U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
USS Little Rock ASSOCIATION
2006 REUNION, Braintree, Massachusetts
July 13, 2006
Interviewee: Ed Caggiano
Interviewer: Rickey Jamieson
JAMIESON: I'm Rickey Jamieson and I will be interviewing Ed Caggiano who served on CLG 4; Little Rock.
We are at the 15th annual reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at the Sheraton Braintree Hotel in Braintree, Massachusetts.
The purpose of this interview is to get to know Ed and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as an enlisted man aboard USS Little Rock CLG 4 during his tenure of service from 1959 to 1962.
Ed, for background, would you please summarize your early life, education and work experience, if any, before joining the Navy.
CAGGIANO: I joined the Navy right after high school on March 18th, 1958. I had no work experience at the time.
JAMIESON: And why did you happen to choose the Navy?
CAGGIANO: I actually went to join the Marines. My dad was a Marine and there was no Marine there so I joined the Navy [chuckle].
JAMIESON: Okay. So the recruiter was just in the right place at the right time.
JAMIESON: Where did you join the Navy?
CAGGIANO: On Staten Island, New York, in Borough Hall.
JAMIESON: Was that near your home? Was Staten Island where you lived?
CAGGIANO: Yes it was.
JAMIESON: Okay. Can you describe for us your boot camp experiences or any schools or assignments you had before joining the Little Rock?
CAGGIANO: Boot camp experience was really good. I'll never forget we had First Class Boatswain's Mate Travis and he happened to be named Travis after the town that I grew up in; so I could never forget the guy's name. And boot camp was a great experience for me.
JAMIESON: Which boot camp did you go to?
CAGGIANO: Great Lakes, Illinois.
JAMIESON: And where did you go after boot camp?
CAGGIANO: I went back to Great Lakes, Illinois to work in the Bachelor Officer's Quarters as a telephone installer and an office worker who registered officers into the BOQ.
JAMIESON: When and where did you report to the Little Rock for the first time?
CAGGIANO: Newport, Rhode Island in 1959. I believe it was wintertime.
JAMIESON: Was it cold in Rhode Island?
CAGGIANO: Oh yes; I drove up there in a 1952 Buick with 50 cents in my pocket from Manhattan. I paid 25 cents toll on the bridge - and the snow was this high - and I had a quarter when I got across the bridge and I got 25 cents worth of gas. Then I drove into the Newport, Rhode Island Naval Base and ran out of gas right inside the gate [chuckle].
JAMIESON: Just for the record, when he said "this high", it's about four feet of snow.
CAGGIANO: Easy, easy four feet of snow.
JAMIESON: And God loving. What was your initial impression of the ship? When you got out of your car and you walked over there for the first time what did you think?
CAGGIANO: Well I didn't see the ship in Newport, Rhode Island. What I did is they had us up in the barracks up there as a holding company and then they took us and they flew us to Philadelphia to first see the ship. And when I first saw the ship I said, "My God, that's kind of large." Then they put us in the 1st Division and they had a bunch of old sailors up there and I met my first boatswain's mate; Mr. Ivy, a son-of-a-gun but a great guy.
JAMIESON: So did you learn anything from Mr. Ivy?
CAGGIANO: Yes, how to tie knots [chuckle].
JAMIESON: And you did a lot of that in your younger days?
CAGGIANO: Indeed. A lot of holy-stoning.
JAMIESON: And just for the record, can you tell us what holy-stoning is all about?
CAGGIANO: Well put five or six guys on a line with a broomstick and a hole in a, I guess it's a firebrick, and what they do is they wet down the teakwood deck, then they throw sand on it and you do 32 licks to a board; up and down, up and down, and just one board, one board, one board, and then you continue on until your section ends.
JAMIESON: So that didn't wear blisters on you, did it?
CAGGIANO: No. We did it in bare feet as well so your feet were always clean.
JAMIESON: Oh, good man.
JAMIESON: So what was your division and department assignment on the ship; what division? You were in the 1st Division?
CAGGIANO: First Division, yes. Ordinary seaman, and then I was in charge of the gear locker. I used to hand out the gear to the guys; the chippers and the scrapers.
JAMIESON: So that was Deck Division?
JAMIESON: The Deck Department.
CAGGIANO: In the foc’sle.
JAMIESON: Yes, on the foc’sle. Where was your watch station underway?
CAGGIANO: We always had the watch up in the wheelhouse. We would have the phone talker - we switched. There were three of us - we had the phone talker, the enunciator and the wheelman who steered the ship, and every hour and a half we used to rotate and change. And mid-watch was one of the best watches because we got free sandwiches and coffee [chuckle].
JAMIESON: Yes, everybody looked forward to the mid-watch.
CAGGIANO: Oh, well that was great because what amazed me is you're staring out there and there's nothing but black of night and if you're supposed to meet a destroyer at sunrise, son of a gun, it was right there when we got there [chuckle].
JAMIESON: Now where was your battle station?
CAGGIANO: I was in.... what was it? Oh God, I was in the.... what do they call it?... the guys that fix the ship.... Damage Control.
JAMIESON: Damage Control?
JAMIESON: So you were in a Damage Repair Locker?
CAGGIANO: Yes, we were on the left main deck, just by the soda machine, and we had to go.... if anything hit us, or whatever, we had to shore up the bulkhead and this, that and the other thing.
JAMIESON: So as a young fellow was that pretty exciting stuff to do that?
CAGGIANO: To me it was, yes.
JAMIESON: Good. Can you describe a ship's cruise or operation while you were onboard? What was really memorable about some of your cruises?
CAGGIANO: We had our shakedown cruise going into Cuba. We fired on Culebra. We did this, we did that. And then we had what they called an "Atomic Washdown Drill." It was 110 degrees. What they did is they gave us these, I guess they were asbestos suits that weighed about 14 pounds, and they put them on us and we had to wash down the missile house. That was my "Atomic" duty station. We washed down the missile house. And sweat; I mean it was just terrible. You lost ten pounds. And guess what they gave us? Salt tablets.
JAMIESON: Salt tablets?
JAMIESON: During your time on the Little Rock I suppose that you made many interesting ports of call. Could you tell us about a few of those?
CAGGIANO: Oh yes. I liked Toulon, France. There was a bar we had gone to that Boatswain's Mate McKinnon had gone to - he was over here in World War II - and there used to be a girl in there who did a nice strip job. Her name was "Christine the Machine". And I'll be a son-of-a-gun. When we went in there in, what was it, '61 I guess, or '60, she was right there still yet after World War II doing her strip dance, and really great. Those were great times.
And we visited Athens and saw some of the ruins. We saw some of the old-time structures and such. It was just a great, great experience.
JAMIESON: Where was your berthing compartment on the ship?
CAGGIANO: It was just below the Marine berthing compartment. As a matter of fact it was the Marines, then it was the head, and then we went down a ladder. We slept in almost the bow of the ship.
JAMIESON: Was it an easy ride underway?
CAGGIANO: I never felt a thing.
JAMIESON: Never felt a thing?
JAMIESON: It kind of rocked you to sleep, huh?
JAMIESON: What did you think of the chow on the ship? Did they feed you pretty good in those days?
CAGGIANO: At that time, yes. You know underway we had, on Sundays we had steak and eggs. They called it a "brunch". That's the only fresh eggs we had. And then at night we had bologna sandwiches. But other than that the chow was pretty good. I could never fault that. Just the ice cream we got maybe once every month or so, which was a treat.
JAMIESON: Did they have a Geedunk onboard?
CAGGIANO: They did. That's where we used to sit and play pinochle; myself, Richey Lamersfield, Eugene Gappa, and several other guys. I forget what the sodas cost but that's what we did; we sat and played cribbage and pinochle, and studied. I studied college exams down there.
JAMIESON: Did they have a pretty good barber shop onboard?
CAGGIANO: You know I actually don't remember the barber shop that well [chuckle].
JAMIESON: How about laundry service; did they get your dungarees all nice and clean for you?
CAGGIANO: Yes, that's the main reason we had to have our names on it. But we used to throw it in the laundry thing and put them in a laundry bag and then send them down to the laundry, and then they'd send the bag back up and everybody sorted their clothes out.
JAMIESON: Who were some of your closest friends in your division and on the ship that you hung with?
CAGGIANO: Bill Baker was one. I keep in contact with him; and Larry, downstairs, was in my division; Eugene Gappa who lives in Arizona, I still contact him; and Boatswain's Mate McKinnon who passed away, a second class; and John Noonan from Boston. I don't know what ever happened to him. And I had a very good Marine friend, his name was Oakley. I don't know what ever happened to him as well.
JAMIESON: Were there any particularly colorful characters in your division that might stick out in your mind that maybe wasn't your buddy but yet really stuck out in your mind for some of the oddball stuff that they might have done?
CAGGIANO: Ensign Sala.
JAMIESON: And what made him so mind-boggling that you remembered him over all this time?
CAGGIANO: I was standing watch up on the bridge and I was on the phone-talkers and the future leader... I forget his name- of the Marine Corps; a commandant, lined up his troops on the deck, just port of the 6-inch mount. And what he did is, he took a bayonet and he threw the bayonet in the teakwood deck and he said, "Line up on that." Well Ensign Sala saw that and he ran down, picked that bayonet up and threw it overboard [laughter]. He said, "My men ain't holy-stoning that deck with holes in it." I don't know what ever happened to Sala; whether he got in trouble or not, but I laughed like hell.
JAMIESON: Can you recall any moments of great shock, fear, or excitement on the ship during your duties?
CAGGIANO: Well yes. When we were coming back we ran into a storm which had taken the forward radio tower off the bow, sheared back probably about ten or twelve stanchions on either side; port and starboard, as close to the deck just like they were cut off with a torch, and rolled back the sail locker like a sardine can. I was up on the 0-3 level with the lookouts and I said to myself, "You know what, if this ship goes down I'm standing close to the life preservers", and that's where I was through that whole storm [chuckle].
JAMIESON: Where were you coming to; your homeport?
CAGGIANO: I can't remember.
JAMIESON: But the storm really sticks out in your mind as a bad one.
CAGGIANO: Yes, that was one of the worst. I never saw anything like that.
JAMIESON: So let's talk about some of your leading petty officers. You mentioned Boatswain McKinnon. Was he your leading petty officer?
CAGGIANO: No, Ivy was; first class.
JAMIESON: And what was it about him that really made you . . . ?
CAGGIANO: He was a stern but a fair person. If you worked and you did what you had to do he never bothered you and he would help you with anything that you didn't understand. He was actually, to me, a true sailor. He never abused authority and really did a great job with the sailors, especially our division.
How about your Division Chief; can you remember anything about him?
CAGGIANO: I don't even know if we had a Chief to tell you the truth.
JAMIESON: Well maybe you didn't. Maybe your BM1 was the chief.
JAMIESON: How about your division officer? Was that Ensign Sala?
CAGGIANO: Sala and another guy. I can't remember his name. But Ensign Sala was the best. He was good. And most of the officers I knew were fair and, you know, they never pushed it to whatever they had to do or whatever. They did what they had to do and just like any sailor, you've just got to respect an officer and do what he says, you know. Its follow orders, that's all.
JAMIESON: So what you're saying is you were a good boy and you didn't get to meet the XO personally.
CAGGIANO: No, I never was to Captain's Mast [laughter].
JAMIESON: So you never got to talk to the XO and the CO?
CAGGIANO: I did. I hated the XO.
CAGGIANO: He was just a stern type. He was just a pain in the neck.
JAMIESON: He was, huh?
CAGGIANO: Yes. He was with Captain Chenault. Chenault was good.
JAMIESON: And what was the XO's name, do you remember?
CAGGIANO: Oh God, I can remember him. I forgot his name.
JAMIESON: Well maybe we can research that.
JAMIESON: When and where did you detach from the Little Rock after your tour of duty was over?
CAGGIANO: Where were we? Portsmouth.
JAMIESON: In Virginia?
JAMIESON: And that was in 1962?
JAMIESON: And how did you feel that last day when you walked off with your seabag for the last time?
CAGGIANO: I was glad. And as I walked off the ship the Officer of the Deck said, "You know you've got 30 days to reup", and I wish I would have listened to him.
JAMIESON: You do?
CAGGIANO: Oh, I would have loved it. If I had my life to live over again they would have to throw me out of the Navy.
JAMIESON: So your overall impression of the ship on your tour was . . .?
CAGGIANO: Excellent. I loved every minute of it.
Did you extend your Navy service or did you call it a day after that?
CAGGIANO: I called it a day after that.
After you got out of the Navy where did you go and what did you do?
CAGGIANO: I went back home and I got a job with U.S. Gypsum Company and then I got married and I stayed with Gypsum for a couple years. Then I went to work for Wakefern Food Corporation for a couple years and then I worked for the Fulton Fish Market for a couple years. Then I went to the New York City Transit Authority and was a mechanic on the subway trains for 21 years. I retired from there.
JAMIESON: So what outlooks or lessons that you learned in the Navy, how did they help you in your civilian career do you think?
CAGGIANO: Well I think the Navy helped me in many ways to.... well first they made a man of me, number one. And you have to make decisions, either good or bad, but you have to follow through on whatever you do. When I got married I had one child and then I had another child so my family came first and that's family values just like in the Navy. You've got to follow rules and you've got to do the right thing. You've got to take care of people. You're not the only one. You know you've got family values and that's what the Navy taught me actually amongst many other things. But God only knows I should have stayed in.
JAMIESON: You know I hear that a lot from veterans; that they wish they'd stayed in. At the time they couldn't wait to leave . . .
JAMIESON: . . . and as they get older they look back and see what was good about it.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you live and your family?
CAGGIANO: Well my family lives on Staten Island now. I have two daughters and one grand-daughter who now is going to college. She wants to be a chemist or one of those CSI people; a very smart girl. I have two grandsons; one nine and one four. My daughter is retired; well, not retired but a home-mother. She used to work for a big bank in Manhattan. The other daughter right now works.... well did work in the twin towers in Fuji Bank and now she works for some advertising company. I don't know. She made it out of the Fuji Bank before September 11th, thank God.
So what do you do for fun now that you're retired? Do you have hobbies?
CAGGIANO: Yes, I play a lot of golf and I play Texas Hold-em Poker on the computer, but PoGo for free, and I work part time for Traver & McCurry Funeral Parlor. I do the driving.
JAMIESON: Okay. Is that a quiet job?
CAGGIANO: It sure is; no complaints.
JAMIESON: How long have you been a member of the Little Rock Association?
CAGGIANO: I'm one of the founders.
JAMIESON: So how did that affect you? How did you happen to get involved with that?
CAGGIANO: Well my wife's cousin had a bar on Staten Island that he asked me to work in so I used to work one day a week on Saturdays. And one day we were sitting there talking about the Navy and about this and that and this guy said, "Well what ship were you on?" So I said, "Well I was on the USS Little Rock". And the guy happened to be a dredger and he said, "Well you know what, I'm from Buffalo and the Little Rock is up in Buffalo." I said, "Get out of here." I said, "The USS Little Rock?" He said, "Yes." He showed me a picture of it. I said, "That's it." So I said to my wife when I got home that day, I said, "Pack your bags. We're going up to Buffalo." "Why?" (she asked). I said, "My ship is there." So I took a commissioning booklet that I had and I presented it at the door to let me on for free and the ship just struck me. I was awe struck. After so many years of not seeing it, it just brought tears to my eyes to see it because I spent so much time on there. And I signed the book and then we went home.
And I forget how many years later it was and I get a call from Jim Kays and he said, "Ed, would you be interested in starting a Little Rock Association?" I said, "Sure, why not." So what we did is we got together. We had conference calls. We got a list from someplace, (he) gave me part of the list, and I went and I brought a program for my computer. I had a Macintosh Performa then. And I put the program in and had listed a million names and addresses of people. So what we did is, if the name of Caggiano came up; Edward, New York, we sent post cards to every Caggiano Edward in New York and that's how we started to get the first mail list. The first mail list was, I think it was approximately 500 people we mailed.
Well I had the computer so I had mailing labels and the minute I finished printing the mailing labels the computer broke because it wasn't able to handle 500 names. I think it only handled a hundred. But we took the 500 from that day on and it just went on. We talked on the phone and we signed the papers in, what the heck was it, June 28th, '91. I think that was the day. And from that day on this is what we have today. From that it just kept ballooning and ballooning and ballooning and we're just fortunate we had some good presidents and guys interested and who loved the association as I do.
JAMIESON: How many reunions have you attended out of the 15?
JAMIESON: So 13 out of 15. That's pretty good . . . .
CAGGIANO: Yes, the ones I didn't go to was Little Rock and there's one more I didn't go to. I think it was once in Buffalo. I'm not sure.
JAMIESON: So what does it mean to you to come to the reunions and see some of your old friends? Does that really mean a lot to you?
CAGGIANO: My 1st Division; the guys that I served with, I've only seen two; one was today and one was Gene Gappa was here. I saw McKinnon at several reunions; Boatswain's Mate McKinnon, and apparently 1st Division guys; boatswain's mates and deck division guys don't want to come. . . they're not interested. And this guy Larry Glasgow downstairs had told me that he's contacted Lammersfield and this guy and that guy and this guy and that guy, and they said they're not interested. Why? I have no idea.
JAMIESON: Do you think it's important that we try to keep in contact with these people?
CAGGIANO: Absolutely. He's going to give me a phone number of another guy too. I just keep sending them letters. I mean what is it, a 39 cent stamp?
JAMIESON: Any final thoughts or observations that you'd like to touch on that we haven't discussed here?
CAGGIANO: Just that the reunions are a nice bunch of people and it's just good to get back into circulation with guys that, you know, sailors. Because you're a sailor.... like a Marine .... you're a sailor all your life no matter where you go, what you do, and you're proud to have served. I most certainly am.
JAMIESON: Well I'm pretty impressed with your story and I thank you very much for taking off the time during your busy schedule to sit down and interview with me.
CAGGIANO: Well we served with the highest decorated sailor in the Navy who was on (board the Little Rock) in my time; Boatswain's Mate Williams and he was a second class as well. That's the Master-at-Arms corps. The two guys I remember were Williams and - what was the other guy's name..... Ecott; a black fellow, a sharp guy.
JAMIESON: And they were the Masters-at-Arms?
CAGGIANO: They were Masters-at-Arms, yes.
JAMIESON: Well once again, thank you for your time and this concludes our interview with Ed Caggiano.
CAGGIANO: Thank you.
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