U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Richard Joyce
Interviewer: Nick Perillo
PERILLO: ...I will be interviewing Richard Joyce, who served on the (USS Little Rock) CL 92. We are at the 16th annual reunion of the USS Little Rock Association in Buffalo, New York. This is the 21st day of July, 2007. The purpose of this interview is to get to know Rich and from his recollection learn more about life and duty as an enlisted man aboard the USS Little Rock, CL 92, during his tenure of service.
Rich, when did you join the service?
JOYCE: I actually signed up in September of 1944, but I wasn’t called up until the early part of ’45.
PERILLO: For background, can you give me an idea of what your early life was, your education and work experiences before you joined the Navy?
JOYCE: Yeah. I came from a large, I guess you would call it lower-middle-class family from Philadelphia. I had two brothers and five sisters. And my dad was a hard-working glass blower from Gill’s Glass House, on Delaware Avenue. I remember playing on Delaware Avenue not far from where ships were built down in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard area. When I was a little kid I used to play down there.
I had a great childhood; really enjoyed it. I went to school in the Philadelphia area and did well. Before I knew it, the war had come along and both my brothers had been drafted into the Army. As soon as I turned seventeen, I kept bugging my dad: It's my turn to go, but he couldn't see it. I guess he was worried how Mom would take it, because two's enough; she didn't want another one. They gave in eventually and three or four of us from our childhood gang got together and went down to, I think it was 72nd and Greenwood in downtown Philadelphia, and we enlisted. I think it was the armory down there. When we enlisted, we didn't know our ass from third base, but I know four of us went down and they gave us a quick physical. One guy passed out with the needle, so that was the end of him. He didn't come back. (Laughter)
PERILLO: Rich, I just want to inject something. I notice here you now live in Florida. I'm still in the Philadelphia area at least three or four times a week, and let me tell you about Delaware Avenue. It's not what it was when you played there, all right? (Chuckle)
Where did you go to boot camp, and what assignments did you have there?
JOYCE: They sent us to Bainbridge, Maryland. I really got a lucky break, because in my crowd, or gang I guess we would call it, we had quite a few boxers, and one of them was a very adept boxer. His name was Vic, Vic Gabzino. He had gone in right before me in the Navy and was stationed in Bainbridge, and they had made him an athletic instructor, a specialist of sorts. Boy, was that a stroke of luck, because as soon as I got down there in Bainbridge I looked him up and he got me into the boxing game, the 4th Regimentals. So I had a real good time down there, eating very well and no duty (chuckle).
Of course, I had a lot of problems. We had problems with the sections of the country that were in our barracks. Most of them were Southerners, only a few of us Northerners, so I had quite a few fights (chuckle).
PERILLO: Rich, when and where did you report to the Little Rock?
JOYCE: After Bainbridge they sent me to Newport, Rhode Island, because I really got to know this chief quartermaster. I don't know where I met him but I got to know him, and I practically begged him as to how I could get into the N Division. So he said he would do his best to help me. So eventually I got enrolled in quartermaster school in Newport. I did pretty well in the exams, and after finishing school in Newport I was on a train back to Philadelphia, and that's when I joined right on the Little Rock.
PERILLO: Rich, what was your initial impression of the ship when you first saw her?
JOYCE: I couldn't believe the size of it. I never imagined. I'd seen, you know, movies, of course, but never stood up right next to it. I stood on that dock and I was amazed at the size of the vessel. I thought, oh my God, what the hell am I doing on here? (Chuckle)
PERILLO: That's the same impression almost every one of us had. What were your division, department, jobs, and watch stations that you were assigned to?
JOYCE: Like I said, I was assigned to the N Division. I did mostly wheel watches and did some log writing. I guess outside of keeping my bunk clean I didn't have a hell of a lot to do, but I enjoyed it, whatever I was doing.
I was doing fine until we got on the shakedown cruise, and that's when I got hit. Somebody brought me a beautiful greasy sandwich one night and I ate it and my appendix burst. (Laughter) So they quickly sent me to sick bay, and I remember Doctor Hoover. We were doing about thirty knots, twenty-five or thirty knots, and they said he came in and asked me what religion I was. I said, “Catholic.” He said, “Say a Hail Mary.” I said, “What the hell is going on here?” He said, “We're going to take your appendix out,” and they did.
After the operation they put me in a Higgins boat, put me over the side, and took me to the Gitmo hospital. I stayed there for about six weeks, draining and healing my scar (chuckle).
PERILLO: Rich, could you describe some of the cruises or operations while you were aboard on Little Rock?
JOYCE: Yeah, we really were gifted in getting.... Luckily, the war ended, of course, when they dropped the bomb, so we were turned around and sent on a goodwill tour to South America. It was a million-dollar trip. We couldn't have bought it. Beautiful country, beautiful ports, nice people. I enjoyed it very much. I had a great time, especially in Rio de Janeiro. Every little port had something different to offer.
PERILLO: Rich, were you on board around ’47, and you were onboard for a Mediterranean cruise? And if you were, can you remember any of the ports?
JOYCE: No, that was one of my biggest regrets. I took a discharge in June, ’46, and then they made the trip. I missed that whole trip. If I had re-enlisted I would have gone, but I didn't do it. And I was sorry afterwards, but one can't have everything.
PERILLO: Describe some of the living conditions on this ship, the quality of the food and the ship’s service like the gedunk, barbershop, laundry, and onboard recreation that they had.
JOYCE: It was very well-kept and very clean. Everybody was expected to do their job and keep their place, station, clean, and they did. I never had any complaints about the crew. Everybody seemed friendly. I never had any problems.
As for recreation I remember, since I was a boxer, we used to stage little exhibition fights on the fantail on Saturday night. We had some nice boxing matches. They weren't according to weight; you took what you got. (Laughter). And I was a little guy, so I was fighting some pretty big guys. But it was enjoyable. We had good times.
PERILLO: Can you tell me something about some of your close buddies or someone you really enjoyed being with on board the ship?
JOYCE: Yeah, we were very close-knit. There were about five of us very close together. I know that one fellow, he flunked out of Annapolis and became a quartermaster. Another one, for some reason, had bowed out of the Coast Guard Academy. So these guys were sharp, but for some reason they just didn't make it in the big place. And then there was a bugler, a little guy from Rhode Island, and there were a couple others that, everywhere we went we went together. We wound up in trouble together (chuckle), but we enjoyed each other. Unfortunately, since I've been on the Internet, every time I try to find one of them, the poor guys are gone.
PERILLO: Rich, can you recall any moments of great shock, fear, or excitement that happened while you were on the Little Rock? You know, maybe some storms that you hit or something?
JOYCE: Well, of course, the greatest was rounding Cape Horn. I was never so scared in my life. I couldn't believe — there were icebergs the size of buildings. They looked like the Empire State Building. And imagine in the middle of the night and you're on the wheel and all of a sudden you look out and you see this huge, dirty white wall of ice going by you. It was scary as hell with the water and the waves smashing down. They looked like they were fifty, sixty feet high. But I'll tell you, it woke you up, and then you knew you were out at sea. (Laughter)
PERILLO: Rich, you mentioned that you left the Navy. What year, from what port did you leave the Little Rock?
JOYCE: They discharged me in Philly, and before they discharged me they reassigned me to a yard minesweeper that was anchored in Philly right at the Naval base. They put me on there until I actually got discharged. So I spent a few months on that yard minesweeper — YMS 489, it was — and I spent my last days there. I enjoyed that.
PERILLO: Rich, what was your overall impression of your tour on the Little Rock?
JOYCE: The greatest experience — of course, I was a young kid and I hadn't much experience of anything, but that was the greatest, I think, then and since.
And there was one other incident. I didn't want to talk about it but I think somebody mentioned it, so I'd better mention it. I was on the wheel and one of our planes, our observation planes, was coming in to hook into the mat. And I got the command to “Right standard rudder.” I did my job, I thought, and evidently something went wrong and the poor pilot missed the hook, or his hook missed the mat, and he went headfirst into the water, nose-dived the plane in, and he went in with it. I still remember him coming through that little hatchway, cursing and screaming and yelling, “Who the hell was on that wheel?” (Laughter) But I never did get blamed for it. He blamed the JOOD. (Laughter).
PERILLO: I'm laughing with you because I went on the Rock after you left and we had a similar experience with a plane, so I know what you were doing, all right? I shouldn't put this on the tape, but this is like my history. What you are describing here is my history, even though I was on after you got off, all right? But this was my history — Bainbridge, the whole thing, all right? All right, Rich, we won't tie this tape up with that story.
What civilian job did you return to after your tour of duty? Just give us a brief description of what career you pursued after your service.
JOYCE: Well, see, I hadn't finished high school. I left in my junior year in high school to join up. So I went back to school. I went back to finish my high school, and went on to Temple University and became an accountant. So I pursued a job in accounting and business law. I worked for Monsanto Plastics, retired from them, and then went to work for Leaseway Transportation. So I retired from two different companies. I supported eight kids, so I was satisfied with it.
PERILLO: You just answered my next question. You had eight children, right? Where do they live now? You're in Naples, Florida? Where are your children now?
JOYCE: Well, they followed me. (Laughter) A couple of them tested the waters in Florida before I retired, and they loved it so much that Mom came down first, she scouted the region and found a place called Marco Island. So I followed her down, and then all the other kids, one by one, they sold their homes up north and they all came down. Now they're all here (chuckle).
PERILLO: Rich, is there anything you would just like to add to this interview, from your own feelings through the years of what the Little Rock has meant to you, what it has done for you in your years, in your career, and for your children?
JOYCE: Well, it really gives you a sense of belonging to a great organization, with great people. They were people that you knew if you ever needed them, you could call on them. I never met so many friendly guys in my life.
And I almost didn't come, if it wasn’t for my sons. They started the ball rolling. See, I needed a little push. But they said: For your eightieth birthday we're going to send you back to your ship. So it means a lot to me and I'll always remember it, and I thank them for it. And I thank all the Association members for being so nice.
PERILLO: Thank you, Rich. This is going to end our interview with Rich Joyce.
In closing, I would just like to welcome Rich and his family to the USS Little Rock as a former director and President of the Association. Rich is a first-timer, and we are so grateful that you and your sons came to see that ship, and we hope to see you here in two years. Thank you so much for the interview.
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