U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Leo Palamara
Interviewer: Nick Perillo
PERILLO: I am Nick Perillo. I will be interviewing Leo Palamara, who served aboard the CL 92. We are at the sixteenth annual reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at Buffalo, New York. Today’s date is July 20, 2007. The purpose of this interview is to get to know Leo and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as an enlisted man aboard USS Little Rock, CL 92, during the tenure of his service.
Leo, what were the years that you served on the Little Rock, and when did you leave?
PALAMARA: I started serving on the Little Rock right after boot camp. It must have been sometime in September of 1946. And then I left in October of 1947.
PERILLO: For background, please summarize your early life, your education and work experience. In other words, what did you do before joining up on the Navy?
PALAMARA: Well, upon graduation from high school I joined the Navy. Prior to that, I worked at the post office in Newark, New Jersey, when I was sixteen years old. Also, I caddied and shined shoes. I even forget some of the stuff I did. God, I worked in my father’s barber shop when I was nine years old. That’s about it.
PERILLO: When and where did you join the Navy? Did you sign up in Newark or Brooklyn? I’m just hitting this because I’m from Jersey myself, as you know, and I signed up in Newark but I had to go to Brooklyn for my examination, and so that’s why. And briefly describe your boot camp experience.
PALAMARA: I signed up in Newark and I was given my physicals in Newark. Then I went to Bainbridge, Maryland, where I took my boot camp. At that time we were in boot camp for eleven, - twelve weeks and never got any leave. After I got leave, I went to an outgoing unit in Bainbridge, Maryland, and was then assigned to the USS Little Rock. We traveled by train from Maryland down to Norfolk, Virginia, to pick it up. I arrived at the Little Rock maybe eleven, twelve o’clock midnight, and I really wasn’t impressed with the ship when I first went on it because I couldn’t see anything, it was so dark out there. I knew it was big, that’s about it.
PERILLO: What was your division or department or battle stations when you went aboard the Little Rock?
PALAMARA: I was assigned to the E Division as a Fireman Second Class. My watch station and battle station was in after steering with the quartermaster down there. My watch station was the electrical power shop, where we would sleep all night long in case any problems occurred with the electrical system, any motors or anything like that.
PERILLO: Leo, describe some of your ship’s cruises and the operations while you were aboard. For example, any interesting ports of call.
PALAMARA: Well, of course, we went to Guantanamo Bay; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and up to the Arctic Circle where at one time we put a star shell into the USS Missouri. Then we came back from the Arctic Circle into Argentia in Newfoundland and on to New York. We operated mostly around Norfolk, Virginia. Before overhaul, we unloaded ammunition at Leonardo in Red Bank, New Jersey. Then we went over to Gravesend Bay into the Brooklyn Navy Yard for dry docking. We were there quite a while, where I had almost every night liberty, so I was able to go home.
Other than that, we did a Mediterranean cruise, which was very interesting because I have relatives in the old country. There were lots of ports of call. It was good.
PERILLO: How were the living conditions on the ship? The quality of food, the services, gedunk, barbershop, and the laundry?
PALAMARA: Well, I never used the barbershop. (Chuckle) As to the food — at that time most of the ship’s complement was from the South so it was basically Southern food that I wasn’t used to, like grits and fatback and things of that nature that I had never eaten in my life. But it turned out pretty good because, especially on holidays, they gave us a big meal. I would say that the food was pretty good in general.
The gedunk stand — a friend of mine from Newark ran it. Of course, at that time cigarettes were, what, six cents a pack? So that was cheap enough.
PERILLO: Tell me about some of your close buddies.
PALAMARA: Well, the closest buddy I had was same size as me. We both weighed about 120 pounds. His name was Phil McCabe. He’s now deceased about five years or so. Actually, Phil did most of the work that we were assigned as partners. I really carried the tools, and I learned a lot from this man. And, jeez, he wound up being the chief electrician for the Massachusetts State Prison System.
I had a lot of other close buddies. Jeez, can’t remember their names offhand now.
PERILLO: Can you recall any moments of shock or fear or excitement? You mentioned something about a 5-inch star shell on the Missouri?
PALAMARA: Yeah. When we fired this star shell on the Missouri we were at battle stations, another fellow and I — can’t remember where he was from — went up topside to find out what was happening, because the Missouri might have been firing back at us with 16-inch shells. (Chuckle) We can laugh about it today, but it was a serious matter then.
And then I was there when a coxswain was trying to tie up to a buoy and got crushed between the ship and the buoy, and he died.
We had a few accidents that I can’t remember, but I don’t think I really felt any fear.
PERILLO: What was your overall impression of your tour on the ship?
PALAMARA: Oh, very good. I feel today, sixty years later, that every young man should serve in the military somehow before going to college or getting married or anything else. It was a good thing, especially coming from my old neighborhood. It taught me a lot of lessons.
PERILLO: I’m not sure if we hit on this before. When and where were you detached from the Little Rock?
PALAMARA: I think it was in October of 1947. In August of ’47 I closed the hatch on my fingers. After six weeks, I developed gangrene. When the medical people found out I had gangrene, they assigned me over to Portsmouth Naval Hospital, wherein I spent almost a year in the hospital in recovery. Then I got an honorable discharge but it was under medical conditions.
PERILLO: Leo, what civilian job did you return to after your tour with the Navy?
PALAMARA: Well, as soon as I got out — we had that 52/20 club. I think I collected one or two checks from them, and I got a job with Bendix Aircraft. And then in June of ’48 I was called into the post office because I had already taken the examination and, being a disabled veteran, I went to the top of the list, so I got hired very quickly and I became a regular. I stayed in the post office forty years.
PERILLO: Leo, tell us a little bit about your place of residence, your family, any volunteer activity that you could do.
PALAMARA: I have four children. My wife, Josephine, died in 2005. My four children are kind of separated, because when I was working for the post office I got transferred, oh, six or seven times, around Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia,and New York State, and the family kind of got separated. So I have one son in New Jersey, one in Reading, Pennsylvania, a daughter in South Carolina. My oldest son, who was working in Hong Kong, suffered a stroke, so he’s now with me but he’s actually in an assisted living facility. We’re a happy family.
PERILLO: Leo, how long have you been a member of the USS Little Rock Association, and can you recall — oh, I see you’re a first-timer. Okay. So just tell us about....
PALAMARA: How I heard?
PALAMARA: Last October I attended my high school reunion, and an ex-Marine, Richard Gross, who was on the ship with me at the time, told me about this association and that he had been in Buffalo and had visited the ship. And he told me that they were having a reunion. And I also belong to the Disabled American Veterans Association and I read a little blurb in there about the reunion. So I called up Woody Donaldson and he gave me the information on it. I sent in my payment and I figured I’d take a short vacation. I can’t leave too long because of my son that’s ill in the assisted living facility. And then I’d visit my relatives in New Jersey and then go back to Florida.
PERILLO: Leo, on behalf of the Little Rock Association and myself as a past director, past president, and just recalled for a director, and a New Jerseyan, I’d like to thank you for coming and for serving on the Little Rock. And I think you and I have a lot more in common, because I was on board at the same time, I took the same train from Bainbridge, Maryland to Norfolk, and got on the same Little Rock at eleven, twelve o’clock at night (chuckle). I wouldn’t be surprised — our last names start with “P” — if we weren’t in the same group during boot camp. Leo, congratulations, and thank you.
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