U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Elmer "Obie" Oberlander
Interviewer: Jack Force
Date: June 28, 2006
FORCE: I am Jack Force. and I will be interviewing Elmer Oberlander. otherwise known as "Obie", who served on the CL-92. We are at Obie's home in Wheaton. IL The date is June 28, 2006.
The purpose of this interview is to get to know Obie; and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as a sailor aboard USS LITTLE ROCK (CL-92) during a part of its period of service from 1945 through 1949.
FORCE: Obie. When, where and why did you join the Navy?
OBIE: When? 1943. Where? Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Federal Building. Why? World War II.
FORCE: When and where did you report to the Little Rock?
OBIE: Not until July 17, 1948.
FORCE: What was your initial impression of the ship?
OBIE: I was waiting for the ship to come in because it was out. It finally came in, and that sucker looked long. Other than that, quarters were good. Sick bay was good.
FORCE: Where was the ship?
OBIE: Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island; she was tied up to the buoy.
FORCE: What was your division assignment, job, watch station, and battle station?
OBIE: I was H Division. The job was to hold "sick call. with the doctor with various other medical duties. My watch station, you might say. was the Sick Bay at night when they set the watch. My battle station was Damage Control.
FORCE: Describe the ship.s employment and operations while you were on board.
OBIE: When I reported aboard, we got involved with the 2nd Fleet exercises. Then pretty close to Christmas time we shoved off to relieve the sailors who were with the 6th Fleet.
FORCE: Can you remember some of the ports you hit there?
OBIE: Interesting ports of call - while we were over there, it was Piraeus, Greece. We visited Marseilles. 1948 is a long way back !
FORCE: Describe the living conditions on the ship and the quality of ship's chow.
OBIE: We were comfortable. I always thought it was warm and hot. I remember sweatin' a lot during the day, and I can't remember if the ship was air conditioned or not. Chow? I always remember Saturday-we had cornbread and beans. We were ready for inspections.
FORCE: Tell me about some of your buddies or colorful shipmates.
OBIE: I do remember one fellow for sure, well, maybe two. There was one smart lad aboard ship - he was a Casanova, and he got us involved in a brawl one night in Brooklyn. There was a personnel inspection the next morning, and I guess the Chiefs caught hell. We were a motley looking crew because we were beat up.
I think the part I remember best is that there was a hurricane one night, It started to get rough, and I remember somebody was stationed at the bridge during the storm, saw water In one of the gun tubs. He said he never wanted to see that again in his life. We did a lot of suturing (in Sick Bay) that night. and what a time to do it. You had to wrap your legs around something steady, and while you're holding instruments for the Doc to do his stitch on the row (roll?). We had quite a few accidents because it was really rough that night. The ship got off course or either we went into the wind.
FORCE: Can you recall any moments of great shock, fear. or excitement?
OBIE: Guess I'm getting ahead of myself - that was it!
FORCE: Do you remember the Skipper. the Exec. or any other leaders in your chain of command?
OBIE: Hate to say it. but I don't remember any of them, not even the Chief. It was so far back. There were two doctors on board while we were over in the Med.
FORCE: When and where did you detach from the Little Rock?
OBIE: Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1949. It was put into dry dock and then later for preservation because it was going out of commission.
FORCE: What was your overall impression of your tour on the ship?
OBIE: It was my first ship with ship's company, and I enjoyed that part of it. Being a young groom at the time, I didn't care to be away from the wife for too long. I didn't spend too much time with the personnel on board (except) when I had the weekend watch. Otherwise. I shoved off to Pennsylvania.
FORCE: Where was your next assignment?
OBIE: 1951. I had broken service. Then during the Korean Conflict. I was sent to Naval Air Station, Pautuxent River, Maryland.
After that, I was sent to Bethesda, MD, and then I was sent to Class B School in Portsmouth, VA to qualify me for duty independent of the medical officer, like a Chief on board a destroyer, something like that.
After that I was on the Newport News, then on the USS Massey Then at the Naval Squadron VS36; it was a submarine hunter squadron. Then it was time to get shore duty, and I had the Naval Dispensary at Washington, DC.
After duty there, I put in for Environmental Sanitation Technician School for preventive medicine techniques. That sent me to Crane, IN, which is a Naval Ammunition Depot, which is 120.000 acres of nothing but knolls and hills. I figured it was time to go to sea again, and there is was. the USS Fidelity, a minesweeper.
I made Chief while on board that ship and had to be assigned to a higher ship, so they sent me to Naval Air Station, Guantanamo Bay. Cuba. I was there for two years.
My final station was U.S. Naval Hospital, Great Lakes. IL. That's where I built up my contacts for civilian employment.
FORCE: What career did you pursue after you retired from the Navy?
OBIE: As you might think, it was Public Health because the Environmental Sanitation Technique School set me up for preventive conditions, such as inspecting restaurants, looking Into and inspecting wells, sewage disposal systems, individual sewage and disposal systems, and other complaint investigations. It tied in with the career of environmental health.
FORCE: Can you tell me a little about your life since the late 40's? Your family, community Involvement, volunteer activity? That should probably be after you retired, since we know what you did in the late 40's.
OBIE: My family includes, my wife, of course. We have two children, one boy and one girl. It took me a little while to learn to become a civilian. I got my initial training in civilian public health work in Lake County, IL., and then I had a chance to do solo sanitary in Dixon, IL. I think there is where I became more involved in community activities, volunteered for community service, spoke at various gatherings on public health Issues. When I came to DuPage County, it was mostly work related, although there were some activities at the church. I think I signed up for the counseling for four years.
FORCE: How long have you been a member of the USS LITTLE ROCK Association?
OBIE: I've been a member since the first Buffalo. NY reunion.
FORCE: How many reunions have you attended?
OBIE: Four. Two in Buffalo; one in Arkansas; one in DC. My wife became sick. and we couldn't attend.
FORCE: What do these reunions mean to you?
OBIE: They were a lot of fun. You had a chance to hash old sea stories, which were embellished on each time we met.
FORCE: Well, that's where you and I met.
OBIE: That's right. and you got involved in bicycling.
FORCE : Any other stories you have about the Little Rock?
OBIE: That's it - nothing else really sticks in my mind. One of my running mates did run across a robber with a gun. He said it was right in his face and it looked like a cannon. I can't think that far back. Had I gone to more reunions. I could have picked up some more.
One of the colorful shipmates I forgot to mention was a Polish lad, and I remember his name was Marcydowski. He played an accordion, and I think he got involved with the ship's jazz band - he helped out there. We went ashore and saw the historical sites.
FORCE: What about broken service time - what did you do then?
OBIE: What did I do during that time? I was a meat cutter for Safeway stores. Before I got into the service, I worked for a frozen locker plant - it was a small town - after school. Surprising to say, when they initiated me Into the service, they figured I would make a good Corpsman because I could stand the sight of blood.
When I got out as a 2nd Class Petty Officer, I wasn't too sure what I could do. I remembered that I could cut meat, so I got involved with Safeway stores and was a meat cutter until I was called back during the Korean Conflict. When they called me back for the Korean Conflict, that was two more years, making eight years. I thought I could do twelve more years, so I stayed in. That's about it!
End of interview.
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Ed. Note: "Obie" passed away on 14 Oct 2013.