U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Seaman First Class Nicholas “Nick” Perillo (1946-1948)
Interviewer: John E. Conjura
John: I am John Conjura, and I will be interviewing Seaman First Class Nicholas “Nick” Perillo 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 Seaman Perillo and other Rock sailors of that era.
Nick, when, where and why did you join the Navy?
Nick: I joined the Navy in May of 1946. I signed up in Brooklyn, New York. I live in New Jersey. My reason for joining is my uncle and my brother both served in the Navy in World War II. I couldn’t wait until I got out of high school so I could follow in their footsteps, and I really enjoyed their service in the Navy. In fact, I used to wear a Navy uniform when I was 16 years old and I couldn’t wait to get into the Navy. So I signed up in May of 1946 and in June of ‘46 after graduating from high school, I went right into the Navy and went into boot camp at Bainbridge, Maryland. We stayed at Bainbridge, Maryland, through boot. After boot, because we had our boot leave, went home and enjoyed a week of vacation home. This was a great era for me. Right after World War II, the fighting, of course, was over and many of our veterans were home now. They saw me in my naval uniform, and they were congratulating me for joining the Navy.
John: When and where did you report to the USS Little Rock?
Nick: After returning to the Bainbridge Navy Base, we went into what they call the OGU - outgoing unit. I was there for a week, and then I got my shipping orders and I had no idea where I was going. It just said USS Little Rock and I didn’t know what the Little Rock was, so we went to Norfolk, Virginia, and that’s where I boarded the Little Rock for the first time.
John: What was your initial impression of the ship?
Nick: I don’t know how I could honestly explain it other than I’ll say, “Shocked, amazement, even frightening.” We got on the pier because at that time we went by train, and it took hours and days to get to Norfolk, Virginia. We arrived on the pier in the middle of the night and to see the pier lit up and this ship, this huge, monster of a ship there with its lights on and glaring and its gun mounts, and it was frightening just to see it. You know you look at movies of World War II and you look at the Navy ships fighting and you see pictures of the Navy ships, but you never really realize the size of these ships, the immense capabilities of it until you really see it and then to see it in the dark with some lights on it; it was an amazing sight and I will never, ever forget that night when we pulled on to that pier for the Little Rock.
John: After you reported aboard, what was your division assignment, your job, your watch station and your battle station?
Nick: Well, this is my first experience in the Navy and on board ship, and I had gotten into trouble right off the bat by not going through the chain of command. As I mentioned, we arrived in the middle of the night so they assigned us whatever bunks were available. I happened to go into the 3rd division which was the deck crew and I thought, oh this is fine now, they are going to give me one of those 50 caliber machine guns and I am going to start shooting as we pull out of the pier, but instead of that they handed me a stick and at the end of the stick was this rock and they said o.k., we are going to holy stone the deck. Well, I don’t consider myself a very religious person, but I did not consider a brick at the end of the stick as a holy stone. What they meant was there was a hole in the stone and you put this stick in it and the decks were teak wood, and they threw water and we had to actually holy stone the deck. That was my first impression of my first duty. I said to myself, Nick, you wanted to fire a 50 caliber and they give you a stick. The next day I checked the ship’s plan of the day and in that they were looking for a yeoman. I say, hey, that is a lot easier than pushing that stick around. So I went to the Captain’s office and I applied for the yeoman’s position without going through my boatswain mate, and I was given the position as the Chaplain’s yeoman. So I went back to the 3rd division and I’m packing my seabag, and the boatswain mate said, “Perillo, where are you going?” I said, “Well I’m transferred to X division, I’m a yeoman.” He says, “You can’t do that.” “No mate, the Captain’s office says I can go.” He said, “You didn’t go through me.” I said, “You’re too late buddy.” I was already appointed to the Chaplain so I became the Chaplain’s yeoman at that point.
John: I assume this was after the ship was commissioned and home ported in Norfolk, Virginia?
Nick: Yes. The ship was commissioned in ‘45 and I went on board at the tail end of ‘46. It was commissioned in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ll back track a little bit. One of my first experiences with Philadelphia Navy Yard was my uncle was stationed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard during World War II, and when he would come to New Jersey I was able to drive him back to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on occasions. You know, gas was rationed but my father had a trucking company so we were able to get a little extra gas so that was my first experience with the Philadelphia Navy Yard and then again with my uncle being in the Navy. Yes, it was commissioned in Philadelphia, and it had taken its shake down cruise which I was not on board. They went to South America and they had one cruise to the Mediterranean, and then it came back and that’s when I went aboard in the latter part of ‘46.
John: Can you give us any interesting incidents in making ports of call and what liberty was like in those ports?
Nick: The Little Rock made its second cruise into the Mediterranean. This one I was on board. I had been in the yeoman’s rating now. I was friendly with a few of the yeomen from the Captain’s office. One was Tom Pagoulatos, and Tom came from New Jersey, Cranford, and I was from New Jersey, New Providence, and the other Captain’s yeoman was George Casabone who lived in Garwood, New Jersey. So we all were within maybe 15 miles of each other. One of the most interesting ports of call was Athens, Greece. Tom Pagoulatos still had relatives there. This whole area had been bombed, and sunken ships were in the harbors. Tom wanted to go see his relatives, and he asked if I would go with him. I went very willingly. This was a remembrance that when we arrived in this little town in Greece, it was as if the President of the United States had arrived and everyone in the neighborhood in this town came out to visit Tom and his friend, Nick, from the Little Rock in the United States. They had a drink in Greece called “Ouzo.” It’s a little white thing and if you look at it, it just looks like you’re having a glass of water, but don’t get fooled because it is a very strong alcoholic beverage and as we were walking down the street, everyone from each house on each side of the street was coming out and hugging us and kissing us and congratulating us and thanking us and they all brought out a glass of Ouzo. Well you don’t insult the people by refusing it so Tom and I are drinking Ouzo as we are trying to walk down the street. We made it to the end, barely, where his relatives lived and I can just remember walking into the house and I think I collapsed. When I came to, there was a Greek dinner on the table that was fit for a King. Unfortunately they had nothing, but whatever they had, they gave to us.
John: I assume your Greek shipmate was fluent in Greek and that made your stay much more enjoyable?
Nick: Yes, John. He’s fluent in Greek and, in fact, as we were entering the Greek harbors, the Captain asked for Greek interpreters and Tom was one of them. I wish he was here today. He’s been to many of the reunions. He is a member of the Association, and we have been friends ever since Day One on the Little Rock. We’ve socialized together. We’ve been to his children’s weddings. He’s been to our children’s weddings. We have traveled together, and it is a friendship that has lasted and lasted through the years and it still is there.
John: How about living conditions aboard the ship and quality of the ship’s chow? Can you give us some comments on those two items?
Nick: Yes. The living conditions aboard the ship, I would say, could not have been better. The Little Rock was commissioned in ‘45 so it was a fairly new ship but had really no wrinkles in it whatsoever. The sleeping quarters were adequate. The bunks were good. We had a laundry service. We had a barber shop. We had an ice cream counter. We had bakeries. We could not ask for anything better. Of course, you know, the chow line you had to stand in line or if you had a pass. While being a yeoman, I was in charge of magazines and doing certain favors for certain people, I was able to get myself a pass and I was able to get through the chow line pretty easy. The living conditions were fine considering you’re on a Navy ship. I really can’t say I was on a Navy ship. To me, I was on a cruise. I had my three squares every day, I had my clothes cleaned, I had a clean bunk every night, and all I had to do was take care of the Chaplain, send some letters out for him and take care of distributing mail and magazines and things of that nature to the various other crewmen. We had a cruise. I was a very fortunate individual to have joined the Navy when I did. It was at that time, a two-year hitch. Normally a Navy hitch is four years. Right after the War, the Congress passed that in the Navy you could join for two years. So I took advantage of that, and I went in for my two-year hitch. Of course, you could stay in longer if you wanted to. I chose to be discharged and leave.
John: Was the Little Rock noted as a feeder in your time on board?
Nick: I would say yes. It was excellent food. We had fresh milk, fresh eggs for, I would say, at least two weeks, three weeks out at sea. Then, of course, we went into the powdered eggs and the powdered milk but as long as the milk and stuff was cold, it was still enjoyable and certainly adequate for everyone who would like to enjoy that food. It was great. Even during a storm, most of the smaller ships were destroyers, destroyer escorts in company during a storm; all they had would be a sandwich, maybe an apple. We were still able to have a decent meal and, of course, you had to hold on to the tray a lot but it was very enjoyable. It really was great. We had good food. We had good cooks and bakers at the time. Sure.
John: You mentioned your close and longstanding friendships with some of the Little Rock shipmates. How about any recollections on colorful characters that always make up a division, a mess hall, or a compartment?
Nick: Well, I apologize for not remembering his name. He was from Connecticut ... Middletown, Connecticut. That I remember. I can’t remember his name. He was the baker and he was great. He was an Italian and being Italian we like got pizza. Pizza wasn’t really on the menu on the ship, but we would work out some deal and say to him, you know, hey, how about a pizza tonight and he’d say o.k. come down to the bakery about 0600 or 0700 whatever, and we would have fresh pizza in the bakery. And, of course, we had to reciprocate so as soon as the new magazines came on board we would go to him and say o.k. here’s the list of the magazines, which ones do you want? And it worked out very nicely.
John: You know, Little Rock being a first line man-of-war, can you recall any moments where the fear of God, or hair standing on your neck, or great excitement made the day that much shorter or that much longer?
Nick: No. We really ... with two exceptions but it didn’t affect me that much personally. One, we ran aground going into the New York Harbor on the Hudson River. It was embarrassing for our navigator, Commander Hoeppner and, of course, the affect it had on the ship but it didn’t affect the members of the ship that much, the crew members. The main one that really shook everyone was, we were heading up north in a convoy and we were with the USS Missouri and accidentally our gunners fired a 5-inch starshell, and it struck the Missouri and you want to talk about all hell breaking loose, well it broke loose and I think that gunners mate got transferred real fast. But other than that, I was really and truly blessed that I was on a cruise that would have cost anyone hundreds of thousands of dollars to be on the cruise and enjoy the life on the ship and the ports of call that I did for those two years.
John: Can you recall your commanding officer, executive officer, division officer, leading chief, and highlight their interactions with the ship and the crew?
Nick: I can recall our commanding officer’s change of command. I off hand can’t give you their names. One person that really I remember very fondly. He was our navigator. Lieutenant Commander Bill Hoeppner who happens to live in Oregon now. My yeoman’s office was in the navigation office at the time, and the navigator’s yeoman was a third class petty officer so I would assist him in doing the logs. The logs had to be typed out, and all the latitudes and longitudes were on the back of the logs. And I was a fairly good typist with numbers. Commander Hoeppner was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met in my life. He wasn’t ... I don’t know how to say this without somebody getting up tight. He was an officer and a gentleman. He was the greatest person, a great navigator, and he was always there if you wanted to ask him a question, or if you needed anything, or whatever. I remember Commander Hoeppner. He retired as, I believe, a Captain. I still call him Commander because that’s how I knew him. A Lieutenant Commander we always referred to as Commander and he came to a reunion, I believe, in Buffalo about four years, five years ago and I started to talk to him about it. Of course, he didn’t remember me through the years, but I started to mention where his office was on the Rock which if you’ve been on the Rock lately as a CLG 4, you know the superstructure and offices have all been changed. I mentioned his yeoman’s name, and he looked at me and he says, “Oh my God, you remember more about me than I remember about myself,” but that was Commander Hoeppner. He’s one officer that I remember so vividly.
John: How long did you serve aboard Little Rock and when and where did you detach from the ship?
Nick: Once again, and I don’t mean to be redundant and keep repeating myself. I was very fortunate that I arrived on the Little Rock, as I said previously, in the fall of ‘46. I stayed on the Little Rock until I was discharged in ‘48 - July of ‘48 at Newport, Rhode Island. So all my duty was on the Little Rock, and maybe that’s why I have such a strong feeling for the Little Rock because it was two years of my life. It was like home. One of my nicer experiences, which maybe I should have mentioned a few minutes ago, was we had pulled into the Brooklyn Navy Yard for dry dock. We were there maybe two months and being I lived in New Jersey, it was very convenient for me. I would take the subway to the Holland Tunnel and just stand there, and with inside of an hour I was home at my house because all I had to do was stand there, and there was always someone that would pick me up and would take me to the car and get out on Route 109 and the next thing I know I’m standing on the corner and someone else picks me up and it was amazing I made better time than an airplane. My father had his trucking business, and he had a truck that would run into the city every night so when it was time to go back to the ship I would get in the truck at 1 o’clock in the morning, the driver would drop me off outside the Holland Tunnel, I would get on the subway and bang, I was back on board ship to muster the next morning. I did that for three months, and you couldn’t ask for better duty than that.
John: What was your overall impression of your two year plus tour of duty aboard the ship?
Nick: The best time of my life. And really I didn’t realize it at the time. You know you’re young and you don’t realize what’s going to happen down the road until the time comes. As much as I enjoyed the Little Rock and my years on board the Little Rock, I did not enjoy it as much as I have these past thirteen years. At one point, I found the Little Rock in Bayonne, New Jersey, getting ready to be cut up. When I tried to go on board, a Marine guard would not let me go. I went to the O. D., told him that I had served on it, and he gave me permission to go on deck. And that was the end. I didn’t know what happened to Little Rock. I assumed that it was cut up for scrap as so many other Navy ships. My neighbor’s son was in the Navy years ago, and he came home and he said, Mr. Perillo, the Little Rock is in Buffalo. I said, “You are full of it.” The Little Rock was cut up years ago. “Ah no,” he says and he hands me a flyer that he picked up at the park so I looked at it and I say, “See the #4, that’s not my ship.” “Mine was the 92.” “No, he says, it’s the Little Rock.” Well, when I read the pamphlet, sure enough there’s the Little Rock and it still didn’t mean that much to me until about a year later, my wife’s cousin was in Syracuse, New York, and we went visiting. I said let’s go to Niagara Falls which we did. So coming home, I say to my cousin “How far away are we from Buffalo?” He said, “A half hour.” I said, “Would you mind taking us to Buffalo?” “Not at all.” We arrived in Buffalo and following the signs and it’s pouring rain. We go into the parking lot, and there she is - the USS Little Rock. So I’m going through the turnstile and trying to find a quarter or whatever it was to go through and the lady says, “What’s the problem?” and I say, “That’s my ship.” “Oh, she says, you don’t pay.” She says, “Come on in.” Well, I left my wife and her cousins in the middle of the gravel parking lot, and I ran as fast as I could run up that gang plank because here is the Little Rock. Finally, my wife gets up on deck. She said, “Where are you going?” I say. “I’m going up there, I’m going here, I’m going there,” and I left them in the rain. That was the most exciting time I have ever had with the Little Rock and I would say four years ago, five years ago, I was privileged to be asked to become a member of the Board of Directors of the USS Little Rock Association which I accepted wholeheartedly. I was a member of the Board of Directors for about four years. This is the time that I really and truly enjoyed the Little Rock like I never did before. I was a part of it. I was like the engines pumping, going around, down below deck. I was up on the upper deck. I was standing next to the Captain. I honestly felt so close to the ship that I never felt the closeness before even though I was serving on board. Then two years ago, I was asked to be its President. This was an honor that very few people will have in their lifetime. Not only was I asked to be its President, but I was the first President that had served on the CL 92. Two years with the greatest rewards that any man could have ever asked for in his lifetime, to have come from a Seaman First on board this ship in the middle of the night in Norfolk, Virginia, to become its President of the Association, to me was the greatest honor I could have ever had. My term expired last year, but I’m staying on as a member of the Association and every year for whatever the Association needs.
John: Nick, you left the Navy in 1948 and when you returned to civilian life, could you give us a little bit of what you did during your civilian years in gainful employment?
Nick: I was fortunate again that my father was in the trucking business. I came out of the Navy and got home whatever day, and the next day I was at work. I stayed in that profession right up to today. But now it’s my son and I have the business, and I’m still driving a couple of days a week. My son does and there are no surprises whatsoever, I’m still in that business. It’s not what it used to be but I’m still there, and we’re still in that same business.
John: Being a hard driver during your Naval service, and quite literally during your civilian life, what has your Navy service meant to you as you look back on your total life
experiences, if you try to compartmentalize everything from boot camp until the day you left the cab of the truck.
Nick: If I were to come up with an answer for that, I would have to come up with my experience in life as a seaman, service in the United States Navy serving aboard the USS Little Rock, and many, many, many friends that I made strengthened my life forever. It helped with my marriage on many occasions. It helped me raise my children and my grandchildren, and now we are expecting our first great grandchild and they will all know about the USS Little Rock. It is an experience that is difficult to explain until you actually experience it, and you don’t realize it at the time but as the years go by, you realize and you look back and you say, “Whoa, wait a minute.” I remember this happening, and this is why it happened and it is something that you will always carry with you and it prepares you - maybe that’s the word - it prepares you for the rest of your life.
John: If you look back on your period of Naval service, what one thing would you cite for your progress and motivation in dealing with life’s experiences?
Nick: I would say that dealing with my fellow shipmates, that they depended upon me and I depended upon them for the survival, for the welfare of the ship and its crew and our country, and to this day I believe that is still paramount in our lives and no matter what field you go into, no matter where you live, you still depend upon your neighbor, your family and your friends, and they depend upon you. I think the service prepares you for this endeavor.
John: Are you a charter member of the Little Rock Association?
Nick: I’m not one of the originators, but I signed up in 1993.
John: Have you attended our reunions?
Nick: I attended every one, and as long as God is willing I will be at every one. At the meeting this morning, no matter where, Nick will be there.
John: Since this is going to be transcribed to be a matter of record in the Little Rock Archives wherever they are going to end up, is there any final thoughts or observations you want to make to add to prosperity?
Nick: Yes. To any crew member on the Little Rock, take your family to the Little Rock. Bring your children, your grandchildren. Tell them about the Little Rock. Tell them about its service, and let them actually see the ship and walk on its deck. This they will hold for their lives and to their children.
John: Nothing wrong with that. You brought tears to my eyes, Nick.
Nick: Maybe I talked too long.
John: So this ends the interview with Seaman First Class Nicholas “Nick” Perillo. We want to thank you Nick.
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