U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Jack Force
Interviewer: Rick Jamieson
JAMIESON: I am Rick Jamieson, and I will be interviewing Jack Force, who served on board CLG 4, USS Little Rock. We are at the 17th annual reunion of the Little Rock Association at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Buffalo, New York. Today’s date is July 21, 2007. The purpose of this interview is to get to know Jack and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as the leading chief petty officer of B Division aboard USS Little Rock, CLG 4, during his tenure of service from January 1971 to June of 1972.
Jack, for background, please summarize your early life, education, and work experience, if any, before joining the Navy.
FORCE: Well, I was born and raised in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, which is about twenty-six miles northwest of Philadelphia, and went through high school and graduated there in 1954. My work experience was working on area farms after school and in the summertime.
I joined the Navy in October of 1954 and had to borrow my girlfriend’s mother’s car to drive to Norristown because there wasn’t anyplace to enlist in my home town. It was too small. I went through Bainbridge, Maryland, for boot camp. I was on seven ships prior to the Little Rock, and I went to BT-A school and BT-B school in the early part of my Navy career.
I reported aboard the Little Rock when it was in Boston Naval Shipyard in January 1971.
JAMIESON: Just to clarify: BT-A school, BT-B school, and the rate BT is Boiler Technician, correct?
FORCE: Right. It’s been changed several times, though. Over the years it was boiler tender, boiler technician, and just plain boilerman. But it’s always been BT.
JAMIESON: What was your initial impression of the ship when you first saw it?
FORCE: Well, I thought it was a good-looking ship, even though it was in the shipyard. But the firerooms were in various stages of disassembly and they were just torn up and being overhauled. And the BTs were working twelve-hour shifts.
JAMIESON: And that wasn’t normal.
FORCE: No, not normal, but they were up against a tough schedule.
JAMIESON: But in the shipyard was it normal?
FORCE: Right. For them, yes.
JAMIESON: So what was your division and department assignment?
FORCE: I was in B Division in the Engineering Department. I was B Division Chief Petty Officer, and I stood Engineering Efficer of the Watch. My battle station was in the forward fireroom.
JAMIESON: What did that entail, being at that battle station in the forward fireroom? Tell me a little bit about that job.
FORCE: Well, I was just in charge of the fireroom there, that’s all. Actually another guy there was the top watch but I was overseeing him.
JAMIESON: How many men worked in the fireroom on this type of cruiser?
FORCE: I’d say there was probably around twenty.
JAMIESON: Twenty in the engine room?
FORCE: Yeah. And then there was about half a dozen guys in the oil shack.
JAMIESON: Was there air conditioning down there?
FORCE: No. (Chuckle) No air conditioning.
JAMIESON: No air conditioning in those days?
FORCE: No. Actually, when I woke up one morning when the ship was in the shipyard — I was sleeping in the chiefs’ quarters — I woke up one morning and it was 26 degrees in there.
JAMIESON: And what did you think? It was going to snow?
FORCE: Yeah. And when we went to Gitmo it was 126! (Chuckle)
JAMIESON: How many cruises did you make on the Little Rock, and can you tell us a little bit about where you went and what you did?
FORCE: We made the shakedown cruise down to Gitmo (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) right after that, which was quite a deal. I made another cruise down there, like a Springboard cruise or something — I don’t remember the name of it offhand — and then I made one Med cruise. And when I went to the Med, of course, we hit Naples and Athens and Trieste and... where else did we go? Probably Barcelona, Spain.
JAMIESON: What was your favorite port?
FORCE: I liked Trieste. The first time I’d ever been there, was on the Little Rock, and I had been to the Med several times before, probably about half a dozen.
JAMIESON: So you were a chief and you stayed in the chiefs’ quarters. Can you tell me a little bit about your living conditions on the ship as a chief?
FORCE: Well, of course, they were a little better than the regular enlisted men. We had our own cook and everything. Plus we had the closed mess where we got our money and we bought our own food. It was pretty good, I thought. We had one guy whose mother sent him pecans from Georgia when we were over in the Med, and the cook made pecan pies for us.
JAMIESON: So did the Mess President do the shopping? Or how did that work, when you...? Who collected the money? The Mess Treasurer? Or what happened?
FORCE: The cook, I think, bought the food. I guess we told him what we wanted and he bought it.
JAMIESON: So did you ever run out on deployment and have to go to the ship’s supply officer and say, “Look, I need to buy some peanut butter,” or anything like that?
FORCE: Not that I know of (chuckle). I don’t remember that ever happening, but it’s possible that it did. And it was a pretty good bunch of chiefs on there, you know. Of course, we got our laundry done, and our shirts all came back pressed and our khakis were always pressed.
JAMIESON: How about your buttons? Did they come back in one piece, or did they break them like they did everybody else’s buttons?
FORCE: I don’t recall ever having any problem with buttons, but it’s possible.
JAMIESON: Really? What did they do for recreation on the ship? What did you guys do in the chiefs’ mess for fun?
FORCE: Oh, they played cards and acey-deucy, and listened to music and all. I taped a lot of music when I was on there.
JAMIESON: Did they have movie nights on board? Did you folks have a movie projector?
FORCE: Yeah, they did. We had a movie every night, I believe.
JAMIESON: All the comforts of home, huh?
FORCE: Yeah, I forgot all about the movies (chuckle).
JAMIESON: Tell me about some of your close buddies or colorful characters among your shipmates.
FORCE: Well, I used to run around with John Thibodeau who we used to call “Tippy-Toes”, and a guy by the name of Don Morley. I think they were the two main guys I ran around with. Don Morley was a chief BT. Thibodeau was a chief MM (machinist’s mate), and he was on there for his second time. He was a plank-owner and then he had other duty and then he came back to Little Rock again. And he hasn’t been to any of the reunions.
JAMIESON: Is he a member of the Association?
FORCE: He was. I don’t know if he still is or not. He lives in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Yeah, I went ashore mostly with him. He was a character. And there was a boatswain’s mate by the name of Brown. He’s the one whose mother sent him the pecans. And there was a Marine Sergeant Yuragus that used to do all the calisthenics back there in the after chiefs’ quarters to Mexican music. I asked him one time: How come you do your workout down here and then you go up on the fantail and work out with your troops? And he said, “I have to, to keep up with them.”
I’ll tell you another story about him (chuckle). I saw him out on the pier in the shipyard and he was marching his squad down the pier. After a while they all came marching back, and then we asked the sergeant, “Where were you guys?” And he says, “You know those telephone poles they lay across there and you pull your car up to so you don’t pull too far forward?” He drove a Volvo. He says, “Well, I drove over it, and my car was like this.”
FORCE: Yeah. He says, “So they went out and lifted it off for me.” (Laughter). Yeah, he was a character.
JAMIESON: Can you recall any moments of great shock, fear, or excitement while you were on board?
FORCE: Yeah, one time, I don’t remember exactly where it was, we had an engineering casualty in the forward fireroom where the main feed pump over sped and it didn’t trip like it was supposed to, and the shrouding on the steam turbine came off. It was metal, and it cut through the exhaust line and it started to fill the space up with exhaust steam. It’s not high-pressure steam, but it’s very hot and wet. So we secured the space and got out.
We didn’t have any people get hurt except for Lieutenant Commander George Dyer. He went back down the ladder and he just got his face down—he was down far enough that his face was down in the space—and his nose blistered up from the heat. So he turned around and came back. We had to wait till the place cooled down before we could go down there.
But it was a shock, and there was some fear and there was some excitement in there too, getting the place secured and all. Most of the time nothing like that ever happens, and we just do drills to prepare for it.
JAMIESON: So what you did was, you got everybody out, dogged down the hatches and closed it off, and just let it sit there until it cooled off.
FORCE: Yeah. And it was just a couple hours and then we went down. We couldn’t use that space for a while until we got that line repaired, because if I recall right there was no way to isolate it. I think the shipfitters took care of it. It wasn’t that big of a hole.
JAMIESON: Do you have any interesting recollections about your LPO, your Division Officer, any leaders in the chain of command?
FORCE: Well, we had good people, I’ll tell you. The majority of them were all mustangs, you know. Like Lieutenant Commander Dyer was a former BT, and then we had Commander Charlie Fiske. And there was a fellow by the name of Myrick; I think he was a warrant officer. But they were all former enlisted men.
And there was another officer in engineering by the name of Jones. He was from Philadelphia, and it just so happened that my uncle drove a truck for his grandfather. They had Jones Motor Company back then, and yeah, my uncle worked for his grandfather.
JAMIESON: Small world, isn’t it?
FORCE: Yeah, right. But, like I say, they were all good people and I really liked them. George Dyer, he died a few years ago. He never made it to any of these reunions. But Commander Fiske, used to be a regular. Of course, he’s got health problems now and he hasn’t made it to the last two. They were the people that I remember most, and, like I say, they were down-to-earth guys and I really respected them.
JAMIESON: Who was your Division Officer while you were there? Do you remember?
FORCE: No (chuckle).
JAMIESON: So he pretty much did what you told him to, and he was a nondescript guy and you can’t even remember his name?
FORCE: Can’t even remember his name, I’m sorry to say.
JAMIESON: Did the XO or the Captain ever come down to the engineering spaces?
FORCE: I don’t remember them ever coming down there. Captain Little, then Captain Nagler, were the two captains while I was on board, and I can’t remember them ever coming down there.
JAMIESON: How about the admiral and his staff? Did you ever get a visit from them?
FORCE: We had the staff on board and I don’t remember ever seeing any of them down there, either. I guess the firerooms were pretty much a place for them to stay away from. (Chuckle) They didn’t like that heat.
JAMIESON: They didn’t like the heat, eh?
FORCE: I didn’t say anything about it earlier, but, while I came aboard there as Chief, I was already selected for Senior Chief, and I got that soon after I came aboard. And while I was on there I was selected for Master Chief, but I didn’t get that until a year after I left the ship.
JAMIESON: Okay. When and where did you detach from the Little Rock?
FORCE: We were in Newport, Rhode Island, in June of 1972.
JAMIESON: So, were you sad to go, or was it mixed emotions, joy and happiness?
FORCE: Mixed emotions, because I was being sent back to Great Lakes again, and I really didn’t want to go there either. (Laughter)
JAMIESON: What was your overall impression of your tour on the ship?
FORCE: Oh, I enjoyed it. Like I say, I thought it was a good ship. I wish they had spent more money on the engineering plant than they did on missiles (chuckle). My feeling always was that, yeah, it’s a missile cruiser and all, but if you can’t get those missiles out to sea, why...
JAMIESON: What good are they?
FORCE: Yeah, right.
JAMIESON: Once you left the Little Rock you obviously didn’t get out of the Navy. What happened after you left the Little Rock, as far as your Navy service went?
FORCE: Well, I went to Great Lakes, to the Service School Command at Great Lakes, and then while at Great Lakes I was at the A School and I was the Material Officer at the 600-pound steam lab, where they trained MMs and BTs to come to the fleet. And that was basically my job there for three years, and then I retired.
JAMIESON: How many years’ service did you have?
FORCE: I had twenty-one years in.
JAMIESON: So after twenty-one years you hang up your combination cap, and now you’re out in the big civilian world. Was that a shock?
FORCE: Oh, yeah. (Laughter) You know, women were just starting to come in the Navy when I was going out. And then I had to adjust myself, not because of my language or anything, just working with women, because I had never done that before.
See, when I was up there at Great Lakes, a fellow called up there and was asking for Master Mhief BTs or MMs that were retiring. They were looking to hire somebody. So they gave him my name, and this guy was a retired Navy captain, aviation. They wanted somebody for chief engineer at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Well, I told them yeah, I’d be interested, because there weren’t any jobs back in Pennsylvania at the time. I had checked into it and I wasn’t getting any offers. So, “Yeah, I’ll take the job. I’ll take it.”
Well, I went down there as assistant chief engineer and I was working for a retired chief machinist’s mate who retired in 1955, the year after I went in the Navy. He told me, he said, “I’m not ready to retire.” So I stayed there for about four years and then I left and I took another job at another hospital, half the distance away in the opposite direction, so I was out of the traffic and everything. Instead of driving into Chicago I was driving away from the traffic. I was manager of maintenance engineering and grounds at this hospital. We had forty-six acres there of buildings and grounds to take care of. So I worked there for thirteen years, and then I really did retire.
JAMIESON: You’d had enough.
FORCE: Yeah. (Chuckle)
JAMIESON: What lessons and outlooks or values did you take away from your naval service that helped you in your future years?
FORCE: Oh, leadership was number one. Then there was technical experience in the operation and maintenance of steam-driven equipment and electrical-driven equipment that included the repair of pumps and boilers and things like that.
JAMIESON: Can you tell us a little bit about where you live, your family, any community involvement, maybe things that you like to do for fun?
FORCE: Sure. I live in Downers Grove, Illinois, which is twenty-six miles west of Chicago. I’ve got a wife and two children and four granddaughters. My daughter’s married and has the four granddaughters. My son, he’s forty-one years old. He’s been a lawyer for sixteen years. And right now he’s over in Cambodia, looking to work over there.
FORCE: Yeah. He just graduated from a year program in Washington, D.C., about international law.
I’m active in our church. Once a month I go down to Chicago to another church and serve food to the homeless, or people that can’t afford food, some of whom aren’t homeless. And then I volunteer once a week to listen to first-graders read at my granddaughter’s school. And then I like to do woodworking. And I’ve got six motorcycles; restored four of them, one of them doesn’t need it, and the other one I plan on restoring sometime the rest of this year. Five of them are old Triumphs, and the other is a BMW with a sidecar.
What else do I do for fun? In bad weather, I do model railroading in the basement.
JAMIESON: I bet that makes you pretty popular with the grandkids.
FORCE: Yeah. Yeah, they like it. They come down there and look at it and they say, “Aw, you didn’t do anything yet.” (Laughter)
JAMIESON: How long have you been a member of the Little Rock Association? And what do you think about the reunions? How many have you attended?
FORCE: Well, I’ve been a member since they started, and I’ve attended all the reunions. I haven’t missed any yet.
JAMIESON: Good, good.
FORCE: And, of course, I like them; otherwise I wouldn’t be here every year and I’ve made some new friends here. Most of the people I know don’t come, or don’t come anymore, due to health reasons and things like that.
JAMIESON: So, were you an Association founder?
FORCE: No, I just was member Number 373, life member. I was just talking to a guy down there, and I asked him if he put the ship out of commission. He says yeah, and his number is 372.
JAMIESON: Makes you wonder sometimes, doesn’t it? Do you have any thoughts or final observations that you want to talk about before we close?
FORCE: I think my overall experience with Little Rock and the Navy, both, has been very helpful to me in my life, and if I had to do it all over again I would do it all over again. I enjoyed my time in the Navy. And I didn’t marry the girl whose mother’s car I borrowed to go enlist. (Laughter) But I met my wife through the Navy, on a blind date on April Fool’s Day.
JAMIESON: Oh, really? That’s a whole ‘nother tape, right?
FORCE: Right. (Laughter)
JAMIESON: Okay. This ends the interview with Jack Force.
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