U.S.S. LITTLE ROCK Crew Member's
Oral History given by

James Kays - SN


Page last updated: 24 September, 2016

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U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM


Interviewee:  JAMES "Jim" KAYS

Interviewer:  RICKEY JAMIESON

Date: July 14, 2006

Interview Transcript:

JAMIESON:    I am Rickey Jamieson and I will be interviewing James "Jim" Kays, Sr., who served onboard USS LITTLE ROCK (CLG-4). We are at the 15th annual reunion of the Little Rock Association at the Sheraton Braintree Hotel in Braintree, Massachusetts.

The purpose of this interview is to get to know Jim and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as an enlisted man aboard USS Little Rock (CLG-4) during the time of his tenure from . . . his tour of service was December 1959 through January of 1963.

For background Jim, please summarize your early life, education and work experience before you joined the Navy.

KAYS:    I grew up as a farm boy in the state of New Jersey. I went to the various schools in Sussex County, which is in Northwest New Jersey. I quit school in 1959 and enlisted in the Navy and went to boot camp in October of 1959, Great Lakes, Illinois; Company 701, in the old part of . . . I don't even remember the camp now but in the old part of Great Lakes.

When you went to boot camp what were your first impressions about boot camp when you arrived; say the first night you arrived, what did you think?

KAYS:    Well we got to bed about three o'clock and a little old gentleman woke us up about five o'clock with a little old soda bottle in the garbage can. It scared the daylights out of everybody.

A little strange getting all your hair cut and everything.

JAMIESON:    When you left boot camp did you go to any Navy schools before reporting to the ship?

KAYS:    Yes, I went to the Fleet Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island for fire (fighting) school and basically that's all I can remember having up there was the fire school.

JAMIESON:    Okay.

So you went aboard as a deck seaman, as a seaman, or a . . . ?

KAYS:    Well I went aboard as a seaman. I was in Supply. I ended up in S-3 Division as a Ships Serviceman.

JAMIESON:    So you were a Ships Serviceman.

And when and where did you report to the Little Rock?

KAYS:    We took a bus in April or May of 1960 to Philadelphia from Newport and a whole bunch of us go chugging our bags aboard this great big monster ship that some of us that lived as farm boys had never seen anything so big.

JAMIESON:    So that was your initial impression of the ship, was it was huge?

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    When you went onboard did someone meet you there on the quarterdeck? I mean did they call down to the division and say, "Hey, you've got a new guy up here", or did they just take you down and put you in a berthing compartment?

KAYS:    Basically what I can remember is that they sorted us out by the divisions that they had assigned us to and just took us down to our berthing area. That's all I can remember. The rest of it's kind of blurry.

JAMIESON:    So what division were you assigned to?

KAYS:    S-3 Division.

JAMIESON:    S-3, so that was Supply Department.

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    And what was your first job on the Little Rock?

KAYS:    I do believe that my first job was working in the laundry. I worked in the laundry. I worked in the storerooms. The last and best job I had that I can remember was the Gedunk.

JAMIESON:    You're my hero [chuckle]; the Gedunk operator.

KAYS:    That was great. I enjoyed myself immensely doing that.

JAMIESON:    Okay.
   
Now when the ship was in port did you have a watch station in particular that you stood duty in during the duty section?

KAYS:    No, if I didn't have to work in the Gedunk or the laundry or the storerooms I had an open liberty card.

JAMIESON:    Okay, and how about underway, was it pretty much the same?

KAYS:    Yes, you were pretty much free except when it was all hands for the replenishment.

JAMIESON:    Okay.

And where was your battle station on the Little Rock?

KAYS:     Let me see. I can't remember. I can remember being down below the 5-inch gun mount. I think it was part of my job to handle the shell casings or something. I don't really remember much about that and I was at general quarters enough to know, but one runs into the other. But I do know that we were below the . . .

JAMIESON:    The 5-inch.

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    So you were an ammo handler.

KAYS:    Maybe but I'm not sure. I don't remember doing anything other than being there with the hardhat on and sitting in the hallway. In the hallway, listen to me [chuckle]!

JAMIESON:    It's been a while.

Can you tell us about some of the ship's cruises or operations that happened while you were onboard?

KAYS:    Shakedown. Then I can remember us being down in the Caribbean and we had a fire aboard the ship. We visited a lot of nice places down there in the nice weather, that's for sure.

JAMIESON:    Yes.

Had that been the first time that you'd been out of the country?

KAYS:    Yes, and the first time out on the water too.

JAMIESON:    First time, alright.

How was that experience when you first got underway; how did that feel?

KAYS:    It was very strange. In fact it wasn't too rough. It was smooth, at least for a while.

JAMIESON:    Did it bother you? Did you get seasick . . . ?

KAYS:    No.

JAMIESON:    . . . or just like you'd been there all your life, huh?

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    Good.

What were some of the ports that you visited down in the Caribbean; some of the countries maybe that you visited?

KAYS:    Well we were in Port-a-Prince Haiti. We were in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands; Jamaica; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Cuba. There has to be more but I can't think of them right off the top of my head.

JAMIESON:    But those are the ones that stick out?

KAYS:    Yes, for the Caribbean, yes.

JAMIESON:    Now did you have to go Guantanamo Bay, you know GITMO?

KAYS:    Yes, I was in GITMO. As a matter of fact I even went horseback riding in GITMO. And there was a show -what was his name? Bob Hope; they had a big show there when we were in Cuba. I do believe that's where it was, in Guantanamo.

JAMIESON:    So that was a USO show?

KAYS:    Yes.

I remember some of the shipmates and everything from Supply and other divisions that were into boxing, like Roy Sheppard, I can remember him. I think he lives in Florida now. And there was another one. We used to call him Alfred E. Neuman. His last name was Neuman but don't ask me what the rest of it is, but we used to call him Alfred.

JAMIESON:    After the comic book character?

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    Describe the living conditions on the ship; you know like how was the chow onboard when you were onboard?

KAYS:    As a young farm boy it was pretty good [laughter].

JAMIESON:    It was pretty good?

KAYS:    Yes. Some people cooked some of the stuff I didn't like but for the most part it was . . . .

JAMIESON:    But what didn't you like that they served that was strange to you?

KAYS:    Well what I didn't like was the SOS.

JAMIESON:    Oh, the SOS. See, that's one of my favorites because I think that's pretty good stuff but it's not for everybody I guess.

KAYS:    Yes. My favorite was after we had been to all hands replenishment was the steak and eggs.

JAMIESON:    You're the second gentleman that I've interviewed that has said that steak and eggs was the way to go. It was the best meal.

How about the bakery; the bake shop?

KAYS:    Those guys were great. Especially when the loaves were hot it was very good.

JAMIESON:    Now you worked in the Gedunk and you said that was your favorite place; that was your favorite job. Why did you like that so much?

KAYS:    Well it was like you were face to face with everybody aboard the ship. It was like you met everybody. I like to talk. I like to interact with a lot of people and to me that was my favorite part of the whole thing.

JAMIESON:    So you were a ship's serviceman?

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    Did you ever have to learn to cut hair in the barber shop?

KAYS:    No, that was left to the people that liked to use the scissors [chuckle].

JAMIESON:    Oh, so you didn't think you'd want to shear people's heads, huh?

KAYS:    Not with the ship rolling [laughter].

JAMIESON:    And you did say you worked in the laundry. So can you expound a little bit on that; how big was the laundry?

KAYS:    Well you know back then it seemed like it was pretty big but I finally got down in the laundry room after I found the ship and got down there and it was not so big but it sure did seem big when we were aboard the ship.

JAMIESON:    How many men were on the ship then do you think; an estimate?

KAYS:    I would think for that part there had to be 900.  I think it went to 1,100 when we went overseas as a flagship. But, before that it was only 900 and some people aboard.

JAMIESON:    So that was a lot of laundry to do.

KAYS:    Yes, and you had to make sure the Marines sort of went to the head of the line because of what their job was.

JAMIESON:    Yes.

Did people complain about the buttons on their shirts? Do you know what I'm talking about?

KAYS:    I didn't hear too many complaints because of the fact that I was one of the ones that kind of was up in the front [chuckle].

JAMIESON:    Oh, okay. The press used to break the buttons on the dungarees and people would get mad because the buttons were broken.

KAYS:    Yes, those presses, they're still there.

JAMIESON:    I used to go down by the laundry room to go to the battery locker; the missile battery locker down there when I was onboard.

KAYS:    It was right behind it, wasn't it, right in the back?

JAMIESON:    Yes.

Tell me about some of your close buddies or colorful characters amongst your shipmates that really sticks out in your mind after all these years?

KAYS:    Well my best drinking buddy - God rest his soul - Barry Bulot; he and I spent a lot of time together drinking. He was from Maine and he and I spent a lot of time together even though he was a few years older than me.

Phil Lees; he was a few years older than me. And the three of us drank a lot together.

JAMIESON:    The three musketeers, huh?

KAYS:    Yes, especially in Rhode Island.

Let's see, Barry Bulot and Phil Lees were that way, yes; one petty officer; Johnson, a pretty tough guy. The other one that's still around, he has a bus company in Portsmouth, Virginia . . . I can't remember his name and I know it right off the top of my head but right now I'm drawing a blank. I'll have to tell you that later.

JAMIESON:    Maybe you'll remember as we go along.

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    But this was your circle of friends; these two or three guys?

KAYS:    Yes. There was another gentleman named Kelly from Massachusetts here and another one; Bradbury, from Maine; Shorty Tarue who passed away a few years ago. He was from Nebraska; and Kelly Wheeler. About five or six of us used to hang around pretty much all together getting in trouble drinking and watching out for one another.

JAMIESON:    Yes, I can understand that.

Can you recall any moments of excitement on the ship that sticks in your mind? You mentioned a fire before. Any shock, fear or anything like that?

KAYS:    No. I think the most impressive thing was the first time I'd seen the missiles get shot off. And now when you look at what's happening in the world you say, "Gee, we were back there when that first started and now all the missile ships and everything are running around and all the things that are happening in the world", you say, "Gee, we came a long way."

JAMIESON:    How about some of your leaders there? Do you remember your leading petty officer; your LPO, good guy, bad guy, don't remember?

KAYS:    No, I can remember a gentleman that was a member of the association. I do believe he's passed away now, which was Ewell. I think he was a first class. E-W-E-L-L was his last name. There was a tank and trucking company that has the same last name. He was a pretty nice guy and everything. I don't remember too much of other personalities for the fact that most of them, you know you did what you had to do and that was it, you know. As long as you behaved yourself, did your job, you weren't bothered and if you didn't get bothered you don't remember.

JAMIESON:    Did you have a Chief that you worked for?

KAYS:    Yes, but I don't know him. No, I don't know what his name was. I don't remember that.

JAMIESON:    And in that day and era probably the chief wasn't someone that you wanted to talk to.

KAYS:    It seemed like they were, from my standpoint of being a very young gentleman at 17, that this gentleman was an elderly gentleman even though in retrospect he was probably only 30 some years old [chuckle]. He just seemed like he was an old man then and you respected your elders and just stayed out of their way.

JAMIESON:    How about your division officer, he had to have been a young fellow too?

KAYS:    I'd even have to look in a cruise book to remember who it was. I can remember some of the faces and everything, but names; I'm not good at names even though I do remember some of them there.

JAMIESON:    Do you remember who the Captain was when you were onboard?

KAYS:    Captain Phillips and Captain Chenault and I know the one first class that was in our division. His name was Sandlie (S-A-N-D-L-I-E). I do believe that's how it's spelled. All I know he was always "Sandy". He was like a first class and he was always . . . .

JAMIESON:    So I take it you never got in trouble so you never got to see the XO and the Captain?

KAYS:    Yes, I did get in trouble once. Let me see, where were we? It was before we were taking off to go somewhere and I had gone home to Pennsylvania / Upstate New Jersey / New York area, and low and behold I missed my bus that I was supposed to catch and I had to start thumbing to Norfolk. Needless to say I was 12 hours late getting back. It was a long walk [chuckle]. So I did get some extra duty and mess cooking out of it.

JAMIESON:    But it was a learning experience overall.

KAYS:    Yes, to make sure you're on time [laughter].

JAMIESON:    Make sure you're on time.
    Is there anything else about your division that you want to talk about?

KAYS:    Well to me we were all pretty good friends that I can remember and there wasn't too much dissension amongst us. We all seemed to work together pretty good, drank together and partied together. It seemed like we were all pretty good buddies and some of the ones that I still know and meet, we still get along very good.

JAMIESON:    Did you make any Mediterranean cruises?

KAYS:    Yes, the first Med cruise - what was it? - 1961. I had an extra good time in Malta. I met and became fairly good friends with a Limey sailor.

JAMIESON:    Oh really?

KAYS:    Yes. I'd have to look back in my records to see if I still have his address or anything but I corresponded with him for years afterwards. We went out and drank rum and cokes for a quarter.  That's the drunkest I ever got in my life and I don't plan on ever being that way again. 

JAMIESON:    So it was a good deployment then?

KAYS:    Yes, and I had a lot of fun in Greece. As a matter of fact I even went on a tour with Mr. Bradbury and another gentleman that was from Maine that I can not recall his name.  All I know is he was an FN and I think his name was Erickson but I'm not positive.  I can not find his name in the records but he was from Maine.  And the three of us - I have the pictures of us - and we had a nice three-day tour-de-Rome. I believe it was three days. It may have been even four.

JAMIESON:    It sounds like a good time.

KAYS:    It was. It was a great time.

JAMIESON:    When did you detach from the Rock?

KAYS:     I got my orders in December of '62 and left in January of '63 after the holidays.

JAMIESON:    And where was the ship when you detached?

KAYS:    I left it in Norfolk. I went aboard the USS John W. Weeks (DD-701) and was discharged in August of '63 in Salem, Massachusetts. And from what I understand the Weeks ran aground as it was leaving the harbor and it was in Boston Navy Yard for a while for repairs. But I'll tell you what; to be able to take a tour now of all the places we visited in the Mediterranean would cost a good amount of money; the Vatican with the Pope talking out in the window, and going through the Vatican itself; through all their mementos and whatever else was all in there. I mean that is something that I will always remember. That was something that would stick in your mind; all of this history in one building for centuries.

JAMIESON:    So what was your overall impression of your tour on the ship?

KAYS:    Well, at the time some of it seemed like, when you were young, that it wasn't the greatest. And when you look back on it now you don't remember a lot of the bad stuff but in retrospect and the way life has treated it, it was a fantastic time. You met a lot of people, seen a lot of places and did a lot of work.

JAMIESON:    So do you think that was a defining moment in your life?

KAYS:    I think that changed the course of my life I do believe because it made me think even after I got out, it sort of set me on the course to . . . I don't know. Shall we say it did make a point. How would I say it? In other words it was something like I grew up on the ship and it changed my attitude about a lot of things once I was able to look back at it.

JAMIESON:    So you got out of the Navy in August of '63 and you went back home.

KAYS:    No, I stayed in Massachusetts for almost a year.

JAMIESON:    Oh, and what did you do there?

KAYS:    Well my first job was a short-order cook at Dunkin Doughnuts in Beverly, Massachusetts.

JAMIESON:    Oh really?

KAYS:    Yes. They don't even have those kinds of Dunkin Doughnuts anymore but that's when I guess they were first starting out. I lived in Salem and worked there for quite a while and then I got a job down in Boston and then the following year I decided that I should go back home. I was tired of living alone.

JAMIESON:    So you went back to the big farm.

KAYS:    Well, the farm was no longer there but I did go back and I picked up odd jobs around and then I was working in the box factory. And the one day that the truck driver didn't show up they came out and they needed somebody to make the delivery that had to been and they said, "Who can drive truck here?"I looked around and nobody else raised their hand. I raised my hand. I've been driving ever since and that was 1964.

JAMIESON:    Do you like driving?

KAYS:    Oh yes.

JAMIESON:    You're still driving I guess.

KAYS:    Yes, oh yes, 42 years later.

JAMIESON:    Forty-two years later and you're still driving a truck. Who do you work for now?

KAYS:    UPS.

JAMIESON:    UPS.

KAYS:    And before them I worked . . . I've worked there now 13 years. Before them I worked for Saint Johnsberry Trucking Company, a good old New England outfit until they went out of business.

JAMIESON:    Yes, they are a well known company - or they were.

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    So you've had a pretty good life I would think in the big scheme of things.

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    What lessons and values did you take from your naval service into your civilian return?

KAYS:    I think it was a sense of - how would I put it properly - like being on time, the value of getting something done, you know, and if you tell somebody you're going to do something you do it. And to me it made me more of a - how would you say it - a straight arrow to make sure that you were responsible for yourself and if you tell somebody you were going to do something for them, that you went and did it.  And then when I got married and starting raising my kids it was like everything had a value to it.

JAMIESON:    Okay.

Tell us a little bit about where you live, your family, what do you do for fun? I mean do you have hobbies? Are you active in the community in any way? Just kind of give us a snapshot of your life at home.

KAYS:    Married 41 plus years, three children; two daughters and a son, and right now seven grandchildren; four boys and three girls.

The reunions of the Little Rock have been quite a challenge for me with being one of the founders of it. I discovered the Little Rock on my - let me see, how old was I - it was on my birthday anyway. I forget what year. I think it was '89 so that would have put me at 37. And my youngest daughter was with me and lo and behold by the end of the day she was kind of bored with Pop and his Navy remembrance aboard the ship [chuckle].

Locally I don't do anything like that. I belong to the VFW and American Legion. But my work schedule, which is approximately 11 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, doesn't leave much room for too much extra.


I love to play softball. I'm involved in sports; walking, running.

JAMIESON:    How long have you been a member? You're a founder, aren't you?

KAYS:    I'm a founder so I'm Member Number One.

JAMIESON:    Member Number One.

KAYS:    Like I said, I discovered the ship in '89. They had an address book there and I looked through the book and found some names of some of the shipmates that served when I did that lived around the area and I dropped them letters, and before you knew it one thing led to another, then we were going to have a little get together, then it got to be more than the get together. Then it was going to be a reunion and then once the reunion, then it became an Association and it's just like snowballed. And being the first President I think the first reunion that we had . . . there was one like ten or twelve years before that but our first reunion I think brought a lot of people together that hadn't seen each other for a long time and I think we spent more time talking and reminiscing then doing anything else.

JAMIESON:    So how many reunions have you attended out of the 15? Have you been to all of them?

KAYS:    No, 14.

JAMIESON:    Fourteen out of fifteen.

KAYS:    I should have been at all 15, but couldn't because of my daughter's impending delivery of my second grandson who was born on the morning of the business meeting in Norfolk, Virginia.

JAMIESON:    Norfolk, Virginia you missed.

KAYS:    Yes.

JAMIESON:    But you got a new grandson.

KAYS:    Right.

JAMIESON:    I know the feeling. I missed one too because of a granddaughter being born.

KAYS:    Yes, that was my third grandchild when he was born.

JAMIESON:    What have the reunions meant to you and just seeing your buddies every year?

KAYS:    To me I think it makes all the effort that you put in the rest of the year worthwhile to get together and see all the happy faces of people getting to see each other. You know a lot of friendships have been made by the wives of shipmates and I think a lot of the camaraderie of all us being together for the most part, everybody seems to get along. You know some of them come just to enjoy everything and make it a little vacation; a get-away.

JAMIESON:    So you think they're valuable then in your life?

KAYS:    I think so. I think they're valuable in my life. I think they're valuable in most people's lives that served aboard the ship, especially the ones that are in Buffalo where the ship is; where they get to see the ship. They can bring their families and extended families and show them where they lived, where they worked for the two/three/four years that they served aboard the ship. Most of them are very proud to be showing their families the ship.

JAMIESON:    How do you feel when you go back to Buffalo and you walk on the ship?

KAYS:    Sometimes it kind of sets you back like you're back as a young kid again. You almost feel like you've gone back in time because you feel like you're there again and you're young, but your body tells you otherwise [laughter].

JAMIESON:    I know what you mean.

    Do you have any final thoughts or observations about anything that we haven't talked about or you want elaborate on further?

KAYS:    Well I do know that there are a lot of things going on in the Association that would have a lot to do with our Scholarship Fund and everything, that I think that in the Restoration Fund, in the long term when it's all said and done and in many years ahead, that most of us will be remembered for what we have done with the Association. I think that would be a very good thing. I'd just like to see some sort of a plaque made up in Buffalo, either aboard the ship or in the museum there, of everybody that served aboard the ship; the names, even if they don't have the years at least the names of all the shipmates that served aboard the ship.

JAMIESON:    Alright.

This ends the interview with James "Jim" Kays Sr.

Thank you Jim for your time.

KAYS:    You're more than welcome.

END OF INTERVIEW

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