U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Shipfitter First Class Leonard J. “Lefty” Loeffler (1945-1946)
Interviewer: John E. Conjura
John: I am John Conjura and I will be interviewing Shipfitter First Class Leonard J.“Lefty” Loeffler who served in CL 92. We are at the 13th Annual Reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at the Drawbridge Inn in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. The date is 23 July 2004. The purpose of this interview is to learn about life and duty aboard USS Little Rock CL 92 during its short period of service, 1945 through 1949, through the recollections of Petty Officer First Class Loeffler and other Rock sailors of that era.
Lefty, when, where and why did you join the Navy?
Lefty: Well I was working in the steel mills making 155 millimeter shells. I had my draft card and instead of letting them draft me, I took and joined the Navy.
John: What year was that?
John: When and where did you report to the USS Little Rock?
Lefty: At Camden, New Jersey, and I lived in the Annex Building because the USS Little Rock was still setting in the wet basin and they were finishing up on her and we used to go down every day to the ship and then at night we’d go back up to the Annex Building down in Philadelphia.
John: Were you part of the pre-commissioning detail?
Lefty: Yes, sir.
John: What was your initial impression of the ship?
Lefty: Well, I had a set of blue prints and I climbed around down below and looked at all the ..., checked all of the openings in the double bottoms and to see that they were put in right and check the place where the guys would go every day and drop the thing in to see how much water was in your double bottoms.
John: What year was this?
John: ‘42. What was your division assignment, your job, your watch station and battle station? I guess in the pre-com detail your work was pretty much relegated to doing work in getting the ship ready to go to sea.
Lefty: When we went to sea, I was leading petty officer of the R Division. All of the chiefs and first class had got off the ship before we ever sailed and then that put me in charge of the R Division.
John: After the ship left the shipyard and was deployed in the fleet, what operations did you participate in while you were aboard?
Lefty: Well, we had charge of the damage control and the only thing we done was go along and check all the hatches and everything to see that the dogging bars were on right so we could make these compartments water-tight. Our job was to check over the work that the Navy Yard had done.
John: Had the ship been commissioned at this time or was it still in a pre-commissioned status?
Lefty: Pre-commissioned. And then we went down off the coast of South America and we ran all the tests, and I still remember when they ran all four screws as fast as it’d go and then they ran it down from full ahead to full astern and it didn’t tear apart so they bought it.
John: I guess those are what you call the builder’s trials.
John: You were still homeported in Philadelphia?
John: How about after the ship completed her outfitting, when and where was it commissioned?
Lefty: It was commissioned in Philadelphia Navy Yard.
John: What date was that? Do you recall?
Lefty: I don’t recall.
John: Would you recall the year?
Lefty: I think it was ‘43.
John: Now after the ship was commissioned, did it change its home port?
Lefty: No. Philadelphia was still our home port.
John: How about after the ship was commissioned, what kind of operations did it go on?
Lefty: Most of ours were just ... they call it the shake-down cruise. They tried it out on four screws, full ahead and our runs were somewhere in the 30s, 30 knots, and I think we ran 27 knots on two screws during the time trials.
John: How about after the ship completed the builder’s trials and was in full service? Did your home port remain Philadelphia?
Lefty: Yeah. We used to go up and down the Delaware.
John: What other interesting ports of call did you make with the ship?
Lefty: Well, we went over to South America and made Rio and all those ports on the side of South America we had, and we was in one port and we was in ... I think it was ... I don’t remember what port we was in, but we went inland to ... and they had a riot and the ship had ... they claim the sailors was pulling the women’s dresses up and taking pictures of them and they confiscated all the cameras, but I can’t tell you the name of the place.
John: How about making those ports of call--what was your most interesting one and what was the worst on the list of liberty ports?
Lefty: Well, Montevideo, Uruguay. There was a sailor by the name of Malzone that was in our division. Him and I was in a beer joint and there was another division in there and we got in kind of a fist-a-cuff and they arrested us, took us to jail, and they had to send to Rio de Janeiro and get the embassy down there to get us out of jail.
John: Did they have to bail you out?
Lefty: Well, he had to show up and get us out, and down there they got one great big mess hall, one room, and all of the queers and the pimps and everybody is locked up in the same place and when I first went in there, why I noticed they all fell in line and went by this one opening. They got a tin cup and it had coffee in it so you kept going in a circle, and you went around and when you came back to that opening, they took your tin cup and they put mush in it and I said, “Well, I’ll be God damned if I’m going to eat that mush,” but come chow time the next day, I drank the coffee and ate the mush.
John: Did you undergo any disciplinary action aboard ship after they returned you to the ship?
Lefty: Well, I was restricted to liberty for two weeks. We had a skipper by the name of Captain Miller and he happened to not hear my ... I had a deck court and the executive officer, and I can’t think of his name, he gave me two weeks’ restriction which is pretty lucky.
John: What was your rating at that time?
Lefty: I was First Class Shipfitter.
John: They didn’t bust you?
John: If Montevideo was the best liberty port under those conditions, what was the worst one you made?
Lefty: That’s what I was trying to tell you. We went inland at ... I can’t recall ... somewhere I got a map of South America and I could tell you what ports we hit but I can’t. You’ve got a map haven’t you?
John: I don’t have one here, but I can imagine that there are ... you know you could grade them good and bad in South America at any given time and any period. How about living conditions on the ship and the quality of the ship’s chow?
Lefty: Well, at that time I was a young buck and chow didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. One time though we hit a big storm out there in the Atlantic, and we didn’t have any warm meals for a couple of weeks. It was so rough that they couldn’t keep anything in the cooking kettles.
John: So that probably was a period of bologna sandwiches and cold coffee?
Lefty: Well, you called it bologna sandwiches and I call it horse cock.
John: I was thinking of that Lefty. How about some of your close buddies and being colorful shipmates and their experiences?
Lefty: Well, Malzone was in our division but there was a Tom Hammond that was a gunner’s mate on Turret 5, an anti-aircraft gun, and him and I buddied around quite a little bit. Everybody is thinking that it’s kinda risque around the United States now, while back in them days that was just common.
John: Did you ever pull into Norfolk for port visits?
Lefty: Well, you call it Norfolk and we used to call it Shit City.
John: And I guess you made East Main Street part of your liberty route?
John: Any experiences from down there and the Gaiety Theater?
Lefty: No. They had signs “no sailors allowed.” They didn’t think much of us there in Norfolk, but some of the beer joints didn’t turn your money down. You know that green makes a difference.
John: Did you every go into Popeye’s?
Lefty: No, not that I know of.
John: Or the Crazy Cat?
John: How about when the ship was either in port or at sea, did you have any close call experiences that raised the hair on your head, or put the fear of God in you, or got you all shook up?
Lefty: No. No, we never had any close calls while I was aboard. Just that one where we hit that riot there. They brought the Army out and got us out of town, and put us on the train and sent us back to the ship.
John: This was in Montevideo?
Lefty: No. This was ... I can’t remember the name of the town. General Motors had a big factory there, and they had a picnic for us one time and we went to the picnic, and then we went into town and that’s when they had the riot and they kind of put the fear of God in some of the guys. They think they were going to hang them.
John: Was that the local natives?
Lefty: Well yeah ... you’d see a band walk down the street with a black armband on and the next time they’d come by, they’d have a white armband on. They changed politics like you changed your socks?
John: Did the ship have any shore patrol to interact with or to protect ...?
Lefty: I used to go over on shore patrol. In Rio de Janeiro, they didn’t allow the sailors in some of the joints, only the officers could go in. At Cocacabana Beach, they had a big bouncer on the door and the sailors couldn’t go in, just the officers.
John: It’s a little bit of discrimination by rank.
Lefty: Yeah. Well, back in them days, the way they recruited their sailors, they’d clean the jails out. They compared us to their constricted sailors, and they didn’t realize we joined the Navy.
John: Do you remember your skipper, your executive officer or other leaders in your chain of command, and can you comment on how their interactions with the ship and the crew went?
Lefty: Captain Miller was our skipper. I can’t tell you who the exec. was now, but the Captain and the Exec. ... When the Exec. was assigned to the Little Rock, he made a full four striper the same as our Captain, but he couldn’t put his fourth stripe on or he couldn’t draw the same wages as a Skipper. He had to draw less money than a Skipper. So they didn’t get along too well.
John: Did they play good cop, bad cop with the crew?
Lefty: No. No. Miller was a 30-year man and he had spent all of his ... this is his first command at sea. He had spent most of his 30 years in Washington, DC.
John: So, how many skippers did you have during your tour on the Little Rock?
Lefty: Just one.
John: Ex O’s?
Lefty: Same. I didn’t stay aboard long enough to ... see I got off of her the latter part of ‘45 or the first part of ‘46.
John: How did you get along with your Division Chief?
Lefty: Well, we didn’t have none. I was the leading PO of the R Division. We had a Chief Carpenter’s Mate but we didn’t have no Chief Shipfitter, and that’s how I got off the ship. I had enough points to get off, but they said I couldn’t be replaced. So then I missed a Captain’s inspection, and they gave me a Deck Court and broke me from first to second, and that opened the door. They broke me this morning and at 3 o’clock this afternoon I was getting on a boat to go on to shore. I got off the ship. I was no longer indispensable.
John: So when and where did you detach from the Little Rock?
Lefty: In Rio de Janeiro out in the harbor. They took me and took me into Rio and I caught an airplane back to the States and flew in to the Trinidad Islands and flew in to Miami Beach, Florida. From there, I caught a train to Shoemaker, California, and I got a consignment of 26 recruits and I had them all bunched up and I said, “Now fellas we are going to Shoemaker, California. You’re all here together, 26 of you.” I said, “This is the last time I count you. If you are not on the friggin train when we get to Shoemaker, it’s your ass. I got all your records.” I got to Shoemaker, California and I had 26 and I had all the chow chits to feed them aboard the train and I had the colored quarters. I spent their chow chits on whiskey; not all of them but most of them.
John: Did you have their chow chits? How did they get to eat?
Lefty: Well, some of them didn’t get to eat.
John: So when you detached from the Little Rock, how much time did you have in the Navy at that point in your career?
Lefty: I had a little over three years.
John: So, what was your overall impression of your tour of duty on the Little Rock?
Lefty: Oh, I told them when they cornered me and asked me how much action I had seen, I said, “Well, we had the battle of the beer joints.” I said, “Every port we hit in South America, there was a beer joint and we had the battle of the beer joints.”
John: After leaving the Little Rock, what was your next assignment?
Lefty: Well, I flew in to Shoemaker and was discharged out of the Navy, and I went back to the steel mills.
John: And so after leaving the service and what year was that? ‘46? What career did you have after that? Was your entire civilian employment in the steel industry?
Lefty: No. I quit the CF & I, and I went to iron working ... structural iron. I put up these tall buildings and towers and such as that.
John: Were you the guys that we see on the TV history channel grabbing on those steel girders way up there.
Lefty: Yep. I done that for 40 years.
John: That’s commendable, Lefty. So, what has your Naval service meant to you as you look back on your total life experiences?
Lefty: Well, I have no qualms about it. I enjoyed my hitch in the Navy. Like I said, it took them all three years, and they finally halter broke me. I found out that I had to follow orders.
John: Do you think that the discipline is probably the thing that stands out from the Naval service.
John: How long have you been a member of the Little Rock Association and how many reunions have you attended?
Lefty: Well, I think I have attended eleven of them counting this one. I think there’s thirteen and I have missed two. I missed Little Rock, Arkansas, and one more.
John: What do these reunions mean to you when you come back every year?
Lefty: Well, I enjoy meeting the guys through the years. They are getting older. It’s kind of like I said, I hate to come to these reunions around all these old people.
John: So, do you have any final thoughts or observations since this is going to be part of the Oral History Record for the Little Rock and will probably be placed aboard the ship in some repository in paper form. Is there anything that you would want to impart to the world that awaits these comments?
Lefty: No. I have no bad feelings about my time on the Little Rock. I caused my own trouble.
John: Anything else that you might feel would be of interest to us?
Lefty: No, not really.
John: How about cracked ass? You told me about the flight out of Rio didn’t you when you were coming back to the States, you told me about that earlier?
Lefty: What’s that?
John: The flight out of Rio, Rio de Janeiro. What is the significance of cracked ass? Cracker ass, I’m sorry.
Lefty: Cracker ass. Oh, well. Our division didn’t have a division officer and they brought a young gentleman, Ensign Knapp, aboard and put him in charge of our division. Well, he hadn’t only been in the Navy maybe two weeks. He was a chemist by trade, and I nicknamed him “Cracker Ass” and during inspections in the morning I called the muster and I went up and I saluted him and I said, “All present and accounted for Cracker Ass.” This is on the main deck and everybody could hear me since I got a big voice, and I waited for the other boot to fall for a couple of weeks, and he didn’t even put me on report.
John: Probably through embarrassment.
John: How about Seattle?
Lefty: Well, let’s see. I was trying to think of the name of that street.
John: How about the late sleeper incident?
Lefty: I came on board one morning pretty well stiffed, and I told Ensign Knapp I had worked all night and I got to sleep late. So one of the guys came down in my compartment about 1 o’clock and told me I had better get up, that the executive officer was coming by. So I got up and went up, and the old man never put me on report.
John: So, is there anything else that you care to offer us, Lefty?
Lefty: I brought back the USS Franklin from the first battle of the Philippines and we came in to Bremerton, Washington, and they gave me a 48-hour liberty and so nine days later they brought me back aboard to Bremerton and I went before the old man there in Bremerton and I listened to all these guys tell their sea stories why they were late. I got up to my turn and said, “Well I’ll tell you, I’ve been across the pond pert near two years and they didn’t make enough booze to satisfy me and it took me this long to kind of catch up on my partying,” and he looked at me and he said, “You’re the first one that told me a plausible story,” and he gave me two weeks’ restriction, master-at-arms of the chow hall.
John: So then this was before your duty aboard the Little Rock, you were aboard the Franklin CV-13?
Lefty: No. I was on Midway and I caught the USS Franklin back from the first battle of the Philippines.
John: Was this after she took all of those terrific battle hits?
Lefty: Oh yeah. She had a hole in her flight deck that you could stick about four Mack trucks wide in.
John: Lefty, I think that does it and this ends the interview with Shipfitter First Class Leonard J. “Lefty” Loeffler and we want to thank you very much.
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