U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Frank Berglas
Interviewer: Rod Ritterbusch
RITTERBUSCH: I will be interviewing Frank BERGLAS, who served in the CLG 4. This is Tape #R-1. We are at the 16th annual reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Buffalo, New York. The date is 19 July 2007. The purpose of this interview is to get to know Frank and, from his recollections, learn more about life and duty as an enlisted man aboard the USS Little Rock, CLG 4, during his tenure of service from December 1959 through November of 1961.
Now, Frank, for background, please summarize your early life, education, work experience, if any, before joining the Navy.
BERGLAS: I was born in 1940 in Forest Hills, Queens, in New York City, and I graduated high school early, at age fifteen. I had been accepted to college, but on the eve of going to college I felt I was very young. I was going to Ohio State, and it was a very big school and it scared me. I had been working for my uncle, who had an insurance agency, and so I delayed going to college and kept working in the insurance business, which was to prove fruitful for me after I came out of the Navy. I eventually, after about a year, went to college in New York at City College of New York, which at that time was a free school. It was very difficult. I enjoyed it, but my father got ill and I started to get sort of discouraged with schooling. I knew that if I quit I was going to be drafted — this was 1959 — and I didn’t want to be drafted into the Army. I figured, since it was something that all young men at that time had to face, I’d get my service out of the way, and I realized that the Navy had a special program that they were offering where you could join the reserves but go to boot camp and do your two years’ active duty immediately. And so I enlisted at that time. That was 1959.
RITTERBUSCH: So when was that, exactly?
BERGLAS: That was in October, 1959.
RITTERBUSCH: October of ’59.
RITTERBUSCH: And where?
BERGLAS: I enlisted in New York City down at Whitehall Street.
RITTERBUSCH: That’s where I went in, also. Briefly describe boot camp and any schools or assignments you had before you reported to the USS Little Rock.
BERGLAS: Well, I remember my arrival in boot camp. It was in a freezing November evening. They took us out there by train from New York City, and I think we had the milk train, because we must have made forty-five or fifty stops. We went via Montreal. Anyway, wound up in Great Lakes Naval Training Center and the wind was blowing about thirty knots and it was about twenty below zero, and I immediately wondered what I had done to myself.
We were split up into companies, as usual, and for some reason I got picked to be the mail clerk for the company, and as a result I never stood any watches. I never held a rifle, never marched, because I was always sort of handled very carefully because I was the guy who was on the mail runs. So I had a very good boot camp, to say the least.
I was assigned to the Little Rock right from boot camp, of course. But at that time the crew was not reporting to Little Rock because it wasn’t ready to take sailors then. Most of the crew was being assembled up in Newport. And so after my recruit leave I went up to Newport to go with the rest of the crew. And the second morning I was there a chief petty officer came into the barracks and called out three names, one of which was mine, and lined the three of us up. And he said, “One of you guys is going to be the ship’s legal yeoman. Who wants to volunteer to go to Naval Justice School?” - which was right there at Newport. And, even though I remembered my dad before I got on the train telling me don’t ever volunteer for anything, (chuckle) it sounded like a pretty good deal, so I raised my hand. And I went to Naval Justice School. And that was, if I remember correctly, about six weeks, something like that, right there in Newport. In the meantime most of the crew was slowly now filtering down to the ship, which was in Philadelphia.
I spent six weeks at Naval Justice School. I was a seaman recruit at that time and most of the guys, they were first-class petty officers and chiefs. But somehow I got through it, and that gave me my billet on the ship as sort of the legal secretary or court reporter.
RITTERBUSCH: So you reported to the Rock when she was down in Philadelphia getting first fitted out, I guess.
RITTERBUSCH: What was your impression of the ship?
BERGLAS: A lot bigger than I thought. It was sitting in drydock so you could see the whole keel on it. It was, again, a bitter cold winter day with huge icicles hanging off, and I’ll never forget the sight. It was very odd. And, of course, I got assigned to my bunk and they showed me where the legal office was. My initial impression was that it was a mess, with a lot of workmen running all over it and scrambling around the ship.
RITTERBUSCH: What was the division you were in and the department assignment?
BERGLAS: I was assigned to X Division, Executive Division. My job was to be the legal yeoman of the ship and to support the Legal Officer, who reported directly to the Executive Officer.
RITTERBUSCH: Did you have a watch station besides that?
BERGLAS: I didn’t. I never stood a watch.
RITTERBUSCH: Oh, that was pretty good.
BERGLAS: As a matter of fact, nobody in X Division ever stood watches.
RITTERBUSCH: And no battle station either?
BERGLAS: Yeah, I had a battle station, as a matter of fact. My battle station was as the captain’s phone talker on, I guess it was the JA, whatever the main battle line was, a JA line, JA circuit. So that gave me a very interesting insight into what went on.
RITTERBUSCH: So while you were on board the ship there were cruises and operations while you were aboard?
RITTERBUSCH: Would you describe those?
BERGLAS: Yeah, briefly, Rod. Of course, we went on shakedown immediately, pretty soon after I went aboard. We went down to the Caribbean and we did our shakedown. We fired the missiles a couple of times, and we fired the guns. And we had a little leave in Guantanamo Bay then, too. We went ashore there.
Then we went back to Philadelphia and we made another couple of trips to the Caribbean. This was in 1960. And then from about middle 1960 to the end of 1960 we were on the East Coast between Philadelphia and Norfolk, but mostly we were preparing for our deployment to the Mediterranean, which happened in February of 1961. We went over there to relieve the flag of the Sixth Fleet.
RITTERBUSCH: Mm-hmm. Which was what, then? Do you remember?
BERGLAS: It was the Newport News, I think. I think it was, yeah.
RITTERBUSCH: All right. Heavy cruiser.
BERGLAS: Yeah, yeah. The change of command was at Mallorca. We had a very rough crossing. It was in February, ’61. And we spent from February, ’61, to about late September or early October in the Med, because they had all the usual ports. We were on a sort of a goodwill tour. We were one of the first missile cruisers.
RITTERBUSCH: All right. What were the memorable, interesting ports of call?
BERGLAS: Yes, there were a lot of them. I remember the first one was Malta, which I thought was very interesting. I had read a lot about Malta and what happened to that island during the war, how it got pounded. And it was nice to see the way it had been rebuilt. It was like a stone fortress sort of rising out of the sea. The people had to have a great constitution, as you would expect, having undergone what they did in the late forties.
We had a couple of calls at Piraeus and Athens, which I found really nice. And I have to add that, because we didn’t have any watches in the X Division, we had a lot of time to do touring (chuckle). I don’t want to rub it in, but I remember one day when we were in Naples we took a short excursion to Rome and I was walking along.... of course, we were in our uniforms. We were walking along in Rome in our uniforms and a horse and buggy came by us on the street — we were on the sidewalk — and sort of slowed down. There were two elderly Americans in the buggy, and they sort of called out to us, and we said, “Hi,” and asked us where we were from. And then they said, “You’re seeing the same things that we are except you’re getting paid for it and we had to pay a lot for this trip.”
One of the most interesting ports, I think, of all, was when we went to Bordeaux, France, which was the first time an American man-of-war had gone there in I don’t know how many years. And that entailed going out of the Med, around into the Bay of Biscay and up the Garonne River quite a ways. And the river was very shallow and very narrow. We had a pilot aboard and there was a lot of concern. I remember we were at special sea detail and I was up with the captain, and he was biting his nails — we could see the mud coming up from the bottom — that we were going to catch. But we were okay. And then when we came out to go back into the Med we hit one of those tremendous storms that they have in the Bay of Biscay, and so this was really frightening.
There were a lot of other great ports, too, but I could go on forever about that.
RITTERBUSCH: How about living conditions on the ship? What about the quality of the food, ship services, things like that?
BERGLAS: Oh, the living conditions were wonderful on the ship. You know, we won all sorts of awards. We were very proud of the ship. There was a terrific morale on that ship in those days, as I think continued afterwards. We had an excellent crew and everybody did their job well. The food was great. The ship services - I mean, there was really nothing to complain about. There was plenty of recreation, always things going on. It was great. It was really very good.
RITTERBUSCH: Okay. How about close buddies? Colorful characters that you may have encountered in your naval career?
BERGLAS: Well, I had a couple of close buddies, one of whom stayed in the Navy and unfortunately died at a very young age, of 48. As a matter of fact, we had his widow and a couple of his children at one of our reunions, about two or three years ago. His name was Gene Mason. They came and I got up at the banquet and made a little speech about him. And his widow presented me with a video that his children had made of some great movies that he made back in ’61. And so I saw myself when I was twenty years old on the ship, which was sort of scary.
I had two other very close buddies, one of whom I’ve located, living in Florida. He was high-lined over from the Des Moines. Well, he had been on the Des Moines and he leapfrogged a couple of ships to get to us somewhere in the Med. And I had a third very close friend who I have not been able to locate, and I’ve been looking for him for about twenty years. I’ve used all sorts of services to try and find him but I haven’t done it.
RITTERBUSCH: Can you recall any moments of great shock, fear, or excitement that occurred?
BERGLAS: Well, fear. We always knew that the ship was sort of top-heavy, and I remember early on, right after our first shakedown cruise, it was discovered that she was so top-heavy that she was in danger of capsizing. So we went back into Philadelphia and I remember they came in and cut a big hole in the deck and poured I don’t know how many tons of lead into the hull of that ship. And so when we hit this storm in the Bay of Biscay when we were doing I don’t know what kind of degree rolls, we were pretty scared then.
There was also another time when I was up at general quarters with the captain, when an alarm went off in the missile house. I didn’t know what it was but everybody was scurrying around. It was a pretty serious thing. And the captain was calm, and just kept staring out with those blue eyes of his. And somebody came up to him and said, “Captain, Captain,” you know, such and such alarm is going off. And the captain says, “It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “If it’s a false alarm, it’s a false alarm.” He said, “If it’s for real we’re not going to be here very much longer, so don’t worry about it.”
RITTERBUSCH: Who was the captain, by the way?
BERGLAS: Captain Chenault at that time. So, yeah, those are couple of incidents that I remember.
RITTERBUSCH: Do you have any interesting recollections of your Leading Petty Officers? Division Officer? Of course, Captain Chenault, or the XO or anybody in your chain of command?
BERGLAS: Yeah. The XO was, to me, the epitome of what a Naval officer should be. His name was Francis J. Berry. Commander Berry was as shipshape as any officer I’d ever seen. One of my jobs was to issue the Plan of the Day every night for the next day. The XO would give us the schedule of events for the next day, and then I would fill out the balance of the material. He was nutty in that he had to have both sides of a page completely full. So I would look through all the Navy manuals and find things to put in the POD which, I guess, most people didn’t even read. Anyway, I’d type it up on an old Underwood typewriter - type up a stencil because we had a mimeograph machine. And I’d take this stencil up to the XO’s cabin and, you know, I’d go in there. He’d usually be in his skivvies doing his exercises, pushups or something or other, and he’d have me sit there. He was great because — now, here I was, I was, in my two years the only grade I could make was third class, which I did. So here I was a third-class petty officer sitting in there with the XO. He just asked me about my family and how things were going, and then he’d sign the Plan of the Day and we’d mimeograph it and go scurrying all over the ship handing it out.
But he was really an inspiration to me. And, as a matter of fact, about twenty-five years later I met him for dinner once down in Arlington. He had quit the Navy. He made captain and then he quit the Navy, and he was very bitter about his time in the Navy. He became a CPA in real life, and it was sort of discouraging to me to see that this bright, shining guy had wound up like that.
RITTERBUSCH: How about the admirals and the flag staff that would be on board the ship. Did you have any interaction with them?
BERGLAS: Yeah, I did, I did, mainly because of the legal stuff that went on aboard the ship. I’d have to go to the admiral’s cabin to get him to sign off on some things sometimes. I remember we had Admiral Williamson, was Sixth Fleet admiral, and we had an Admiral Davis. They were both rear admirals, I believe, if I remember correctly, at that time.
Yeah, here I was, a young kid, again, a petty officer. It was sort of weird having to go up to the Marine orderly and get into the cabin of the admiral. But they were both very nice. I remember Admiral Williamson was usually standing at the railing with his fishing pole, fishing in the Med, but I don’t think he ever caught anything. (Chuckle)
RITTERBUSCH: Where and when did you detach from the Rock?
BERGLAS: I detached from the Little Rock just about as soon as we got back from the Mediterranean, in October or November of 1961. I got out about a month early because I wanted to go back to college. I had been accepted, and the Navy let me out a month early — well, I got detached from active duty. I was still in the Reserves, although I never attended any meetings or did any of that.
RITTERBUSCH: So you got an early out for CCNY.
BERGLAS: Yeah, that’s right.
RITTERBUSCH: What was your overall impression of your tour on the ship?
BERGLAS: Well, I think it was probably the greatest two years of my life. I went aboard at nineteen years old and when I came out I was forty. I mean, I really grew up. It was wonderful camaraderie. And as you can see we’re back here forty years later, still patting everybody on the back and shaking hands. Those two years were probably the singular event of my life.
RITTERBUSCH: So you really didn’t have an extended Navy service career.
RITTERBUSCH: What type of enlistment was that called?
BERGLAS: At that time they called it the Quebec program.
RITTERBUSCH: I’ve never heard of that one.
BERGLAS: Yeah. It was two years active immediately. I did my full ten weeks of basic training just like any other Navy enlistee would have done, and then after the two years I was supposed to serve, I think, two active Reserve and two inactive. I never heard from the Navy again. (Laughter) I think they lost track of me. So that was that.
RITTERBUSCH: All right. So when you left the Navy you went back to college.
BERGLAS: Yes, I did.
RITTERBUSCH: And after college what civilian job did you return to?
BERGLAS: I went back with the insurance business, because that’s really all I knew. I got a job with a life insurance company in downtown Manhattan. I was an accountant. I was always fairly good with figures, although I had no special training as an accountant. My college degree was in biology because I wanted to be a dentist. Thank God I never became a dentist. (Laughter) And so I just stayed in the insurance business.
After my first job I had another one with a very large insurance company called AIG, which I guess everybody knows about. At AIG I learned a specialty within the insurance business called a reinsurance business, and I went into another company which I became president of when I was thirty-six, and stayed there as president for about five years. And then started up a new reinsurance company in New York for a big company in Germany that wanted to start a company in New York, and I spent my last sixteen years running that company. I retired at the age of fifty-six.
RITTERBUSCH: What lessons, outlooks, and values did you take away from your Naval service to help you in your career in future years?
BERGLAS: Well, first of all, I learned how to take and accept responsibility at an early age. I think we all did when we were in the Navy, and I think we had a lot more responsibility at early ages than most teenagers certainly would have had. And I also learned about being organized and being prepared, knowing what you had to do, being prepared to do it. And I think that helped me immeasurably in my civilian career.
RITTERBUSCH: How about your place of residence, your family, and community involvement? Any volunteer activity you do now.
BERGLAS: I live in Westchester County, New York, about fifty miles north of New York City. It’s very rural where we live. I have two children. My son is a supervising agent in the New York office of the FBI, and he protects me. (Chuckle) And my daughter was a director of an art museum in New York. Now she’s just home as a mommy. I have four grandchildren. And I’m involved on the school board in my community. I have been on the school board. I had two directorships of public corporations. And right now the only volunteer work I do is acting as secretary for this Association.
RITTERBUSCH: Okay. How long have you been a member of the Little Rock Association?
BERGLAS: I’ve been a member since, I think, 1991. And I’ve been to all the reunions save two. I missed two.
RITTERBUSCH: Well, how did you find out about the Association?
BERGLAS: Somebody, I forget who, but somebody called me once in the late eighties or early nineties and told me that the Little Rock still exists — I mean, I thought it had been gone; I thought it had been razor blades —and it was sitting in Buffalo. And I packed up my whole family — I had two small children at that time, teenagers — and we came up here and I saw the ship, and I saw the information about the Association. And I also had... my division officer on the ship was Jerry Dupuis, who is the President of the Association now, and Jerry and I bumped into each other twenty-five years after we separated, in a restaurant in Manhattan. And he told me about it, too. So I joined as soon as I knew about it.
RITTERBUSCH: You said you went to all the reunions except for two?
BERGLAS: Except two, yeah.
RITTERBUSCH: So that would be fourteen.
BERGLAS: I guess so, yeah.
RITTERBUSCH: Wow. That’s amazing. But you were not an Association founder.
BERGLAS: No. I’m an officer now, and a director. I’ve been a director since, I think, ’92. And I’ve been secretary for two years now.
RITTERBUSCH: All right. Any final thoughts or observations you’d like to impart, a formal historical perspective, before we go out of here?
BERGLAS: No, I have nothing, really.
RITTERBUSCH: Okay. Well, then, this ends the interview with Frank Berglas, and I’ve labeled it as tape R-1.
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