U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: John A. Whidden
Interviewer: Gus Karlsen
Date: July 15, 2006
KARLSEN: My name is Gus Karlsen. I will be interviewing John Whidden who served in CLG-4, the USS Little Rock. We are at the 15th annual reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at the Sheraton Braintree Boston in Braintree, Massachusetts.
The date is July 15th, 2006.
The purpose of this interview is to get to know John Whidden, and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as an enlisted man aboard USS Little Rock (CLG-4) during his tenure of service from October '59, which is the PreCom detail in Newport, through September of 1961.
For background John, could you please summarize your early life, education and work experience, if any, before joining the Navy?
WHIDDEN: I was the son of a plumber so I was around construction ever since I was a little child. My education; specifically I took a three-year electronic training course and then took night school to finish out so I would graduate with basically an associate's degree. Unfortunately my mother was diagnosed with cancer before I graduated in that. Her insurance was cancelled and that was the end of my Penn State proposed career. That's why I joined the Navy, because I was guaranteed an electronic school. I had boot camp in Great Lakes in the fall of 1957. After that I went home before Christmas and went back to Great Lakes for IC "A" School in the spring of 1958. Graduating from that, they transferred me to the Philadelphia mothball fleet where I stayed until I was transferred PreCom to Newport, Rhode Island.
Now where did you put your hand up; where did you actually join the Navy?
WHIDDEN: I joined the Navy . . . actually it's funny. I joined the Navy in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, I didn't put my hand up because I was supposed to be inducted at a ballgame in Baltimore.
KARLSEN: No kidding?
WHIDDEN: And we wound up with about four too many people for the class in Bainbridge, Maryland, which was the last boot camp class to go through. They were closing it. So they put us on a plane and flew us to Great Lakes. That's how I got to Great Lakes. So technically I came in in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and several days later I made my way to Great Lakes and was sworn in there.
KARLSEN: I'll be darned. That's kind of a round about, huh?
KARLSEN: Now Williamsport, that's Northwestern Pennsylvania?
WHIDDEN: Central, about 100 miles north of Harrisburg.
KARLSEN: Yes, okay.
WHIDDEN: About the only thing you know from there is Little League baseball.
KARLSEN: Oh, that's right. Yes, I knew it rang a bell for some reason.
WHIDDEN: So as far as my training before I went on the Little Rock; one of the things when we got to PreCom in Newport, Rhode Island was the training crew up there realized that they did not have a training course for sound-powered telephones, so there were about four of us IC men that were asked to sit down and write up procedures and create a training class. So we technically knew almost every member of the Little Rock non-officer staff because they went through our course on sound-powered telephones before they completed their training.
WHIDDEN: And then while I was there they decided to send me to a gyro "C" school at Great Lakes. So I left Newport and went to Chicago to the Mark 19 Sperry Gyro School with John Labreedo and George Smyth; our First Class IC man aboard.
WHIDDEN: And then we were transferred directly from there; PreCom, to Philadelphia Navy Yard and we took the bus over to the ship in Camden every day until it was transferred out of there.
KARLSEN: Now let's get back to boot camp for just a second. We kind of glanced over that. Did you enjoy the accommodations and was the food to your liking and all that sort of stuff?
WHIDDEN: Well I had been used to going to a boy's camp, so I was not used to just having Mother's cooking. You know there are some foods you don't like but still you learn to get along with it.
KARLSEN: Yes, well that's good.
WHIDDEN: All along I had very few real complaints. It would have been nice to have air-conditioning but without exception I enjoyed everything all the way along.
KARLSEN: You didn't need it in the winter.
WHIDDEN: No [chuckle].
KARLSEN: [Chuckle] Okay.
So you essentially reported to the Little Rock PreCom detail at Newport in October of '59.
KARLSEN: Yes. How was that? Was that well organized and everything was running along smoothly with the exception of the sound-powered phone training?
WHIDDEN: Well you know everything else of course was well set up except for a couple of individual courses that they felt they needed for the Little Rock group, which I guess were different from.... well I think a lot of people that went through there were Tin Can sailors.
WHIDDEN: So it was a different group, a different sized vessel, and had a little bit different requirement.
KARLSEN: Okay, so was that "A" School or "B" School or "C" School, or what was that?
WHIDDEN: No, it was just PreCom.
KARLSEN: No, I mean you didn't go to Sound-Powered School or whatever the IC school was?
WHIDDEN: No, we created the course.
KARLSEN: I see.
WHIDDEN: As a matter of fact we all received Letters of Commendation for the course.
KARLSEN: Yes. Good for you. So you actually reported aboard the ship in....?
WHIDDEN: Actually in Camden I guess you would say.
KARLSEN: Camden, yes.
WHIDDEN: Because it wasn't even in Philadelphia physically then. So, the Navy took us across the Walt Whitman Bridge to Camden every day to be on the ship.
KARLSEN: Okay, interesting.
What was your initial impression of the ship?
WHIDDEN: Well after serving a year in the mothball fleet and having seen the Iowa in drydock I guess I wasn't as surprised at seeing the size of it as most. Because everybody says, "Oh, a battlewagon is so big!" You know you ought to see it out of water [chuckle].
KARLSEN: Yes, really.
WHIDDEN: So the Little Rock was in.... because I was all over the Iowa as well as every other mothball ship there.
As an "E" Division person we were responsible for the monitoring of the DH machines; dehumidification, okay, so that the ships didn't rust internally. And we went all over these vessels wherever these monitoring stations were to repair the machine or the sensors; either one. That was my first responsibility in the mothball fleet.
KARLSEN: I'm understanding more and more how broad in scope the IC men rate gets.
WHIDDEN: Oh yes.
KARLSEN: I mean you know you think of it as sound-powered phones or a dial-up ship's service telephone or radios or whatever but you're talking about gyro school and that's an internal communication in itself.
WHIDDEN: Right, and at the time that when I got out in '61, there were only four vessels in the United States Navy that required the sophisticated gyro. Off of our gyros you could read the longitude and latitude, which was necessary because of the missiles. The other vessels in the fleet didn't need that sophistication and their gyros in turn were much less sophisticated.
KARLSEN: Yes, so the gyros had a direct input into the missile firings.
You know I'm probably getting ahead of things but I remember when we were in the Caribbean there was a gyro signal loss when we were in a high-speed run and they made a turn just before they fired the guns, and the gyro signal wasn't going so the guns didn't turn and they fired in front of the tug instead of at the sled.
WHIDDEN: There was a big investigation. We can get that in now or that can slide back to . . . .
KARLSEN: Yes. That's kind of frowned upon though, isn't it?
WHIDDEN: Oh, there were a lot of people very upset.
KARLSEN: I can imagine.
Okay, what was your division and department assignment; job, watch station and battle station, and tell us what your duties were.
WHIDDEN: I was in the "E" Division; electrical, IC Gang.
KARLSEN: Now Hal Bridenstein, was he an "E" Division officer?
KARLSEN: Or was he a department head for, not department head but . . . .
WHIDDEN: Well Harvey Holmes was the first warrant officer that I recall. He was an interesting character. We might as well hit it now. Harvey had been around since iron men and wooden ships. He cumshawed replacement parts and had brackets and so forth welded on the ship and he had a little black book on where he had all these spare parts, and that black book never got passed on when he left the ship.
WHIDDEN: But there were things that you'd see welded up; motors and so forth, replacements, and no wires going to them. But at any rate he was one. The other of course was John Sheppard. And the engineering officer that we were very close to because of the IC gyro problems, which we went through later; Rob Nelson, those were the three primary officers that I was most involved with.
WHIDDEN: At any rate, my main responsibility was the gyros and my general quarters station was DC Central. So I was down there with Rob and the engineering group assisting them during general quarters.
And how did your watch rotation work or did you have a watch rotation, or were you just sort of on-call?
WHIDDEN: Well at first I was part of the electrical generator gang. I stood engineering electrical generator watches. But, that didn't last long. When they got some more "E" Division people, I went to IC watches. However, we had problems with the gyros. I don't know if this is the place you want to go into it.
KARLSEN: Anytime at all, jump right in and cover it.
WHIDDEN: As a matter of fact you may, were you on in '59 and '61?
KARLSEN: Well it was July of '61 when I came aboard.
WHIDDEN: Well you may have been one of the complainents. When the ship was steaming along at a reasonable pace and you made a substantial turn, the officers of the deck, as well as the XO and the commanding officer, got real upset when the gyro repeaters on the bridge indicated different headings.
KARLSEN: I'm trying to remember that.
WHIDDEN: I, George Smyth, probably Sid Harrison and Jack Sweet started spending lots of midnight oil trying to figure this out and when we started spending this midnight oil I wound up being taken off of standard watches because we spent so many nights on this. As a matter of fact... I wonder if they ever solved the problem.
KARLSEN: I think they did actually. I recall it was....
WHIDDEN: I'm sure they did because one of the supposed answers was, in a sense, when you make a turn there are different forces fore and aft and that a certain amount of this was expected. The question is, did we get more than what was expected? But in any rate, as of September '61 when I left the vessel we had never solved the problem. We might have made it a little better and newer people knew about it but we really couldn't tell you which gyro was right. I mean it was only off by a degree or a fraction of a degree but we had nothing else to judge it by.
WHIDDEN: Well we kind of got into that one.
KARLSEN: Good, that's what we want. We want to get into this as deep as we can.
Now how about, can you describe the ship's cruises and operations while you were onboard?
WHIDDEN: Okay, well I can point out the first one. Did we have the tape running when I said about the boiler problem?
WHIDDEN: Okay. Pre-commissioning: Rod Nelson; the Engineering Division manager, found a problem with the tubes in the boilers and as a result that delayed the actual commissioning of the ship while they replaced those tubes. The IC gang, a couple of "E" Division electrician people and Rod Nelson went out after they had replaced these tubes for the shakedown cruise and the one thing that I specifically remember is doing a full-power run - and there were only a few people aboard - and then of course they did a full-astern, and of course those props really vibrated and made some noise and shook the welds off the lockers and bunks of several of the aft compartments, so that all had to be repaired after we came in. But that was an interesting trip. I'm sorry I didn't write down the names of the people because there were only like six naval people aboard on that cruise. Several I remember were Jack Sweet, Rod Nelson. I'm not sure about George Smyth but Sid Harrison I know was there.
I was on the shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. I specifically remember general quarters when Castro shut the water off for the base and there were a number of people who have expounded on that. But during my term that was probably the closest thing to a battle situation that I ever got into. I wasn't on the ship when they went back for the Cuban missile thing.
And then of course I was there for the Mediterranean cruise of 1961.
KARLSEN: Can you remember the months involved in that '61 cruise? I know we left to go back....
WHIDDEN: February and we got back just before I got discharged in September.
KARLSEN: September, right.
WHIDDEN: As a matter of fact I have a list with a slide of all the dates and the ports and when we were there.
KARLSEN: That would be nice to have.
What about interesting ports of call; do you recall any specific ones?
WHIDDEN: Oh, there were so many. I enjoyed all of them.
I bought a new camera in Saint Thomas and I tried taking every tour that we had except Paris and Rome. Or no, I did go in Rome. The only ones I didn't take were Paris and Geneva. If I remember correctly you had to resign from the Navy and you had to go in civvies to go to Geneva at the time. You could not go into Geneva in uniform. I remember a number of our people that went.
So I took pictures. As a matter of fact I have over 600 pictures of the Med cruise and of course in 1960 the pictures don't look nearly like what you get today.
WHIDDEN: But I have pictures, the proof that we were there, and then I bought a slide duplicator and I sold copies of these to anybody that spent all their time in the bars so they could go home and say, "I was here!"
WHIDDEN: Well that was kind of getting off a little bit.
KARLSEN: No, that's fine, that's good.
WHIDDEN: Paris and Geneva were the only two. I remember Easter Sunrise Service at Ephesus.
And of course I had shore patrol on the French Riviera during the French film festival.
KARLSEN: Oh, too bad! [Laughter]
WHIDDEN: You know that was rough.
I recall the Flag coming aboard and we took them to Bordeaux, if I recall correctly. Remember the meeting at the big....?
KARLSEN: I wasn't aboard yet.
WHIDDEN: Okay. And as I recall that was the first time a vessel of the size of the Little Rock had been up the river since the war. Also, if I remember correctly, we came out at high tide and only had one foot clearance on the bow, and when we got out we hit one heck of a storm in the....
KARLSEN: Bay of Biscayne?
WHIDDEN: Yes, which it lasted a week. We pulled in and it took a week to repair the damage. It just cleaned everything off the top; fire stanchions, all the welded stuff. They had no protection up there. They had to repair it all before we were back really in operation.
So there are certain things you remember after all these years.
So what's your recollection of the living conditions on the ship; the quality of the food, the ship's services like the Gedunk, the barber shop?
WHIDDEN: I really had no complaints on that. Granted, there were certain things I'd rather not have had, but all in all it was training and a very interesting experience. And since I'd been away to camp and stayed with friends on their farms and helped them, I wasn't one of the young folks that had never been anywhere. I guess one of the biggest things is that it wasn't the first time that I'd been away. But it was the first time I'd been away where you can't pick up the phone and call, "Hi, I'd like some money" [chuckle] , which I never did.
So you felt basically that the ship provided anything you might have needed?
WHIDDEN: Yes, or when we got to a port you'd go get it.
KARLSEN: Yes, okay.
Onboard recreation: I'm not sure I know what that means but it was pretty limited as I recall.
WHIDDEN: Well we basically had recreation that wasn't onboard [laughter].
KARLSEN: Well I guess playing cards or Acey-Deucy or something.
WHIDDEN: I played Hearts but I was not an investor. I was there one night in a local town when a raid went down so we don't call it betting, it's investing.
KARLSEN: [Laughter] Okay, that's good.
WHIDDEN: And we had some guys that on payday night were already over-invested.
How about some of your close buddies, colorful characters among your shipmates that you might recall?
WHIDDEN: Well there are a couple of stories but I don't think I better put them on here.
KARLSEN: Change the names to protect the guilty or whatever.
WHIDDEN: I recall one who was a southern guy. We got him on the beach and he had a big pig-sticker and he was about to kill a black boy.
KARLSEN: Oh my God!
WHIDDEN: That was the last time we went on the beach with him. I don't want to pursue that any further. It apparently was Saturday night's sport down south. That was a real education. I didn't expect something like that.
KARLSEN: That's rough.
WHIDDEN: You know as a Pennsylvania farm boy you don't do those things.
KARLSEN: What about close buddies that you might have become acquainted with onboard?
WHIDDEN: Well what's interesting is that Jack Sweet, Sid Harrison - George Smyth is now passed away - Paul Johnson, John Sheppard, not only did we know them and everything.... let's see, Rod Nelson, Robert Hinkley, John Mondroski; these guys are all part of the Association, so even though I lost track of them for 30 to 35 years it's really been super.
I remember when I was being transferred from Newport, Rhode Island to the gyro school in Great Lakes, another fellow; John Magredo, was being transferred to the course with me and he was from out West. And I said to him one afternoon just before we left, "Well what are you going to do? Are you going to go home?", and he said, "No, I'll just go out there." I said, "Well why don't you come home with me and you can stay at my house with my family and we'll fly out Sunday to Chicago." So this was the plan and as a matter of fact Saturday we had one heck of snowstorm. As a matter of fact that snowstorm was all the way from Chicago to the East Coast. There were no flights anywhere. And we got up in the morning. He.... well my to-be wife and my sister didn't have a date that Saturday night, so we double-dated and went to the movies. Had something to eat and went to the movies. We went home and got up in the morning and it was just this huge snowstorm and nothing was open.
WHIDDEN: My father lived right on Route 220, which is a main route through Central Pennsylvania, and we called the bus company and they said, "The bus just left for the West. If you run out you probably can flag him down." So my father was nine miles west of the bus terminal and there are two sailors in blues standing out in the middle of the snowstorm and the bus driver stopped. So we got on the bus and he took us to the first town where you could get a ticket and we had to buy a ticket then to back him up.
So I think I've hit all the.... and then of course when we came back from the Mediterranean cruise I was discharged in Norfolk and there was another interesting experience. We came in on a Wednesday or a Thursday. I was supposed to have been discharged on a Sunday, which they don't discharge on Sunday but apparently there was something big going on at the base on Saturday so I was given the ultimate choice - and like I said, we just returned that week from the Med. I haven't seen my wife since February - and they said, "Do you want to be discharged on Friday or Monday", and I said, "Friday!"
That was the biggest mistake I made, because the Reserves busted my horns for the whole three-years or whatever it was, Reserve period, because I only put three years, eleven months and 28 days in. I did not meet my four year requirement.
KARLSEN: [Laughter] So you were a two by four then?
WHIDDEN: Well I never went to one Reserve meeting but they ran me through the ringer.
KARLSEN: That's funny. Some people will grab at anything I guess, huh?
So any moments of great shock, fear or excitement that you could talk about?
WHIDDEN: I remember the fire coming back from the Caribbean in the fall of, that would have been the fall of '60. The problem that I recall was that we had - how do I want to put this - paraphernalia that was of a flammable nature coming back from the Caribbean that wasn't supposed to be there, along with oil-base paints that were in the uptakes. There are two things that should not have been in the uptakes and we were doing a full-power run, and this stuff caught on fire. It was not a problem with the ship or the uptakes, it's what was in there that shouldn't have been.
KARLSEN: Yes. I imagine that caused a stir, huh?
WHIDDEN: The incident with the gyro signal not going into the guns, is that on tape? We can put it in again and then we can take it out.
During the Caribbean cruise we were doing a reasonable power run; probably 20 to 30 knots, and we were supposed to fire at a sled being towed by a tug. And the program was that we were supposed to make a turn - I don't remember if it was to the right or to the left - but a switch was incorrectly wired for the gyro signal and when they checked it all out they found that the lights were on on the switch but the yard birds had wired it.... the switches are supposed to be wired so that the signal contacts make first and then the lights change second. They were incorrectly wired. The lights changed and the signal wasn't hooked up. That's the bottom line.
I understood that a comment was made something about, "Wait until we get on the sled until you try it again." But that again was, you know they went to a great.... I mean nobody could move any switches or anything until that signal was traced down. We did prove it was a wiring error from the yard.
KARLSEN: That's real scary, isn't it?
WHIDDEN: So that sure brought our blood pressure up a bit.
KARLSEN: I would imagine.
So what about your overall impression of your tour on the ship?
WHIDDEN: I enjoyed everything. I learned a heck of a lot. I think I said at one point to Rob Nelson when we were talking, I said, "You know you were like God to a kid who graduated from high school, and you felt you knew everything". All of a sudden you found that you were at the bottom of the "list." [Chuckle] It was unbelievable what Sheppard and some of these guys knew. But you know of course we knew more technically about specifically the gyro but these guys had an overall background. I mean Sheppard will blow your mind. You can sit down and talk to him for six or eight hours without him blinking an eye.
KARLSEN: Where you can listen.
WHIDDEN: And I mean he's been an instructor out in San Diego. He can teach these courses on Vietnam and stuff. He doesn't need a book. So for a young person the knowledge that these older officers had.... I mean some of the young ones of course didn't know anymore than you did, but some of the older officers.... and they seemed to very good at teaching people some of what they knew with the old philosophy of passing it down.
KARLSEN: Now one of the things that just came to mind, which I don't think we covered thus far....
We had a major problem with the telephone system aboard ship, and of course the people that just use them were totally unaware of what happens, and the big problem at that point was (if) you don't hang the phone up. Now ... it's been too many years. I think it was (after) 30 seconds or one minute; something like that. If the phone isn't hung up, an alarm goes off in the IC Room.
Now if it was after 1600 hours, the guy's in jeans down in the IC Room. If it (the phone) was up above the 2nd level, you had to be in whites. So you had to go to your locker, change clothes in order to go up say, in Officer's Country or anywhere up there, just to hang a phone up.
So with my electronic background, Robert Hinkley and I got together. Robert was the one who had the specific telephone training on - I think it was 375-line system that we have still aboard the ship today; Stroger switches, and all the good old stuff. At any rate, I designed an oscillator. It was a one-tube thing and Bob Hinkley and I designed this into the telephone system
WHIDDEN: And John Bondrowski brought this up. Frankly, I'd forgotten completely about it, but this was done in 1960. And as John Bondrowski pointed out, AT&T and Western Electric didn't design it in their home phone system until eight or nine years later. So we came up with a real neat thing and what we did was, when this alarm went off you would go over and you would count up and over, which gave you the number of the phone that wasn't hung up and then you'd go over and pull the switch on that phone which disconnected it. Then we would hook that oscillator, which would "whistle" on the phone and hopefully somebody would go hang it up instead of us. Well number one; when you were on watch you weren't supposed to leave the IC Room so it became a real problem. You either left your post to go take care of the problem or you come up with something like this. So we had that system functioning from the IC Room in the 1960's.
KARLSEN: And where was the IC Room located?
WHIDDEN: I don't remember. I can look on that chart and come up with some numbers. The easy way to find it is you look for the pitometer sword. Now most people don't know what a pitometer sword is, do you?
KARLSEN: I think I do. It's a . . . .
WHIDDEN: A brass rod.
KARLSEN: Yes, it goes through the hull and it's the sensor for the....
WHIDDEN: Motion through the water.
WHIDDEN: Okay, that pitometer sword is at the lowest point on the ship which is right aft of the IC Room. It is only about two and half or three feet below the deck of the IC Room. It is approximately six feet long and when we were pulling inport you had to pull it up, close the valve, and when you exited port where you had plenty of depth, you would open the valve and reinsert it. And in the meantime in order to maintain the accuracy of the gyros you had to manually crank in the speed that you felt you were doing through the water, otherwise your gyros had an error in them by the fact that they didn't sense the motion.
WHIDDEN: Okay. It was interesting because we were, like I say, these four vessels were the first four vessels in the U.S. that you could read longitude and latitude off the face of the gyro, which you couldn't in any other vessels in the Navy.
KARLSEN: So you just did one tour then, right?
WHIDDEN: Yes. When I got out of the service I was hired by RCA Factory Service. My first job was installing cable TV in hospitals.
KARLSEN: No kidding?
WHIDDEN: That only lasted three months because business got bad in 1957 and they didn't get another job so it was union; last there is first one laid off.
A friend of mine was working for what was then Harrison Laboratories in New Jersey and when he found out that I may be laid off he said, "Hey, they're looking for people in New Jersey", and he said, "Call them and let them know that you're laid off." So I called them the Wednesday, I think it was, that I was going to get laid off so he had a couple of days.
He set up an interview for me in Harrison Labs in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. I went in there at 8 o'clock, was interviewed at coffee break time. They said, "I've called your friend. He's going to take you over and show you around, and the division owner at that time wants to talk to you after coffee break." So it was interesting because when he came back he said, "We like that you're Navy. We like your credentials and everything, and we'd like to hire you. When would you like to start?"
Now this is three or four days before Christmas. I said, "Well how about after the 1st of the year",because I had two days worth of clothes with me. I didn't have the slightest thought I was going to stay. And he said, "Well you're a young guy. You just had a child born." He said, "Why don't you sit down right now?" So I walked into Harrison Laboratories at 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock I sat down. And the following February Hewlett Packard bought them out, and I worked for them for 25 years.
KARLSEN: Wow, they must have recognized the tremendous value that you brought to the job.
WHIDDEN: Well part of it was my Navy additional experience and of course my technical education, which is what my friend had, and the reason they wanted to interview me in the first place.
Williamsport, at that point, was called Williamsport Technical Institute, which now is part of the Penn State program. As a matter of fact, in relation to that, Hewlett Packard sent me to JPL in Pasadena, CA. That's where I sat and watched the first astronauts go into space.
So I worked for Hewlett Packard for 25 years. My job many times was involved with military stuff. And one of the stories that probably would fit in here, a couple years ago the division manager in Rockaway, New Jersey got a call from a carrier Captain who was having a problem with our part, and it got passed down the chain both ways, and I wound up with an Engineering Officer on the phone. And he said, "You have one half hour to help my electrician solve this problem or I'm sending an F-14 jet to Morristown Airport to pick you up." And he said, "Have you ever landed on a carrier?" I said, "No." He said, "Well you might find out in the next two hours."
WHIDDEN: Fortunately, my experience, because I had worked on every product that I was a service engineer for, inside of about 20 minutes I helped him isolate the problem so I never had to find out what it was like to land on a carrier.
KARLSEN: Too bad in a way I guess.
WHIDDEN: Yes, but you know that morning I was not really thinking about landing on a carrier.
Let's see, lessons, outlooks and values you took away from your naval service that helped you in future years?
WHIDDEN: Well specifically it just helped me grow up. You know my mother was a teacher. My parents were very instructive in everything, but the Navy gave me a different personality in some respects, and of course a lot of very specific training. I've got almost 30 years now as a volunteer fireman. My fire training and my ability to make quick decisions helped me both in my electronic background as well as.... I mean you know some of your more important tests that you had to live with you took at 2 o'clock in the morning after they ran you ragged and how you made decisions in tight situations.
So you know your military certainly teaches you to do things; follow instructions, follow orders automatically, and that's something you don't learn in a college course.
KARLSEN: Did you return to Williamsport, Pennsylvania?
WHIDDEN: No, we lived there until about February of 1962 and I moved to New Jersey where I lived until August of 2005 when I sold my house and I'm presently living in Delaware near the Dover Air Force Base.
KARLSEN: You mentioned community involvement in terms of your lengthy service with the volunteer fire department. That's really impressive.
WHIDDEN: And I had 20 years with the Memorial Day parade and other functions around town. Also, I've been involved in the American Legion as Secretary. Of course you know I've got 14 years as Secretary of our Association.
WHIDDEN: And 15 years now as a Director. I don't know if it's 15 or 16 [chuckle]. At one point I was Secretary for three organizations so that really kept me busy but it also kept me out of trouble [chuckle].
KARLSEN: How many reunions have you been to?
WHIDDEN: All of them. As a matter of fact I received an award for perfect attendance last year, and of course an award for my contribution as the Secretary.
KARLSEN: Sure. Well deserved.
WHIDDEN: As we found out in the meeting this morning Jim and I may wind up getting involved again [chuckle].
KARLSEN: Lucky you, huh?
WHIDDEN: Well there's no way I can keep up as Secretary with preparing a house, selling it, and I was homeless for nine months; rich and homeless.
KARLSEN: Well if you've got to be homeless, rich is a good way to do it, huh?
One question I have to ask you, do you swear that everything you've told me is the truth?
KARLSEN: Only kidding. That's good.
WHIDDEN: I'm sure that when I look at it written out I will say, "Well I should have told him this and I should have told him that", but what comes to mind now.
KARLSEN: Well now's the time.
WHIDDEN: Well I had notes so....
KARLSEN: Yes, that was helpful. That was a good way to do it.
Any final thoughts or observations?
WHIDDEN: No, I think I will leave this with the fact that I am very proud and honored to have served with this group. I think that because of the missiles and the Little Rock being the showboat, I suspect that the Navy put a lot more effort into the selection of personnel that were put aboard. And as a result we.... I think it was John Sheppard who said at one point, "When we had problems somebody seemed to figure a way around them", which many times doesn't happen in other circumstances.
So the fact that you had a better level of people, I think, led to better camaraderie and everything aboard ship.
And I think that also helped when it came to the Association. And I really enjoyed when I was Secretary, getting somebody's name that I haven't heard or thought of in 30 or 35 years and I get their address and phone number. Oh, that's one thing I didn't put on. John Mabrito, with this bus trip that we were taking across Pennsylvania...
KARLSEN: What's his name again?
WHIDDEN: John Mabrito; M-A-B-R-I-T-O I think it was. He was an IC3 at the time and like I said, he went through the gyro school. We got his address I would guess about five years ago I called his home. A woman answered. I had no idea who she was. I don't know today. But at any rate he's in Utah as I remember. And I said, "Is John there", and she said, "No, he's a truck driver and he's out on the road." I said, "Well when do you expect him back", and she said, "He won't be in until Friday night. He's here weekends." I said, "Well was he in the Navy", and she said, "Oh yes." I said, "Do you know if he was on the Little Rock" and she said, "I really don't know. I know he was aboard ship but I have no idea of the name of it." I said, "Well, when he comes back Friday would you ask him if he remembers a bus trip across Pennsylvania in a blizzard and if he remembers that, have him give me a call back."
And that Friday night I'm sitting at home about 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock, and the phone rings and John's on the phone and he says, "John Whidden?' "Yes" "I'm John Mabrito." He said, "I sure remember that." He said, "As a matter of fact how's your sister", and I said, "Very good, why?", and I had forgotten about her going along with us when we went to the movies that night but he remembered that after all these years.
Unfortunately he's never joined the Association but it was interesting to call and talk to him for a few minutes after, at that point, at least 30 if not 35 years and we have his name and everything but he has no interest in joining the Association. But you can imagine his surprise at getting a phone call from me after all these years.
KARLSEN: Yes, how fun for you that must have been.
WHIDDEN: And he never forgot the Pennsylvania trip either.
WHIDDEN: But it's really been super to.... like Sheppard. Even though he.... well he's the one that talked me into accepting the Secretary's position in 1991. He said, "John, I'm in California. The organization.... we can't have all the delays in the mail and everything." He said, "Stuff is sent out here and I mail it back." He said, "It's too hard to get the organization going". And after all those years when he said, "I need you to take the job", I fortunately, or unfortunately, said, "Yes."
KARLSEN: Well fortunately for us I think.
WHIDDEN: If I had a question or something as far as the organization or whatever, John would sit on the phone for an hour giving us advice and whatever. So I know both Jim Kays and I both very much appreciated it, and much of the advice and inputs that he gave us to help steer us in the right direction.
KARLSEN: That's great.
WHIDDEN: We did the work with his advice.
KARLSEN: Yes, very good. That's great.
Okay, anything else John; your last chance?
WHIDDEN: Not that I can think of.
KARLSEN: Set the record straight or add any information you'd like to .
. . .
WHIDDEN: No, but, like I said, I'm sure six months from now I'll say, "Why didn't I say this", but I'm sure everybody says that. But like I said, we'll leave it with I met a lot of very interesting and informative people and I enjoy getting together.
WHIDDEN: The fact that I've made all the reunions says I must like it.
KARLSEN: This ends the interview with John Whidden. Gus Karlsen, interviewer, and John Whidden, interviewee; July 14th; Bastille Day, 2006.
END OF INTERVIEW
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