down below to look for a relief for one of the quartermasters or one of the other messengers that was up on the bridge came up and he whispered in my ear. He said, "Ives", he said, "I was down in the NAN Division compartment and there's a woman down there." I said, "A woman?" He said, "Yes, there's a woman who's up in the top bunk in the NAN Division." Now there are only 16 bunks in the NAN Division compartment. And I said, "Are you sure?' He said, "Yes, I don't think she's got any clothes on", he said. So I told the OOD about it and the Officer of the Deck said, "You're kidding?" I said, "No Sir." I said, "The messenger said there's a woman." Well the skipper was still on the bridge; of course we were just leaving and the skipper and the executive officer who was the NANigation officer, I believe his name was Hoopener.
IVES: Heppner, yes, he was a Commander, a wonderful guy.
IVES: And I think it was Smith . . . Hutton was the skipper at that time.
PERILLO: That's right.
IVES: Yes. So he said to the OOD, he said, "Go down and check." And then the OOD came back and he said, "Yes Sir, there's a girl down there." I'm pretty sure that he confided with the Captain who seemed all flustered and whatever, and before you knew it the . . . we were still underway. The pilot had already left the ship in his boat and we stopped dead in the water. And they sent a radio message ashore to send the pilot boat back and the pilot boat took a while to get there and we just floated around waiting. Then I think the main deck was cleared. The girl was brought up from down below and put on the boat and nothing was ever mentioned in the ship's log about that at all as I remember because we wrote in the ship's log and that wasn't there.
IVES: So that was one of the experiences.
How about the living conditions on the ship and the quality of the food and the ship's services; the barber shop? They had an ice cream parlor, your laundry room and all that. Could you describe some of those to us, you know, the quality of the food that you had and the ship's services that they provided to the sailors?
IVES: Well I found that the food on the Little Rock was far superior to the food that I had on the Solomons; the aircraft carrier, and the food always met my expectations. And for being a young boy and always active I was always hungry but there was plenty to eat and I think that almost every single sailor on the Little Rock was in the best shape of his life. There had to be no question about it. The food was great. The food was adequate.
I remember on the Solomons I was warned as soon as I got onboard by a fellow shipmate, "Don't eat the bread", and I said, "Why?" He said, "Hold it up to the light." I held the bread up to the light and I thought there were poppy seeds in it and it happened to be dead Boll Weevils [laughter].
PERILLO: Okay, how about any close buddies that you had? You mentioned Paul. I know he's from New Jersey.
PERILLO: He's was from South Jersey. He played Taps for the Little Rock reunion once and you did also.
IVES: Yes, that's right.
PERILLO: Okay. And have you guys communicated at all?
IVES: Not afterwards. We were friends and close and he ranked above me as Bugler. And we just became good chums and, you know, of course we'd swap mornings; whoever had to get up to do reveille and so forth and it was great.
PERILLO: Can you recall any moments of great shock that you may have had or fear or excitement while you were on the ship?
IVES: Yes. Of course nothing could compare with that North Atlantic cruise that we took and the heavy seas that we were in; the very, very cold weather. I remember the Captain issuing the order to rig lifelines on the main deck as the weather turned really bad and so the lifelines were permanently rigged practically all the time we were up in the Arctic Circle because the seas were so heavy, and if you had to spend any time on the main deck you had to hang onto the lifelines. They warned us that if we fell overboard they didn't think they would even bother to try and rescue us because we would probably last not more than 30 seconds in that frigid water. I remember, again, the water injection temperature into the evaporators at that time was 28 degrees, which is pretty cold [chuckle].
IVES: But the other thing that I do remember and very, very distinctly, is one night shooting during a star shell exercise we had ships with us; the battleship Missouri on which the peace was signed in Japan, and we had two destroyers, I can't remember their names, and us, and we were doing a firing exercise. We were doing star shell illumination drills and I was in my secondary sea station, which was a pilothouse aft of the stack, and I was all alone there and it was just one of those positions that you sat in during general quarters and if nothing happened you just sat there and waited. But it was at night and I was watching the star shell exercises. We were shooting the star shells up in the air in the general direction of the Missouri and they would light up and you could see the Missouri's silhouette in the distance. They must have been eight/ten miles away and it was probably just at the horizon. And then I saw a gun go off but it wasn't elevated. The gun was not elevated when it went off. And it was on the port side on one of the five or six . . . six inches I guess they were. And then there was a blaze that seemed to light up the Missouri. Instead of above it, it was on it, and I saw this red blaze, and I said, "What the hell is that", I said to myself. And a little while later a message came over and I heard it on the TBS radio in my position and it said, "We'd like to suspend . . ." Missouri calling and said, "We'd like to suspend operations. We have a fire onboard." Those are the first words I heard. And then a few minutes later I heard, "We believe that you hit us with one of your star shells", and all hell seemed to break loose.
PERILLO: [Laughter] I know, I was there [chuckle].
Now do you have any interesting recollections about any of your leading petty officers, division officers, the captains; any remarks you'd like to make about any admirals or staffs that were onboard at any time?
IVES: Well all the other sailors that I met, of course this was right after the war was over, all the other sailors that I met were all talking about what they were going to do in civilian life when they finally got discharged. It was a very, very friendly, as I remember, an extremely friendly crew onboard the Little Rock, unlike the Solomons. Everybody seemed to be friendly with each other. We'd go out on liberty together, hang out together.
I remember being in Italy and it was just wonderful. We were in Naples, Italy. The ship pulled into Naples, Italy. The signal officer who was a great guy, I can't remember his name. He looked like Jack Lemon and acted like Jack Lemon and I thought maybe it might be Jack Lemon in future life because I knew he was in the Navy, but he organized a group of signalmen and quartermasters to go to Capri from Naples, and I said, "How are we going to get to Capri?" Well he had finagled an Army crash boat [chuckle] and he got the sergeant on the crash boat to take us over to Capri. And there we were, just a small group of sailors on the crash boat going the ten miles outside of Naples Harbor to Capri and we had a wonderful time there, and he was a great guy. I wish I could remember his name but it was so many years ago.
PERILLO: Yes. You're bringing back memories that I was on that.
IVES: You were on that cruise?
PERILLO: I was on that cruise. I was in NAN Division and I went to Capri, oh, with you.
IVES: There you go!
PERILLO: And you're bringing back memories for me. Maybe I should make my own tape.
When were you detached from the Rock?
IVES: I left the Rock at Newport Naval Hospital in 1947. I had gotten injured on the USS Solomons and this injury kept on kicking up and bothering me and kicking up and bothering me, and although I did want to make a career of the Navy, I was going to take the NAPS test; the Naval Academy Prep School Test, I still was going to do it if I possibly could. But I went to the Newport Naval Hospital and I spent three months there. They examined me thoroughly for these headaches and pains that I was getting and so forth and they finally decided it was the injury that I had gotten on the Solomons that was causing it and in fact they sent me up here to Massachusetts from Newport Naval Hospital to the Chelsea Naval Hospital here in Massachusetts to do, at that time, an electrocephalogram test. It was a brain wave test. It was very brand new at that time. We're talking about 1947. And I don't think the corpsman himself knew what the hell he was doing when he was operating the machine [laughter]. I heard a lot of buzzing and clicking at any rate. They said, "Oh no, this guy is crazy." Well back I went to the Newport Naval Hospital and they said, "No, the only thing we can do is surgery on your head to find out what's wrong with you; what's giving you these headaches and these arm pains and so forth." And another doctor said, "Don't let them cut your head open here please." [Laughter] So I got a medical discharge, took a survey out and then I went into civilian life.
PERILLO: And that was going to be my next question for you, okay; civilian life. Tell us a little bit about your place of residence, your family, your community involvement and what careers you pursued after your discharge.
IVES: Well right after the discharge I went into my father's construction business. We were building homes at that time. He was doing that, and he had been doing it right after the war and during the war, and I went into business with him and he welcomed me. He was just waiting for me to get home so I could do it. And I did work with him for a while but I found that . . . and of course I had to learn the construction business from the ground up and the first thing he did was hand me a shovel and said, "You're an apprentice ditch-digger." And it was hard work and it was tough work and I found that because of the injuries that I had and so forth I really couldn't do any hard physical labor anymore. I just wasn't up to it. And so I said, "Well the only thing for me to do is go onto college and pick something soft." But in those days it was very, very hard to get into the schools you wanted to get into because all the servicemen were in schools so I had to wait. I took an entrance exam to MIT. I took an entrance exam to Yale, which I failed [chuckle], but I was accepted in a couple of the schools but I just had to wait.
PERILLO: Yes. How long have you been a member of the USS Little Rock Association?
IVES: The USS Little Rock Association; I joined about three years ago I guess when I first heard about it three or four years ago, and I hadn't heard about it. I was just wondering about it and I mentioned it to one of my sons and lo and behold he looked up the Little Rock on the internet and he said, "Dad, your ship is in Buffalo". I said, "It can't be."
PERILLO: How many reunions have you attended?
IVES: Well this is only my second reunion and I enjoyed the first one up in Buffalo tremendously, and I was dismayed to see the Little Rock but happy that she was still around.
PERILLO: The first one in Buffalo, was that where you played Taps?
IVES: That's the first one.
PERILLO: I have to inject this; Paul was unable to make that reunion and I needed a bugler and he told me to call you, and that's how I got to call you and got to know you and your wife, and you played Taps for us. And that was one of the.... well I get carried away when I've had a.... okay.
Finally Charlie, do you swear everything you just told me is true?
IVES: This is the absolute truth.
PERILLO: Okay. Well they have here in parentheses "Just joking", okay.
IVES: Just joking.
PERILLO: So any final thoughts you would like to just add to this interview?
IVES: My tour in the United States Navy probably made a bigger impression on me than anything that every happened in my life. Even though it was only a few years, what it taught me was the value of education, how to get along with my fellow man, and just what it took to get ahead in the world, because this is what you had to do when you were in the Navy. You had to do what you were told, keep your eyes and ears open and learn from your mistakes, which is exactly the way life is for me.
PERILLO: Thank you Charlie.
IVES: You're welcome.
PERILLO: This completes our interview with Charlie Ives and I'm sure this is going to be great for our Oral History Program
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