U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: John Breslin
Interviewer: Don Schuld
SCHULD: Well, here we are. I am Don Schuld and I am going to be interviewing John Breslin, who served on the USS Little Rock CL 92. This is tape number one and we are at the 14th Annual Reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at the Adams Mark Hotel in Buffalo, New York. Today is 14 July 2005.
The purpose of the interview is to get to know John Breslin and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as a sailor aboard the USS Little Rock, during a part of its period of service from 1945-1949.
So, John let us began. This is kind of a three-part question. When, where and why did you join the Navy?
BRESLIN: It was in Philadelphia at the nearest recruitment office. I joined in mid-December of 1944. I could not be sworn in until my father could get a day off from the shipyard. He had to go over and sign with me. I was working in the Navy Yard in Philly and he was working in the Camden Shipyard. The first day he got onto the evening shift, he was able to go with me by bus over to Philly. I was sworn in on January 2 and left immediately for boot camp.
He had talked me out of joining the Merchant Marine. He had been British Merchant Marine during the first war. I was always fascinated with his adventures and travel. He convinced me, and the papers said there were so many sinkings on our Jersey coast everyday, I said this is not the safest place.
SCHULD: No, the Merchant Marines had a pretty dangerous job.
BRESLIN: Every time on the beach you would find pieces of oil and stuff washing up, you know. I liked the looks of the new ships we were working on, so I was happy.
SCHULD: That covers the when and where. Why did join?
BRESLIN: I just assumed everybody did. I loved the service. I always figured I would get in the Merchant Marine. I would like to have been made an officer eventually.
I ended up in the Navy. Luckily, I even got to pick my ship by accident, because they were looking for two drafts of men right after boot camp. They were interviewing what you were most suited for. I told them possibly AMPHIBS because I was already running LCMs and LCVPs in the Navy Yard. I was doing that kind of work as a rigger's helper. I was just moving the boats and barges around. They asked me questions all about that. They got a Chief in to ask me about LCMs. He said, “Well, he knows his stuff, but look you are obviously a high school boy.”
I thought this does not sound too good. He said, “We have a place for high school boys. You will be either radar or fire control. Which would you rather be?”
I said, “Well, I do not know that much about either. What kind of ships?”
He said, “Light cruisers, there are two of them being fitted and they are looking for trainees.”
I said, “What are the names of the ships?”
“They do not have names, just hull numbers right now.”
“What numbers? I know the numbers of all the ships I have been working on and what my dad...”
He said, “535.”
I said, “Give me that one.” I knew it was being built in Camden, which is three miles from my home, and my dad would be working on it because he was on 534. My uncle was on 533.
He said, “Okay.” That will be the Little Rock, it turned out to be. “I have 535, but that will mean you will have to study radar.”
Radar or fire control that was all right. Then I was so pleased when I found out that it was being built in Cramp USS Providence CL 82. That would have worked out excellent too, because my girlfriend was in Massachusetts and that would have been in the Fore River Yards. Either way I would have been right near friends while the ship was being fitted out.
SCHULD: Did you say that the hull number was 535?.
BRESLIN: That was the job number, New York Shipbuilding ship’s number, job number 535.
SCHULD: So, the CL 92 had a job number of what?
SCHULD: Five-three-five, that is interesting, and I do not think a lot of people know that.
BRESLIN: Well that would be just for the men getting the job; you are going to [unclear] to this hull or that hull.
SCHULD: When and where did you report to the Little Rock?
BRESLIN: June 15, two days before commissioning, we came to Philadelphia and we went right aboard. Then it was commissioned.
SCHULD: What was you initial impression, as you arrived there?
BRESLIN: I was very pleased how bright, clean, and beautiful compared considering I had been working on a lot of damaged warships, foreign warships (British, French, Dutch, German, Brazilian) every kind. We were working on all these wrecks. This was beautiful.
SCHULD: When you said you were working on those ships, how?
BRESLIN: In the Navy Yard. I went there right out of high school.
SCHULD: So, you did get a job at the Navy Yard?
BRESLIN: Oh, yes I was working there as a riggers helper, like $.89 an hour was the rate at the time.
SCHULD: Is that right?
BRESLIN: The people told me the money they made. All wages were frozen through the war. $1.20 an hour was made by a skilled man no matter if he was a welder, electrician, no matter what he was. A specialist like a deep-sea diver gets extra or something like that, but any just electrician or machinist…
SCHULD: Your dad worked in the same shipyard?
BRESLIN: No, he worked in Camden. I wanted to work there, but you had to be 18 to work there. The Navy would take kids at 16 already.
SCHULD: In Philly?
BRESLIN: In Philly, yes. So, I had to cross the river by motorboat everyday. My father took the bus up the street, and I took the motorboat across the river.
SCHULD: Oh, for heaven’s sakes.
BRESLIN: We both went to work that way. All my uncles, they all worked in those yards.
SCHULD: What was your division assignment, job when you reached the ship?
BRESLIN: I had already been assigned to the I Division in Newport. We trained in two other little ships first. We trained in Newport (Rhode Island); Brigantine, New Jersey; and Little Creek, Virginia. We were on that Presidential yacht, Mayflower, Teddy Roosevelt’s old yacht.
SCHULD: But you went to I Division?
BRESLIN: I Division, yes, it was called the Little Rock detail, Gordy and all those fellows were there.
SCHULD: Yes, I spoke with Gordy.
How about your watch station?
BRESLIN: On the ship, yes, in the beginning we were just radar. The I Division was separate from the L (Lookout) Division during the shakedown cruise, because they had such a big crew on board, 1280 some people. We just ran radars or worked in the CIC. I usually ran the SG radar in the surface search.
Then they combined, when they cut the crews down the L Division was eliminated and they blended them into the ship’s force. Some of them came into our group and we took over the lookout duties. I would say about half radar operators and half forward and aft lookouts with field glasses up high.
SCHULD: I was in OI Division also. We also bunked with the OL Division, with the lookouts. So, they kept OI and OL together.
BRESLIN: Oh, they did. I know they merged them together. I would say just about 50/50 for fore and aft lookout with glasses and all watch around clock, underway. I also operated search radar once in awhile to give training in CIC and plotting. All our basic training was plotting and all that stuff. We never repaired anything. We just operated it, and made the plots right on the big glass board
SCHULD: With the grease pencil?
BRESLIN: Write backwards and all that, I learned that real quick.
SCHULD: Yes, I did all of that too.
BRESLIN: Once in awhile I would be the talker on the bridge, talking to all the lookouts and CIC. They always had a talker on the bridge. . So, sometimes I would do that. In shore, I often was sent down to operate the ship-to-shore switchboard that they hooked up in the IC room down way below deck. I did that overseas with a little Portuguese and Spanish dictionary. I did it in Philly and got all the lines mixed up. It was fun.
SCHULD: What about your battle station?
BRESLIN: That was on the Main Deck, the amidships passageway. It was a radar, secondary control for a Number 3 mount. They all fired from the main secondary battery, the director up top. Then they could switch, and each mount could fire individually if the director was blown. They had a guy sitting in this little room, which was me. There was also a fire control unit in that little tiny closet. They never manned it because they did not have enough men. The secondary fire control was never used; it just sat there. I operated the radar for that. That was my GQ station, and the cleaning station.
SCHULD: When the ship was deployed, describe some of the operations that you were involved in during its deployment.
BRESLIN: Yes, according to watch, I was a lookout watch. I enjoyed that very much, because I witnessed several spectacular air rescues…
SCHULD: It took you outside anyway.
BRESLIN: Yes, I watched demonstrations on the pier when people would riot and stuff like that. I could talk over the phones and describe to the CIC. It was like a broadcast, a lot of broadcasting.
SCHULD: Did they have those two big circular bays up on the O3 or O4 level forward that the lookouts used when I was aboard?
BRESLIN: It was a very small O…
SCHULD: It was a seat, and a round O…
BRESLIN: Yes, it was not very big though. You sat like it was a bicycle seat; with like bicycle handlebars and the glasses were mounted on that handlebar. As you looked, you could glance down and the compass direction was showing there. If you see something you just glanced and said it is 0-5-5 or whatever.
We had two forward air lookouts. Below them, there was what they called surface lookouts; they were inside that steel the coning tower. There were little slits they could look out. They were supposed to watch for ships, too. Actually it was four pairs of eyes forward, and four aft underway, two aft air and two aft surface.
After the war and after the atomic bomb and all that we came back from shakedown. After that, we cut the crew down and then we just had air lookouts. We did not man the surface; they did everything. I enjoyed that reporting, everything you saw.
SCHULD: What do you recall about some of the ports of call, some of the more interesting ones?
BRESLIN: I had the time of my life. I cannot imagine a more enjoyable cruise.
SCHULD: You were eighteen then.
BRESLIN: I just turned eighteen. I was in Rio three different times Montevideo, Valparaiso. I think it was 14 different South American cities.
SCHULD: During that tour?
BRESLIN: Yes, plus Trinidad and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then the stateside places. Rio, Montevideo, Valparaiso, Lima, Peru, they were all fun, great adventures.
SCHULD: It is no secret that sailors did various things during their visits in port. Some of them of course would go on tours and see the sights, and some of them never left the inside of barroom. What did you do?
BRESLIN: I did everything I could. I had some very interesting side trips. I was with a group that went to Vina del Mar, the Chilean naval academy. They took us out there and actually, we rode in British Bren gun carriers. Those little square boxes like a tank tread with a steel box and tommy-gun on it. The Chileans had them too. They did not have enough trucks for everybody. So, we rode all the way from Valparaiso out to Vina del Mar in one of these little half-truck type things and had a big banquet with the Chilean sailors.
I went to another in Uruguay. A picnic in some combination brewery and bird sanctuary up in the mountains. There was a big beer party for everybody with the employees of the beer company. We had a party up there. It was an old wood-burning steam train took us on that. During the middle of that, we ran into a locust swarm. We had to stop the train and close the windows…it was swarming all over the prairie. It was something you never expected to see in this day and age, just like a biblical thing.
Of course, in Rio the night life there, the beaches, the girls, it was tremendous excitement and fun.
SCHULD: Did you have enough money?
BRESLIN: Never enough, no. You could get by; everybody was so friendly. You had no problem as everybody was treating you and stuff like that. The pay was very small even with sea pay. I think it was $50.00 a month for a seaman first, and you got 20% extra at sea. So, that was $60.00 month. Out of that, they took money for the compulsory insurance. I got $22.00 twice a month, $44.00 a month to spend. Out of that, I was supporting people at home. As soon as the war ended, my father was laid off and he did not work any more, he was pretty sickly. I actually was able to save money on cruise. So, it was a good time, and while I was in Lima, Peru, I sent money home enough for half a down payment on the house we lived in for about 50 years.
SCHULD: Oh, my god.
BRESLIN: I sent $500.00 home; the down payment was $1000.00.
SCHULD: That is amazing.
BRESLIN: The whole house, at that time, was $2950.00 (a six room brick house).
SCHULD: Is that right?
BRESLIN: The row houses like they have in Philadelphia, ours was in New Jersey.
SCHULD: Probably still standing, would you not think?
BRESLIN: Yes, we sold it for about $70,000.00 when we moved to Connecticut. That is a nice increase from $3,000.00 to $70,000.00; of course, from 1945 to 1946 I never even saw it. We went half and half; he bought it with me. He had a little shipyard money left.
SCHULD: We have learned from a number of the CL 92 sailors that there were some incidents that took place during the South American cruise between the U.S. sailors and Brazilian civilians. I guess they treated some of the local girls unkindly and were attacked as a result.
BRESLIN: That was a big dispute. Fortunately, I did not see it. We docked in Santos and it was our turn for liberty. We did not get in until about sunset. They only let us out for about two hours. We could just walk up the main drag and have a drink or something. We had to get back by 10:00.
SCHULD: What city was it in?
BRESLIN: Santos, was the port, San Paulo was where the riot was. That was General Motors; there was a big auto factory there, American auto factory. They have Japanese factories and everything right now. They laid on a train trip for the liberty section, and several hundred of them volunteered to go up. This was going to be a day’s outing, tour the auto plant and I guess dinner and drinks. They found out later there was a huge Japanese colony there that was still upset over the war, the Black Dragons Society. Eight hundred thousand Japanese in that town at that time already. It is a big place like New York it is a huge city.
They had put in all these warnings in the paper about the American corsairs; the pirates were coming guard your little girls and all that. The rapists are here. This kind of stuff was in the paper. This is what the papers on our side, and what the Navy releases said. I do not know whether somebody did feel up some girl on the beach somewhere or whatever. It seemed all of a sudden people all over town started attacking American sailors.
The army came out and rescued them. Their army was very brutal, like the SS. They dressed like them, all German equipment, the helmets, the Lugers, you’d have thought you’re in Germany when you’re in Brazil. Many of those countries were very dictatorial, they still had a lot of dictators. They turned on the crowd, and they beat a lot of their own people. They had a lot of civilians injured by the army, plus the civilians injured 36 of our men. My buddy J.P. Guest from Camden, broke his leg, they turned an army truck over. The soldiers put them on a truck to bring them back on army trucks and the people overturned the truck.
SCHULD: Did the ship leave right after that?
BRESLIN: No, they made us single up the lines. We were restricted to the ship. They put our Marines ashore at the foot of the gangway with, I do not think they had submachine guns. I think they had just pistols then. The Brazilian soldiers at the end of the pier they lined the street out there with tommy-guns. It was called a Reising Gun, it fired rubber bullets but it had a drum-fed thing. They would shoot the people in the legs or backside, and drive them back. They were very cold. Of course, we were restricted and it was the week before Christmas. We felt so bad that we had no liberty there. Then we returned to Rio for Christmas, and we only had a one in four liberty there. Fortunately, the liberty was made more available after about two weeks or so, when the papers more or less said it was not all our fault.
I really do not know (about the riot) as I was sixty miles away. The worst part for us on duty, is that it was the only time while I was on the ship they had a food poisoning epidemic. Several hundred of our men, I do not know the source, food or what, but they were throwing up all over the place. The heads were plugged with vomit. No one was able to work. They took us up to help single up the line, radar up to single up the line. I did not mind if I had to do it, help them single up. Everybody was lying down, throwing up because of the food. I was getting needled because I was a chowhound and I ate all three meals and going like crazy all day. I was mad because I am not going to have liberty the next day.
SCHULD: So for awhile we were the ugly Americans?
BRESLIN: Oh yes, I have clippings from the Philadelphia papers. I had a lot of Brazilian clippings but they got all wet when we had a minor flood one time. I had to throw those newspapers out.
SCHULD: You mentioned you were a chowhound, how did you find the quality of food on the Little Rock?
BRESLIN: Very good, but a lot times they ran out of food because it seemed to me they gave liberty, say it was port and starboard, they figured half a crew was not going to be here tonight. So, at supper time they would make real small portions for everybody. If you were on the four to six watch, when you came down to the mess hall there was nothing left. Many times, I just had a supper of a slice of bread and leaves of lettuce with nothing else with it and what they called iced tea, you know big kettles where they made tea with a block of ice, no sugar, no lemon, just lukewarm tea. Again, I was happy I was having fun. I knew tomorrow I will be ashore having a great time again, so I did not care.
SCHULD: How did you find the living conditions on the ship?
BRESLIN: Not bad at all. I guess there were about 60 in our compartment. I was right below the main deck there. The galley was right above us, I believe, and below us was the mess hall. My rack was ideal, because there was a dumb waiter that came down between me and the racks of the other side of the aisle. There was an access panel there. So, naturally we had the wing nuts, we could always take that panel out. The big gallon cans of cherries or pineapple, we could always get some of that.
SCHULD: Strangely enough we had somewhat of a similar situation in that we were by the reefers. So, all the food had to pass right by the door of our compartment into the reefers, a watermelon occasionally worked its way into our compartment instead of going into the reefers.
BRESLIN: Yeah, you carry bananas aboard too and you come up the gangplank and everybody grabs one. You would have a full stock and when you got down to where they lower them down the hatch about half the bananas were gone. Everybody would steal one off the stock before you could get them down below.
SCHULD: You found the chow agreeable?
BRESLIN: Oh, I enjoyed it. I never left a meal. I was amazed at how they served the exact same meal twenty-one meals a week, never varied all year. It was the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu everyday except Christmas at Noon and Thanksgiving at Noon, and then you had turkey.
SCHULD: How about Sunday morning?
BRESLIN: I just forget what it was. Was that ham and eggs?
SCHULD: I think that was steak and eggs.
BRESLIN: Steak and eggs, I know there was a set menu. Friday night was beans and hot dogs or something, and at noon, it was always baked salmon. There was no other kind of fish. Even when we caught fish in harbor, we would offer. All the bass we caught we would throw them back to the men in the dories. We had no way to cook them and all. We would haul them in on hand lines, hundreds of them you know. It got so bad that they had to wash the ship, the whole side of the ship was covered with scales and blood where all the hand lines we pulled up with all the struggling fish. The Captain went off in the gig one day, and he saw the side of the ship was awful, fish guts and everything. That stopped the fishing.
SCHULD: Talking about the living conditions, your bunks of course were pretty close to one another?
BRESLIN: Yes, in our sections they were just three high. Some places I have seen they were four and five high around the barbettes there they were pretty high. I was the middle, they were assigned more or less by rank, they had first pick. There usually seemed to be Chief on the top and then a lower Petty Officer or a Seaman.
SCHULD: Were the Chiefs berthed with the rest of the men?
BRESLIN: No, not the Chiefs, I meant to say First-Class. Of our six, Bosun Barrow, Coxs’n Sullivan, Seaman Second Griggs. My side was Radarman Larkin and me, I was a Seaman First and then there was a Seaman Second under me. The good part was the guy at that aisle had a little oscillating fan on the overhead there. It would fan our aisle. There was no air-conditioning.
SCHULD: That is the other thing; I wondered how you fared during the summer months, particularly in South America. Did you find the compartment pretty sweltering?
BRESLIN: Yes, we usually slept on deck. At sea, we would haul our blanket and pillow up on deck. Of course, they dropped the big hatches and we only had the little scuttle. If a storm broke out you had about a hundred men trying to get their blanket and pillow down this little round hole. You were soaked to your skin. It was not bad at all sleeping in port on deck. Surprisingly, with the strong breezes and all, no mosquitoes, I was never bothered by vermin.
SCHULD: Did you have movies on the fantail?
BRESLIN: Every night, the same old ones. We loved them; we knew every line, Roy Acuff movies and a couple of John Garfield movies. We knew we could never start until the Captain came in. He had a seat in the first row. They all sat by rank and we all stood in the back. You could carry a chair up from the mess hall, and had to take it back. We caught most of the old Roy Acuff movies and sang along with him.
SCHULD: I think most of us had some pretty close buddies. That is the nature of human beings I think when they are all put together invariably people seem to pair off with someone they like. What are your recollections of your close buddies? Who are they?
BRESLIN: Gordy Wells, I made a lot of liberties with him, and Martin Toomey he was at a couple reunions. In fact, I ran into him just last year up in Connecticut. We were visiting friends who lived near him, so we had dinner with him.
SCHULD: Of course, Gordy is a member of our association and he is here this year.
BRESLIN: Yes, I had breakfast with him this morning. We always pal together. We used to double date when we were in Brazil. We always went on liberty together. Mostly you went on liberty with the men you were watch standers with. I became very close friends with the guys who slept right near with me too. Like Coxs’n Sullivan, he was a shipmate. He was of Mexican decent, William M. Sullivan. He had the black curly hair and the gold earring. He was the only guy allowed to wear a gold earring because of the China Fleet he was in, there was some permission or something, they called them the “Asiatic Bastards”, that was their nickname.
He had been over in China before the war. He was from Vallejo over in California. He had great stories. A big ladies man, a real handsome dude. He was always on the whaleboat. He was the one that rescued that pilot. Remember, I told you about that pilot that crashed.
SCHULD: Yes, we have photos of that pilot as a matter of fact.
BRESLIN: Yes, Merryweather. I had the thrill of describing that whole rescue; I was broadcasting that to the crew as it was happening.
SCHULD: Did you know Walde Lindemann by any chance?
BRESLIN: Just from here, I do not think I knew him. I may have seen him at that time, but I did not remember him. I did not know, other than a couple of guys in the deck force from my neighborhood, and other men from the I Division, I did not know too many other men. I remember certain ones stood out, different Bosuns Mates or Masters-of-Arms you would always remember them. Lt. Commander Pfeiffer, he was the countermeasures officer, he was a very friendly guy. He would always pal up with the guys.
SCHULD: Did you know Lefty Loeffler?
BRESLIN: No, I did not. Was he in the engine room? Oh a ship fitter, he was a ship fitter I guess.
SCHULD: I think that is what he was, yes. I am told he was one of the more colorful guys.
BRESLIN: He seemed like he was a funny guy.
SCHULD: Do you recall some of the more colorful shipmates?
BRESLIN: As I say, I always enjoyed Gordy and Toomey. There was a fellow Harrington from New York and Haskell who is from Texas now. I guess the most colorful guy I can think of is that Sullivan, just listening to his sea stories. Because he was older than me we never hung out together. He had about six or seven years on me. Several of the Petty Officers I have incidents and stories about.
There was one Radarman named Joe Borgia; he was my Petty Officer for the watch a lot of times. He used to tell us a lot of stories. He had been on the Battleship North Carolina. His shipmate on that was this musician Artie Shaw, good friends. He said, “Artie used to tell us all these stories about the Hollywood life and all.” In fact, he was married to Lana Turner for awhile.
SCHULD: Yes, Artie Shaw.
BRESLIN: Everybody would ask him: “Tell us about Artie Shaw, what did he say about Lana?” Because she was like the dream girl of the 1940's. He said, “It is like being married to mashed potatoes.” Oh, we were crushed! That movie “The Postman Rings Twice,” that was the big hit of that year and she was like the Marilyn Monroe of that day. We could not believe anything.
I used his name in later years, Artie was appearing in a dinner theater in Philadelphia. I thought, let us go see it; it was he and Vic Damone. It was a two part show, his orchestra and Vic Damone singing.
SCHULD: One of my favorite singers.
BRESLIN: Wait until I tell you. I called the waiter before the show even started. I said, “Listen, I am a good friend of a friend of Artie’s.” I told him he served with him in the service. I wrote the name down, J.R. Borgia. “Take the note backstage and ask if I could come back and meet him, bring my wife back.”
So, “Wait a minute, then send him back.”
He said, “Do not go now, go after the first set. He will have some time then.”
As soon as the first set was over and there was an intermission or something and Vic Damone was going to come on, and my wife said “You are going to miss Vic, I want to see Vic Damone.”
I said, “I will run back now, and tell him.”
I go back and the guy mistakenly must have told him it was Borga out there instead of a friend of Borga. I go out there, and as I am walking into the dressing room, I see Artie at the other door. He said, “Joe I will be back in a minute they called me into the office.” I wondered, he did not get…but he knew his name right away. He went out and he did not come back. So, this other guy sees me hanging in the dressing room. Who the heck am I, you know?
He said, “Can I help you?”
I said, “No, I am waiting for Artie.”
He said, “Well, he was called out. The office called him.” That [unclear] from the head office or I guess the hotel that ran this place or whatever.
I am still standing there and he said, “Are you sure I cannot help you?”
I said, “Who are you?”
He said, “Well, I am Vic Damone.” I did not know Vic Damone. I had never seen him. I knew he was a singer. It never occurred to me that mi, mi, mi is what they do before they sing. I thought he had a sore throat or something.
SCHULD: Actually, Vic Damone was known for doing a great deal of exercise. He really, unlike maybe someone like Sinatra, who smoked, Vic Damone had a reputation of being very careful about his voice. He was careful about what he ate and drank and that kind of thing.
BRESLIN: I always heard opera singers did that, mi, mi, mi in practice.
When I came back she said, “Well, did you see your buddy.”
I said, “I did not know him. I just wanted to see if he remembered Borgia. I wanted to ask him about Borga.” I said, “No, I met some other guy, the Vic Damone guy talked to me.”
“Oh, why didn’t you take me back!”
“You did not want to go, I offered to take you back.”
SCHULD: There were so many colorful shipmates. There were invariably people who were always lending money, you know those types. There were always people getting in trouble who had to go to a Captain’s Mast, they were AWOL.
BRESLIN: Oh, there were a lot like that.
SCHULD: I am sure you knew people, the go-to guy to get money, or gamblers, or card sharks.
BRESLIN: It is funny, even though my whole family played cards, my brother and my parents loved card games, I always just sat and read. I filled in, I knew how to play pinochle and poker. When they would go for a bucket of beer, I had to fill in the hand for one of my parents. My brother and I learned to play pinochle as young kids. It was just something I had to do to help them out, when they were getting the sandwiches or whatever. I never gambled on ship. My brother did well gambling on the troop ships and all.
There were one or two like Nicholson, a guy from Newark. He was a tough white kid. They were all white kids in those days. I keep saying that but I thought in those days that is all there was on the ship except the Stewards Mates.
He used to take cigarettes ashore and try to sell them ashore. See, when our ship was commissioned the workers at Cramps donated a whole mess of money. They would take a collection for each new crew. It broke down to 33 packs of cigarettes for each man on the crew. It was like three cents a pack, it went up to five cents eventually. They put these big coffee urns in CIC and donated a lot of coffee urns for all the watch standers.
We were all issued after the commissioning three cartons and three loose packs of cigarettes, whatever kind they wanted. Naturally, non-smokers would keep them for liberties. We thought we were going to Germany or something.
SCHULD: Did you ever have any moments, I realize that for all intents and purposes, the war was over, but did you experience any moments of fear?
BRESLIN: No, I guess being young. Well, not on the Little Rock, that did not get commissioned until VE was over. I was on that armed yacht for about two weeks, and I was on a wooden sub chaser. We actually did sink mines. I spotted three mines on the yacht. Radar, you know, I thought it would just make me feel good. We lined up for chow on the deck afterwards. I know we changed directions, our watch did. As we are standing on the chow line all of a sudden, the 20mm opened up right above, boom, boom, BOOM! They blew them up. It was about I guess 40 or 50 miles outside of Hampton Roads. The following week some destroyer caught the submarine. It was just about two / three weeks before the war ended.
SCHULD: Could you identify one of the most exciting times/experiences on the Little Rock?
BRESLIN: The one I remember, I guess it was an accident, but we were firing at Culebra on a shakedown shore bombardment. Naturally, I was sitting at my GQ station with nothing to do, because they were using the main directors. I had to be there on the earphones waiting in case they say, switch to individual control. I am right on the main deck, on the side we were firing at. I knew the shell landed right on the beach. Two / three miles away, they were shooting at the trees and the hills. So, I am going to crack open my watertight door. I just lean back on my seat and could open the door and look out. I could watch the shell fire. Every time the mount would fire you would see the two red tracers. One would go up, and the other, they always seemed to come down…I was fascinated how one shell would go low and one would go high, but they always seemed to come down together.
I would watch them and once in awhile they would shoot phosphorus and I would watch the tree burst. About the fifth or sixth salvo, two barrels at once, the port gun went out, but the shell burst as it left the mount from the right-hand gun. So, the five-inch burst about 25 feet ahead of me up in the air, and I had the door open about that wide with my head out, it was stupid. But boom and cling and you hear all the metal hitting. I quick slammed the door, and honestly the only thing I thought of was, if they see this door was opened I am in deep trouble. I am looking, no paint, no damage, no smoke in here. Then I quick grabbed the fire extinguisher, and deck is already burning because the little cordite, or something that comes out. It is this black lump of stuff burning into the teak. There is still a scar on the steel, right on that steel passageway. I’ll show you sometime. It was Commander Pfeiffer had this countermeasures room was right across this passageway and something scarred it.
SCHULD: It was just a defective round?
BRESLIN: Evidently, nobody ever got punished for it, and they did not interrupt the fire maybe for five minutes and then they went back to drilling.
SCHULD: If you were on board in 1945, then very likely you recall the mishap with the Missouri, when we hit the Missouri with a star shell.
BRESLIN: In 1945, we never saw the Missouri.
SCHULD: Do you know Frank Vieira?
BRESLIN: I have heard of him but I cannot think…
SCHULD: Frank is here, he sent me a report a long time ago and I published it in the LITCOMS, that there was target practice and so forth and there was some information passed along that someone misunderstood and a star shell was fired from one of our five or six-inch mounts, and it hit the USS Missouri. It killed a man.
BRESLIN: I heard that story, I thought that was after I was off the ship though. It seems to me the star shell fell down and the man tried to fend it off from his upper deck position. I read that in the paper after the war or… You figure I got off the ship in May 12, 1946 and I do not think the Missouri had even come home from Japan. They signed the treaty in September, then if it did come home it would not have come to the East Coast. I do not know when it really came back.
SCHULD: That is interesting to note then. (Ed. note: The incident occured 13 December 1946 in the North Atlantic.)
BRESLIN: Yes, I do remember something about the star shell. As far as I know, the only one we ever lost was that man who died in Rio. One sailor died in the hospital in Rio. I do not know what happened, whether he got sick or got hurt or a bite. He was in Neptune’s Court, he played the Royal Judge. He was an old timer, what you call a shell-back, so he was on the court. He conducted the ceremony for the initiation. Just before we went around the Horn we stopped in there to refuel, we had a refueling stop in the harbor of Rio. They said as we were pulling in that they would be performing a burial party. They were going to send some men ashore to have a military funeral for this seaman, S1c G.G.Bee [unclear] who had died in a Brazilian Air Force hospital. Whether he was flown there, or he was taken sick on leave, I never knew he was in the hospital until I heard about the funeral.
SCHULD: What do you recall about the Skipper?
BRESLIN: He was a very interesting, short little man, pretty much of a chain smoker, very strict. He seemed to know his business. He was very shrewd. He was always trying to catch guys goofing off. He had a habit, he would walk up behind you and pull the earphones off and put them on to see if you were listening to music or something from the radio room.
SCHULD: Oh, really?
BRESLIN: Gordy was asking me about that too, and I said, “The one I like is when I was on forward lookout all huddled up…” It was so cold we had to wear our long-johns and our blues and our dungarees and our good pea coat and then an army blanket or your bed blanket. We had no foul weather gear, if it was raining or snow (well it would not be snow) it was cold weather in the Atlantic. I would be setting up there all huddled up with a blanket looking in these glasses. The Captain used to try to see if the guys were falling asleep at night, because there is nothing to see, you are in the middle of the night sailing in darkness.
BRESLIN: He climbed up the outside from the top of the open bridge, he climbed over that parapet. I was watching through the glasses. I was fine, maybe I will see something looking through the horizon, just faint little glimmers of stars or something. All of a sudden, my glasses are blocked out. I tipped my head up, and he was staring at me in the face. He was hanging on the parapet outside, this is like 55 feet up. That was the altitude. He saw that I was awake and he said, “Shhh,” like that. I am looking at him and he climbs over the thing. He walks over to the other guy facing the other side, and he was hunched down the other way. He walks around and, “Good boy.” He must have been awake too. He said, “Shhh.” Then he went down the inner…If he came up the inner ladders through that tube you would have heard him. He actually climbed up, and this was a man maybe 50 years old.
SCHULD: That sounds like pretty peculiar behavior for a Commanding Officer. Going around the ship doing things like that. You would think of maybe the Chief doing that, or maybe the Division Officer, but the Captain to be crawling around the ship doing silly things.
BRESLIN: That is what I mean. I do not know if we want to print stuff like that.
SCHULD: Rather peculiar, these are the interesting stories.
BRESLIN: Let me tell you about him, because he was a fascinating man. He also had a habit, maybe other officers did too…Man overboard drills…His plan, he would kidnap a sailor off the deck and lock him up, because the drill was, “man the whale boats, and everybody goes to muster, and quick count who is missing.” Each officer was responsible for knowing who was on watch. The watch standers did not muster, but everybody mustered on deck just like the eight o’clock drill. It was in two minutes they were supposed to have a report come up on the bridge, some man missing, because he had already kidnapped one.
I was walking by the signal base going up to be talker on the bridge one afternoon, and this fellow from the lookouts “Chicken Little.” His name was Little, naturally he became “Chicken” Little. He was walking, the door opened from the Captain’s sea cabin and the Marine (they always followed him around with a machine gun, a tommy-gun, his escort) grabbed Little by the neck and dragged him by the neck and slammed the door. I figured that is going to be another drill. Sure enough, the kid is dragged off his feet and into cabin, and I just stepped about ten steps forward and entered the bridge. Just then, Captain Miller entered from the other side, and he said, “Sound man overboard,” he told the OD.
So man overboard and all the things go. Within two minutes everybody phoned in and he said, “It appears that Seaman Little is missing.” They knew that quick. Then, I guess they released him. That is the God’s honest truth. He physically dragged that man into the sea cabin. Then the Captain came in and ordered the man overboard (drill) from the OD. He always had tricks like that.
SCHULD: Did you have any occasion to speak with or have a relationship with any of the other officers or superiors, Executive Officer. Who was the Executive Officer?
BRESLIN: Commander Hazen. This was the man, who was one of the organizers of our first reunion.
SCHULD: The 1980 reunion, yes.
BRESLIN: He was the Executive Officer. I knew who he was but I never…I spoke with the Captain a few times in the line of work. One time he chided me for complaining about my relief being late, and I did not…One of the Petty Officers was supposed to go down below and wake up the other guys and try to relieve at quarter of the hour, that was the custom. You take the phones and say, “Changing phones.” The next guy would give his name and say for example “Air Aft properly relieved, S1C Breslin.” It was getting around five to twelve and my guy had not come up yet, so I think I am talking to CIC, I said, “Hey, did you wake up my relief?” He said, “This is not Montgomery, this is Captain Miller.” So, he must have taken them off…He said, “Besides you were several minutes late getting up to the 2000, so stop complaining.”
He told me that he had listened in on someone’s headset and heard me complain that the relief was late. There was no punishment. He was letting you know he knows what was going on.
SCHULD: Where and when did you detach from the Little Rock?
BRESLIN: I think it was May 18, it was in May of 1946. We knew we were due for discharge. They had asked us all if we wanted to reenlist. I loved it, but I had to go get a job.
SCHULD: Basically, you were aboard just barely a year?
BRESLIN: Yes, on commission I think it was about 11 months and two weeks.
SCHULD: Where did that take place, where did you detach?
BRESLIN: May 18, I left the ship prior to discharge. There was no room, so the people who were taken off the ship (it was getting ready to go to Europe), they assigned them to any base in the area that could use people with similar skills. I guess, some of it was pretty far fetched skills, like in my case being a radar man I was assigned to a supply depot for aviation and radar spare parts in North Philadelphia. It was making up invoices and shipping out tubes and cold weather flying gear, the fur lined flight suits, the brown leather suits with the fleece lining and that kind of thing. It was a civilian run place, but there were a lot of military there. I had no quarters I was put on Quarters and Subsistence. I lived at home right across the river from the Navy Yard, and I just went there 40 hours a week. I had to go by bus, subway, two trolley cars, it took me about an hour and twenty minutes to get there each day and come home at night. I worked 8:00 to 4:30.
SCHULD: Still in the Navy?
BRESLIN: Still in the Navy, and I was getting my pay without sea pay. I was getting I think it was $100.00 every month. That was to pay for my room and board, because I was living at home.
SCHULD: How did it come to pass that you became detached from the ship? Was it by your request?
BRESLIN: No, they knew the ship was going to Europe and my choice was to sign on for four years, or go out with my discharge. They were discharging everybody who worked outside. I would have loved to stay, but my parents said, “Maybe come out and work a few years and then go back in if you still want to go.”
I needed the money so bad, that I had to get a full time job. We had no…My father was getting about $16.00 a week, whatever they gave retired… It was not a pension; the shipyard had no pensions at that time. It was whatever unemployment was, and when that ran out there was nothing.
It was a very tough time. My brother had just got out of high school. He was already helping to contribute. He was an office boy in the place where I ended up working later. It was just to support our family.
SCHULD: So, you leave the ship in May of 1946 and you are assigned to a supply…
BRESLIN: Supply depot. Again it turned out to be an ideal…It sounds like a dream job when you describe it. It was a group of 40 enlisted sailors, about 40 to 45 WAVES, about 400 officers from Admiral on down, about 100 civilian men bosses, about 50 black laborers (forklift and stuff), and about 2100 lady typists. It was like a giant girl school, and I was their office boy.
SCHULD: How long did you stay there?
BRESLIN: Six weeks, I was there until there was a discharge quota. I almost missed my discharge because they forgot to tell me what day.
SCHULD: So, really your discharge took place when?
BRESLIN: July 24, 1946.
SCHULD: So, you were only in the Navy some 14 months.
BRESLIN: No, well all told I was in from January…I was on two other ships first.
SCHULD: Oh, okay.
BRESLIN: The total time was year and seven months and 24 days.
SCHULD: A year and seven months.
BRESLIN: It was just a short time.
SCHULD: Basically, you were discharged from that supply depot.
BRESLIN: Yes. One Friday night, I wanted to go to the seashore for the weekend with some friends. I asked somebody when we were going to be discharged. I went in and found an officer, “Didn’t anyone tell you, you are done here now. In 20 minutes you will be done here.” Ten after four, he said, “Do not come back here Monday, go down to the Navy Yard. They will have a bus taking guys down to Bainbridge for your discharge.”
SCHULD: Was there any mustering out pay?
BRESLIN: Yes, that was reasonable. I got whatever pay was due me, just a few bucks. Then there was the first hundred of I think it was three hundred dollars of terminal leave. Three months in a row, I got a hundred dollar check, and $50.00 for something else. I probably got a total of less than $400.00 over a three month period. I was put right on the 52/20 club for unemployed servicemen. They had unemployment until you could get a job, you could get paid $20.00 a week. You had to go look for work everyday, just like unemployment today.
SCHULD: Twenty dollars a week for how long?
BRESLIN: It was good for 26 weeks, but in 13 days, I already had a job. I had three jobs before that that I was accepted for but I was too young. When they found out I was still only 19…they never assumed that you are coming out of the service and you are still not old enough to…I was a lineman. I was a rigger, and I was a punch-press operator in a railroad, you know build railroad cars, coaches for electric…
SCHULD: Yes, that actually brings us to our next question; what civilian job did you return to, or you actually did not return to a specific job did you? You started a new job.
BRESLIN: At the same kind of work, I always wanted to be a rigger. I actually had schooling in that in the Navy Yard. They sent me one afternoon a week to learn…it starts out with all the knots and wires splices.
SCHULD: What company did you work for?
BRESLIN: I worked for, Calco Chemical Company, it was a division of American Cyanimide and over 37 years it changed names from that to…it had been Sherwin Williams before the war…Calco, then it became New Jersey Zinc Co., and then it became Gulf and Western.
SCHULD: You were with them for that long?
BRESLIN: Yes, 37 and a half years and at age 57 they shut down and they pensioned me off.
SCHULD: You said you were a rigger. Tell us what a rigger does.
BRESLIN: They take care of all the hoisting and moving of heavy machinery or stuff with cranes or chainfalls or forklifts.
SCHULD: That meant you were not an operator of the machine?
BRESLIN: Oh yes. I did that right away.
SCHULD: Oh you were.
BRESLIN: As soon as the older guy died, I became a crane runner. Then I became operator engineer. I got all the papers and licenses for years. For the last five years I have been working, just for the hell of it, I have been working on a bridge construction taking photographs for the guys.
SCHULD: So, your job description changed as your career moved along?
BRESLIN: It was rigger then operating engineer, which ever they needed.
SCHULD: Operating engineer…
BRESLIN: Operating engineer would be the highest paid. That was one of the highest union grades.
SCHULD: Oh, all right.
BRESLIN: I was always union. I was in the Steelworkers, before that it was the International Chemical Workers of Canada, then the United Mine Workers took them over and then the Steelworkers took over…I got pensioned off from the Steelworkers.
SCHULD: I always heard the operating engineers made some pretty good money.
BRESLIN: $38.10 an hour right now.
SCHULD: $38.10 an hour.
BRESLIN: The gang I pal with, they have…I ride in a rescue launch a motor launch with friends. Three of them are EMTs and they are also operating engineers and I am the photographer. About one afternoon a week, I go out on these…
SCHULD: Are you talking about now?
BRESLIN: Yes, like last week.
SCHULD: What is your age today?
BRESLIN: Seventy-eight. Yeah, I have loads of pictures. I have done about 2900 photographs of this bridge job in the last five years.
SCHULD: Now is this a paid job?
BRESLIN: No, it is just volunteer. I had to sign a release that they are not responsible if I get injured, because I enjoy it so much and I am palling with all the young guys that I worked with 20-30 years ago. It is just like a constant coffee break and photo shoot for me.
SCHULD: So you are really enjoying retirement.
BRESLIN: Oh, yeah!
SCHULD: When did you officially retire?
BRESLIN: At age 57, in 1984. The plant closed so they gave me the pension.
SCHULD: You have been retired for 21 years?
BRESLIN: Well, I went to work. After that, I worked with surveyors for five and a half years servicing highway job instrument repair and delivering them, minor repairs. I was not an optometrist but I could make minor adjustments on surveying equipment, shoot lines and all that stuff. I worked for a place called Robin’s Engineering Instrument Company. They built and repaired survey equipment.
SCHULD: We know that you are married, of course, and you have been for.....?
BRESLIN: 1950, I married a girl I met even before I was on the Little Rock. I met her in Newport when we were on Little Rock detail.
SCHULD: Wow, 55 years then. Children?
BRESLIN: Yes, I have twin sons. They are going on 54 now, they were born a year and four days after I was married.
SCHULD: Twins is that right?
BRESLIN: One of them has twin sons also.
SCHULD: What do they do?
BRESLIN: My son Paul in the Boston area, he had his own hospital consultant reconstruction engineering…they are both graduate engineers.
SCHULD: Are they really?
BRESLIN: They had that double major business and engineer, a five-year course. They were very good students. They both got scholarships. They both went into engineering. For years, he had his own company in Boston, but now it has merged with one of the Beltway and Microtech [unclear]. They work with this Landstuhl hospital in Germany that was bringing the dead and wounded in and out. He is always over in Landstuhl. He works with all those military hospitals.
SCHULD: And your other boy?
BRESLIN: He is the director of a trade school. He had his own business for about 25 years he was in the publishing business. They made print media for…like these color cardboard cartons that you have a big label on it, like Black and Decker. The box that it comes in has a big picture and all that kind. They prepared those ads and had big contracts. He did that for years. When the businesses went slack, he lost that. Now, he is one of three directors of a trade school where they teach auto mechanics and x-ray technicians. It is called Porter-Chester Institute.
SCHULD: You mentioned that you are in Connecticut now, how long have you been up there?
BRESLIN: In 1991, we moved up there.
SCHULD: What caused you to leave the Philly area?
BRESLIN: Well, Mark, the one who has the three children, he lives in Fairfield, Connecticut. We were going back and forth every other week visiting the kids and helping out, because his wife is a full time basketball coach for college (coaches the Fairfield girls team). He had that company and did a lot of traveling all over the country. So, a lot of times we were up there babysitting. He said, “Get a condo up here, sell that place down there.”
SCHULD: During your time in Philly, what about your community involvement? Did you belong to any organizations?
BRESLIN: I was the treasurer of our local union and shop stewards, union activities mostly like that. I was always a union man. No, I was not in politics. I went to church occasionally. I would not say I was a 100% either politics or religious type, just enough to keep…
SCHULD: No other clubs or…
BRESLIN: They keep wanting me to join the VFW. I said I am so interested in this group, I do not have enough time to spare. Plus they always want you to sell the tickets for stuff.
SCHULD: Tell us when you joined this association.
BRESLIN: I was number 18. As soon as I heard about it, I joined right away.
SCHULD: You know we were founded in 1991.
BRESLIN: Yeah, it was the first week or month I guess it was. It was right around that time. I forget if I wrote to Mr. Kays first, I do not think you were an officer right from the beginning, were you?
SCHULD: Jim was the president the first year. I was the treasurer the first year. Then I was president for the next seven years.
BRESLIN: I wrote to Jim Kays.
BRESLIN: I know you have had it most of the time. It seems to me that when I contacted someone they told me there was an ad in one of the veteran’s magazine that they were looking for men. I did not get the veteran’s magazine so I got the address right away and told them. I told them then that I had already been to the 1980 reunion. I wondered if this was the same group again.
SCHULD: No, it is not. You mentioned earlier about an activity that you do today. Can you describe that a little for us, about the photographing? Is photography a hobby for you?
BRESLIN: Yes, ever since I was a kid. I have hundreds of pictures. I have about 200 pictures of the South America cruise, and other pictures from the bridge job. There are four albums in there, in case anyone ever wanted to see them. I hate to bother…
SCHULD: Is there a purpose of your taking these photos of the bridge?
BRESLIN: Mainly, because it is right near to where I live. It is only about less than…I can walk over there any time I want, and I got friendly with so many of the workers there. Plus there are two lady life guards, which it is quite fascinating to ride around with.
SCHULD: Are your photos used for some purpose?
BRESLIN: No, I just give them out to the people. They have a lot of them hanging in their construction offices. The bosses all have pictures of different…
SCHULD: And what body of water does this bridge…
BRESLIN: It is the Housatonic River. Are you familiar with the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut?
SCHULD: I just went up the Merritt Parkway on my way to Cape Cod two weeks ago.
BRESLIN: Well you saw it. The Sikorsky Helicopter Plant, you cross the Housatonic River there is a big helicopter plant where they build the helicopters.
SCHULD: Yes Sikorsky, yes.
BRESLIN: That is that bridge, they are replacing that bridge. They built one, they are building twin spans. There was an old open grating steel bridge they had to tear down. First, they had to build a new bridge right along side it and put all the traffic on that. Then they tore that down. Now they are building a duplicate bridge to the first one right…
SCHULD: And the name of it again is?
BRESLIN: Sikorsky Bridge, it is right at that Sikorsky helicopter field. I live within 500 yards of it or 1000 yards. I just walk over in the morning. Sometimes they will call up and say they are putting a big beam up or something, come on over. They will send a boat down.
SCHULD: There is a brand new member, a first-timer here with his wife. I noted he is from Connecticut. I cannot recall his name, but if you will look at people who have blue ribbons hanging from their badges if you spot one from Connecticut, you might want to say hello to him.
BRESLIN: I will. What is his name?
SCHULD: I cannot recall the name.
BRESLIN: I will look for him.
SCHULD: Actually, you are one of our very senior members of the association.
BRESLIN: Yes, other than the officers who formed it. I wrote in and they sent me…I have the badge number 18.
SCHULD: Yes, mine is number two.
BRESLIN: Yeah, you are a senior. Jim is one. This is the card they sent me years ago, you can see how…
SCHULD: Yes, I had those made up many years ago. Hang on to it, because you are not going to get anymore of these. Did you get something else?
BRESLIN: I got a paper one, but it does not have my number on it.
SCHULD: I bought upwards of 2000 of these.
BRESLIN: That is fine, this gets me on everything.
SCHULD: United Steelworkers of America.
BRESLIN: I am cleared by the Coast Guard and seaman papers.
SCHULD: Good for you.
BRESLIN: This gets me a lot of stuff. For years when I was younger, I did work on the side besides the rigging. I would work at nights loading ships. This got me a lot of money, because during the McCarthy era there was a Red scare and to work on any Red flag ship like the Balkans or Russian or any Indonesian, unless you had port clearance you could not get through the Coast Guard guard. I was always the stevedore picked because they knew I could run the winch. I made a lot of money doing that.
SCHULD: We have had the occasion to speak with a lot of crew members of the Little Rock, and sadly, many have chosen not to join the association, for whatever reason. Some say they have no particular fond memories of their Navy life. Some say they are not joiners, they do not like to join things. You have been with us for about 14 years, what do these reunions do for you?
BRESLIN: It is great to see…there are only a few of my watch mates here, Gordy and Martin Toomey up in Connecticut there. Montgomery died, and I still correspond with Haskell, he is in Texas, with the e-mail. I do not have a computer, I just have one of those e-mail punch things. My wife’s best girlfriend’s son did 20 years and just retired at Pearl Harbor. He was in Diego Garcia. I get hats from all these places. He is living in Pearl now, he is managing a bowling alley on one of the Naval bases. They are civilian run. He got a job as a manager there. He still e-mails me.
SCHULD: So you enjoy the camaraderie?
BRESLIN: Yes, that is just it. I always enjoy…every place I go I go on whatever ships…if we are in Europe I go on every ship that is open. I have been on so many of them. I have been on the Queen Elizabeth II a few times, not sailing, just visiting friends aboard. I have been on Trump’s yacht, and the battleships Massachusetts and New Jersey.
SCHULD: You have probably noticed each time we come to Buffalo we find so many members bring their children and grandchildren. Have you had the occasion to have your sons here?
BRESLIN: Yes I have. There are pictures of them right on the first page here.
SCHULD: Both boys have visited the ship?
BRESLIN: Plus, they come up…yeah they have been on board. I have a picture of my wife holding them up on the helm on the bridge there. She was afraid he was going to fall off, he was climbing on top of the compass or something there.
SCHULD: But you said, your boys are…
BRESLIN: They are grown now, yeah.
SCHULD: When were they aboard the ship?
BRESLIN: Oh, years ago when they were three years old.
SCHULD: Oh, they were only three years old, but they have never been to Buffalo to…
BRESLIN: Not to…but they come up here…the girls run around the ship. The basketball team, we come up here twice a year for basketball.
SCHULD: I will take a look at those photos in a minute, but we have the tape running.
BRESLIN: Diane, my daughter-in-law, will bring about 20 girls and they will jog maybe about two or three miles…They stay here and they run around down on the ship and back before game. In fact, they are going to have the tournaments up here. They used to have all the main tournaments in Albany, but now they are going to have every other year up here I think. They come up more in wintertime. They fly up and down a whole group at time. I have been up here in winter with them. When we went to Niagara Falls with them, we came down here. Yeah, I have had them all over the ship, climbing on the equipment there, both the sons and the grandsons.
SCHULD: Have you acquired from our ship’s store any Little Rock memorabilia?
BRESLIN: Yes, I have several shirts. My wife hates me to wear the t-shirts because I do not have a good shape anymore.
SCHULD: John, you are a man of average build and you well know that when you go down into that hospitality room there, there are some people there that are pushing 350 lbs.
BRESLIN: I have a good wife there, shirts pressed not wrinkled all up.
SCHULD: You are my kind of guy.
BRESLIN: You are always very neatly dressed. Either you are a fashion plate or your wife is directing you very well.
SCHULD: Do you have any final thoughts or observations?
BRESLIN: No, I am very pleased with the association. I just get a chance to talk with someone who understands some of this stuff. Usually, you tell a guy and he thinks, yeah this guy is giving me another war story. Someone who knows this stuff really happened and other people are telling the same thing. I enjoyed the Navy and I still visit anytime there is an open house anywhere in the Navy Yard or ship. I have been in many of them.
In Portsmouth, England, I spent a whole week vacation in Portsmouth, England just to go in the English Fleet. I do not know if you are familiar with Commander Crabbe, he was the head of the Frogmen for the British in World War II. They had these divers with these chariots, like a two man torpedo. They would swim underwater and hang those limpet mines on the ship hulls. They would swim out from Gibraltar and the Italians would do the same thing. They would be trying to get the English ships at Alexandria.
When we stayed at Portsmouth, we were in a place called South Sea. It was a bed and breakfast right on the waterfront. I picked it because I could look at the ships and run out everyday if anything was happening. I was sitting at a little bar and the barman was there and he had a little tip jar there “Remember the Diver.”
I said, “Were you a diver?” Here he was one of those guys. I said, “Did you ever hear of Commander Crabbe?”
He said, “He was our most fearless leader.”
SCHULD: Now that you are saying that, I remember more about that. I recall seeing something about that on television.
BRESLIN: They think he was murdered by the Russians. There was a Russian ship came in…In fact, it was in the café at the time where this thing happened. He was a banker by trade or stockbroker, he got called back. A new Russian cruiser was visiting in Portsmouth and there were rumors that they had some secret underwater radar or sonar. So they asked Commander Crabbe, this was in the spy stories, to make a dive and see what he could find. They knew the Russians would be watching all the piers. He went from this café, they brought his diving gear, down in the basement. He made his dive from this floor of this café, and he never came back. About two or three days later, they started looking all around, and sure enough, they found the headless body. The head and hands were taken off. It was a British diving suit, scuba gear, but no head or hands. They figured he must have been murdered.
SCHULD: It certainly sounds like it.
BRESLIN: This guy was showing me pictures of him. Even my wife got interested since he was murdered right there. I spend a lot of time on different ships. I worked a lot on the battleship Nelson.
SCHULD: You said the Battleship…?
BRESLIN: Nelson, it was 16-inch British battleship.
SCHULD: Oh, British battleship.
BRESLIN: I worked on a lot of foreign ships. In fact, Brazilian ships that we saw down in Rio were the same guys, the same ships that I worked on the year before.
SCHULD: It sounds like you have extensive navy experience.
BRESLIN: The only thing I do not have is a lot of time in the regular navy.
SCHULD: It sounds like you have been very fond of the navy and ships.
BRESLIN: All my life, when I was a little kid I used to walk down and watch the…I could tell the foreign flags…what pier they would be going to and what they would be bringing. My father told me all his stories.
SCHULD: We are very grateful that you were willing to grant us this interview. I would like to thank you very much, and you know that this audio tape will be transcribed and will become available along with many other interviews for people to read in the very near future and into the far future. Likely, copies will be kept on board the ship for posterity as well. Thank you again.
BRESLIN: I guess I should have those things deleted that sound bad. I really respect the guy (Captain) and the military. Everybody has their funny incidents. It just struck me as strange the guy (Captain) would take my earphones off to see what I was listening to.
SCHULD: This concludes my interview with John Breslin of the CL 92, and this is tape two.
- - - - - End - - - - -
Subsequent to the above interview with Don Schuld, John corresponded on several occasions with the website editor and passed on the following information:
The following is an edited version of a series of e-mails received from John Breslin. The information provided has be invaluable in filling in gaps in the ship’s chronology for the years covered. Our “Thanks” to John for his great record keeping and his willingness to pass on this information. Ed.
”..... After brief training duty in the Atlantic aboard 2 older ships, ( a WW1 wooden sub-chaser, and then an Auxiliary Yacht - Teddy Roosevelt's “Presidential Yacht", a hugh former sailing vessel built in Europe in the 1890's, and later converted to steam - I boarded the U.S.S. Little Rock on June 15, 1945, (two days before her first commissioning), and served aboard her until May 18, 1946.
The only semi-official full list of crew members in my possession is our "Crossing the Equator" booklet, dated Nov. 5, 1945, printed for us later at the Naval School of Peru. I've checked these names, and I'm sure I've seen similar books on display at past ship's reunions. (In response to your request) there is no crew member or officer by the name "Fitzpatrick" listed in this book. The only close name is a Capt. Kirkpatrick, whom I don't recall at all. I'm not sure if he wasn’t a Fleet Marine, but I believe our small detachment of Marines was under a LT.
..... from my "Air, Aft" lookout post behind the highest aft director, I witnessed and described, (on SP phone), our only complete aircraft loss during my time aboard. Ensign W. R. Merryman was landing one of our scout planes south of Cuba, on the smoothed-over water surface our ship always created for landings, by making a slowed-down sliding turn. As Ens. Merryman was taxiing up towards our towed recovery netted sled, his plane suddenly nosed over, engine still turning and tail straight up in the air. The pilot was pitched forward out of his cockpit, into a bright, clear sea, teeming with hundreds of visible sharks. I reported the sharks immediately on my SP phone, but they were also clearly visible from all parts of our ship. The OD immediately ordered the rescue whaleboat's crew not to enter the water, but when the swimming pilot was not able to grasp the boathook, my buddy and bunk-neighbor, (whose rack was directly across the aisle), immediately dove over his bow and swam to the pilot who was losing consciousness. Grasping the pilot's life vest collar, "Sully", or Cox. W. M. Sullivan, swam closer to the whaleboat and then helped push the limp pilot aboard, as others pulled him in. "Sully" did get a Life Saving Medal for risking a plunge into shark-infested waters against orders.
(Ed. Note: A U.S. Navy aircraft accident report provides the following information:
Accident Date: 8/4/1945
Aircraft Type: SC-1
Aircraft Number: 35555
Ship Number: CL 92
Ship Name: USS Little Rock
Location: OFF CUBA
Pilot: Name not shown
This is most likely the incident referred to be John Breslin.)
I know this might sound like bull, but the yarn gets even more unbelievable.....
As the MWB returned the pilot aboard, the crew astern got a wire loop around the half submerged plane's tail and the crane prepared to hoist the wreck aboard. But the fuselage near the tail started to crumble inward, and they were trying to place softeners under the wire loop, I had to immediately report heavy, dark clouds near the Cuban coast, and twin waterspouts approaching our ship. So the order was passed to abandon the plane, hoist the whaleboat, and move out of the area. I know we carried two complete float planes on our catapults at all times, and the parts for assembling a third float plane were stored in our hanger. Ens. W. R. Merryman did recover and continued to fly, but I never learned if we had any other pilots aboard, or knew of any other(s) by name.
The only other plane mishap I witnessed on our ship occurred in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, between Dec. 6th and 15th, 1945. I didn't recall the pilot's name at that time. As our floatplane landed on the river aft of our riverside berth, it started to taxi towards our ship, but ran aground on a sandbar. Evidently there was no damage, and after the tide rose again, our whale boat towed it over to us to be hoisted by the stern crane.
The only death I knew about aboard the Little Rock during my time aboard occurred in Rio de Janeiro. When we returned there for our third time, for a short refueling stop on Jan. 17th, 1946, we sent a burial party ashore for the funeral of a crew member, who had been left earlier at a military hospital. S1/C G.G. Bee, who is seen in our booklet as the Royal Judge at our Equator Crossing ceremony photos, had died in the hospital there, and I have no idea of the cause, or date of his actual death. But a formal burial detachment of officers, Marines, and sailors went ashore for the event, as our ship was refueled in the harbor, just before we started our long cruise down around Cape Horn, to Chile.
Many of our "I" division members, (Radar), went aboard on June 15th., 1945, after completing training on radar on 2 smaller vessels, as well as various East Coast shore stations. Patterson's log entries coincide with mine, basically on dates and ports of call, up until where he ends it on Feb. 28, 1946.....
7/12/1945 Moved down river about 1 mile, to Fort Mifflin, to load Ammo. 5 and 6" shells, powder cans, aerial depth charges for our seaplanes, and catapult charges. Didn't see any 20 and 40 mm yet.
7/18/45: This stop was for the degaussing station.
8 (7?)/27/1945 Practice shore bombardment on Culebra Island. As Mount 3 fired a pair of 5" HE at tree tops ashore, one shell burst about 20 feet out of the barrel, and fragments struck several bulkheads and my door, (Secondary Radar range finder for Mount 3). As all 6 mounts were using the primary director, I was only on standby, so I was able to jump out of my door, on the mid-ship passageway, with my fire extinguisher and help put out the little fires around the fragments on the teak deck. The exercise was stalled for about a half hour, for a safety check, and then resumed. My ears rang for days!.....
8/28/1945 Speed run on trip back to Philadelphia, and started leave at home, just across the river from Phila. Navy Yard on Aug. 30.
10/2/1945 First of 3 five-day trips between Goat Island and Block Island, with Middies from Annapolis: All types of drills for them. 1 Day liberty, in Newport, RI, each week......
11/5/1945 Crossed Equator first time. Wild Hi-jinks aboard!
12/18/1945 While moored in Santos, Brazil, wild riot breaks out between Japanese, Brazilian civilians and our liberty party while on tour of automobile factory in Sao Paulo. 36 Americans and many more civilians injured by their own police force, as well as Brazilian troops called in to rescue American liberty party. One of my buddies was severely injured when crowds overturned Brazilian Army truck that was hauling our sailors back to the ship. (About a 50 mile drive.) And in the meantime, severe food poisoning had broken out that same day, among very many of the duty sections still aboard our ship! I was very lucky to be one of the few unaffected men aboard. We were ordered to single-up our mooring lines, in case we had to move off shore, as Brazilian troops returned our men to the ship while other troops held off the angry crowd at the inner end of our pier, with Reising guns and rubber bullets. The newspapers in Brazil and the USA all carried the story, and many of our families and friends in the States read all about it! Even Arthur Godfrey mentioned it on his radio show, and my future wife's mother heard it on the radio! As you may already have heard, the Brazilian press soon published the whole story! It was shown that the huge Japanese colony living in Sao Paulo, (still bitter about losing the recent war), had published thousands of anti-American pamphlets and several newspaper articles, warning the whole town that the American "Pirates and Barbarians" were coming to town, and "To get all of the woman and children off the streets".
12/22/45 Fabulous Time! 13 days in Rio de Janeiro over the Christmas and New Year's festivities. Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, bikinis, home cooked meals with beautiful girl friend and her family, dances, etc. Her brother was a midshipman on sail-training vessel moored in the harbor, and the family had a 5th floor condo overlooking Copacabana Beach. (Even her little 9 year old brother was learning English, French, and Algebra in his grade school.) I helped with some of his homework!
1/22/46 From lookout perch, spotted Falkland Islands in the distance, enroute to Cape Horn.
1/23/46 Rounded Cape Horn, (and became "Mossback" as well as "Shellback"). Later we turned back to cruise the Magellan Strait, back towards the east for awhile, before reversing course in the Strait to continue course to Talcahuano, the naval base just outside of Concepcion, Chile.
01/29/46 Anchored offshore at Naval Base, Concepcion. No liberty for crew. Reports of a major worker's strike ashore?
2/1/46 Moored stern to mole at Valparaiso. Great fishing by hand lines right here in harbor. Guys all catching dozens of good size fish, sometimes hauling in 3 fish at once. (3 hooks on each line, no bait needed. But with no one to cook them for us, we just tossed them down to the commercial fishermen in the dories, right there in the main harbor!) Very interesting, good liberty town , too. By the way, about our 4th day in that harbor, Capt. Miller went ashore in the gig, and when he caught sight of our hull, that was the immediate end of all fishing from our main deck. Our hull, both sides, was covered with scales, blood, slime, and guts from the thousands of good size bass that had been hauled aboard already! A large group of seamen, from the deck divisions, were ordered to scrub clean the entire hull, from Bosun chairs. I was carousing in a local pub that afternoon, and missed that detail!
Patterson's last 8 dates and items on this page, about Antofagasa and Iquique, Chile, and Lima, Peru, seem correct. And I could write pages on each of those most interesting, and unusual ports, but this could turn into an Steamship or Travel Agent commercial.
3/3/46. We got underway from Callao, passing live penguins standing on the jetty! (This was warm weather, and only about 12 degrees South Latitude!) Callao/Lima had been a very interesting port of call.
3/7/46 Anchored off Santa Elena, Equador. No liberty for crew ???
3/9/46 Underway from Santa Elena. Crossed Equator again. Cox'n Wm. Sullivan disciplined for trying to prevent an officer from shaving head of newly arrived Ensign who hadn't undergone usual initiation, because he'd be returning home soon. He tried to restrain the officer's arm. (Mortal Sin in Navy.)
3/11/46 Arrived in Balboa, Canal Zone. Great liberty. My petty officer's girlfriend, a stewardess, flew in with girlfriend, to visit him, and I was available, as copilot.
3'13/46 Transited Canal in same lock as small American LCI. Their dungaree-clad crew taunted our crew for having to wear whites and fall in, to salute each military post we passed.
3/15/46 More wild liberty in Cristobal/Colon, CZ. We were berthed 2 piers away from German cruiser Printz Eugene. I couldn't get permission to visit my cousin, who was a German sailor who had been in their crew. Later I learned that he had already been returned to Germany, from Phila. Navy Yard. My Uncle and Aunt, in N.J., as well as hundreds of blood relatives from the Philadelphia area, had all been invited aboard for visits to kinfolk. The Printz Eugene was en route to the Bikini A-Bomb Tests. (It is now an upside down wreck in shallow water, a scuba-divers hangout. I've seen their pictures.)
3/15/46 Underway for Cartagena, Colombia.
3/16/46 Docked at small pier in Cartagena. Colombian Navy treated a large group of us to an elaborate picnic, at old castle-like fortress, 10 miles offshore on swampy island. Some officers and enlisted men rode out with Colombian officers, on Patrol Boat and motor launch. Last 10 of us seamen rode out in a Motor whaleboat. About 1/2 way across, we started leaking and shipping water, and we all started bailing. When the crew of the Patrol Craft saw our plight, they returned and took 8 of the American sailors aboard. Me and another seaman were ordered to stay aboard and help the 2 Colombian crewmen bail and navigate towards the castle, still about 5 miles off. We got in about an hour late, but then had a great time at the party. We even saw large wild boars in the moat around the castle walls. (I still have some photos of the boats and the castle.) And years later, at home, we saw a Bob Hope comedy movie, about pirates, filmed in that same castle.
3/22/46 Left Cartagena for the States. Scheduled stop at "Gitmo" was probably canceled.
3/23/46 Our speed run to the states was interrupted by distress call. American LCI badly damaged by storm. Lost rudder, power, and both bow landing ramps, plus several injured crewmen. American tanker was standing by LCI. Our Captain took charge, ordering tanker to stand by until we arrived to take disabled LCI in tow.
3/22/46 You guessed it! As we approached the disabled LCI, it was the same guys who had taunted us during our canal transit. They had been under way towards Hampton Roads, from Panama, ever since they exited the canal on 3/13/46. A severe storm off Hatteras had really disabled them! Only 1 bosun was visible on there bow as we approached, to prepare to tow them. Fortunately for me, I happened to be on "Surface Aft, Lookout Duty" at the time, so I had a ringside view of the whole operation, and SP phones to broadcast the details, to my watch. The tanker had left as we took over, and the deck force readied the towline. The LCI was bobbing violently near us, and the single bosun was unable to retrieve any of the first 6 brass spikes we fired over his craft with line guns. The LCI was drifting very close to our port side, and suddenly a big wave toss the craft's bow into our port side with a loud crash. The man on the bow quickly reached up and grabbed a bight of our towline, which had already been flemished, (outboard of everything), all along our port side. He quickly looped 2 turns around his bow chocks, and the towline was secured! He should get a medal for heroism! Our deck crew quickly kicked overboard the rest of the long towline, as our ship increased revolutions, and turned towards Hampton Roads. We released the towline next day to a tugboat, inside of Hampton Roads, and then docked at NOB, Norfolk, on 3/24/46.
3/30/46 Anchored offshore near Norfolk, alongside the repair ship, "Briareus", AR 12.
3/31/46 Started 9 day leave at home, in Gloucester, NJ. (10 day leaves were scheduled, but LCI delay canceled that.) We are glad the whole crew of injured LCI men got "Survivor's Leave", (30 days), but the newspaper accounts of the whole incident gave the tugboat, that towed them in for the final 3 miles, credit for the whole rescue!
4/8/46 Returned from leave to find our ship "missing"?? The SP's finally located it for us by telephone. It had moved into Drydock at Portsmouth, Va. They gave each retuning crewman a nickel, a trolly transfer pass, and a local ferryboat pass, and wished us luck! We all found our own way back to the ship, through some rough, red-light district areas. Left drydock on 4/18/46
4/19/46 Underway for Trinidad!
4/30/46 After maneuvers with carriers Midway and FDR, plus other cruisers, and 1 afternoon beach party ashore at Scotland Bay, which included 4 cans of beer, swimming, eating coconuts picked by barefoot native tree climbers, but no girls, we returned to our ship. They told us that only the carriers were permitted to stop in at Port of Spain, as there weren't near enough SP's, local police, girls, or bars in the whole island to handle 10 more smaller ships at the same time!
5/4/46 Underway for "Gitmo" for 1 night layover. Left there 5/10/46.
5/12/46 Arrived back at PNY, Philadelphia
5/18/46 Left Ship for Receiving Station, PNY, and immediately was assigned as possible Strikebreaker on Railroad Co. Tugboat, for expected strike. When strike was canceled, I was immediately sent to Naval Aviation Supply Depot in North Philadelphia, to work there until there was room for me at the overcrowded discharge center in Bainbridge, MD. Talk about dream duty! Living at home on 100 bucks/mo extra "Quarters + Subsistence Pay", but paying carfare 5 days a week to job about 20 miles away. But get this workforce.....
Even though I'd already left the Little Rock, I want to tell you about my most unusual final Navy posting. As the discharge centers were all overcrowded, I had to serve about 7 more weeks until I could be processed for discharge. But after a year at sea, this was really different. The Naval Aviation Supply Depot was a huge complex of office workers, plus normal, and refrigerated warehouses, in North Philadelphia. It was about 20 miles from my home, by bus, subway and elevated rail lines, and finally 2 trolley car rides. (About an hour and a half each way, twice a day.) But I was home every night, and had Saturdays and Sundays off.) But check out my new crew!
An Admiral was in charge, with daily morning inspection, in whites, plus about 400 commissioned officers. Then there were about 50 of us enlisted sailors and about 50 enlisted, young Waves. We were out- numbered by civilian employees.
To handle the fork trucks and heavy lifting, there were about 50 black laborers, supervised by about 10 foremen. Finally, for typing and dictation, there were over 2000 girls, (95% under 30). Whistle while you work! After the girls typed up all the orders from bases and ships, all over the world, the enlisted sailors and Waves led forklift drivers up and down the warehouse aisles, just pointing out which boxes, bales, or parts, should be put on the pallet, as the particular order was collected, packed and shipped out. As I could type a little, I was put with the office girls, along with 2 or 3 yeoman strikers, also awaiting discharge. The office employees had a huge dining room, serving good full course meals every day, for lunch, at most reasonable prices. It was cheaper for me to buy a full hot meal every noontime, than even pack a sandwich.
There was open seating at the many 6 person tables, so we had our pick of lunch companions, almost a guaranteed date every night after work.
It was quite a hassle getting those 20 miles every morning, to arrive in time for captain's inspection, in clean whites, (plus Admiral's inspection every Friday), factoring in the crowded public transportation. I had more invitations and dates during that short period, than in any other year in my life. And I always thought that Rio de Janeiro was the hot spot of the world.
More Waves arrived during my 5th. week, and I had to surrender my desk to a real stenographer, and transfer to a refrigerated warehouse, where there were only about 4 girls to each man. We issued the soft Brown leather, fleece-lined flight suits, aerial and machine-gun camera film, and any other refrigerating-required supplies that the Navy needed. (Except food or medicine) I was finally sent to be Bainbridge, and discharged on 7/24/46. Then I hitchhiked home. As you must gather, I really enjoyed my brief Navy service!