U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Gordon D. Wells, Radarman (June 1945 - May 1946)
Interviewer: Gus Karlsen
KARLSEN: I am Gus Karlsen and I will be interviewing Gordon D. Wells who served in CL 92. This is tape number one, and we are at the 14th Annual Reunion of the USS Little Rock Association at the Adams-Mark Hotel in Buffalo, New York. The date is 15 July 2005.
The purpose of this interview is to get to know Gordon, and from his recollections learn more about life and duty as a sailor aboard the USS Little Rock, CL 92, during a part of its period of service from 1945-1949.
Gordon when, where and why did you join the Navy?
WELLS: It was in December 1944. A couple buddies of mine, we were in our senior year in high school, started investigating about a month before that about joining the Marines or the Army or the Navy or whatever. After going around and talking to them all we sort of thought the Navy sounded like the best thing. The reason we were doing it, we were 17 at the time, but there were threats of drafting 18 year olds out of high school at that point. We were going to graduate in June. When we talked to them in November they set us up for a group of Northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York (where I was from then, Elmira, New York) to go at the same time. Came to Buffalo for the physical.
KARLSEN: Did you really?
WELLS: Yes. In fact, the snow was so deep I recollect we only had a few blocks from the station to the Hotel Buffalo where they had the physicals set up. We would walk behind a streetcar, because there was not hardly anything running. It was just miserable, typical Buffalo snow.
KARLSEN: Yes, I guess.
WELLS: Anyway, as a result of going in we had enough credits, so to speak, that we had war diplomas sent to us so we graduated from high school. I myself after that went back and did some postgraduate things. I went to Cornell University. They had some kind of evaluation program that decided what your best vocation would be. I was described as being on the fence between draftsman and accounting. I chose accounting.
KARLSEN: Oh, did you?
WELLS: Yes. I came back up to Buffalo to school up here. Believe it or not.
KARLSEN: Cannot stay away, huh?
WELLS: I guess not.
KARLSEN: That is great. Now, when and where did you report to the USS Little Rock?
WELLS: In Philadelphia, just a few days before the commissioning, that was in June of 1945. That was a real change (of) venue there. We had been to some other…like Newport, Rhode Island, at the Quonset huts up, there sort of studying as a group to be part of a division for the ship. Part of that was going to some schools in Little Creek, Virginia, Brigatine, New Jersey…The Brigatine Hotel.
KARLSEN: I will be darned.
WELLS: Learned radar. You could both there from your hotel because it was right on the end of the land. There you could do surface and air. It was good practice. We did all of that before we got to Philadelphia.
KARLSEN: What was you initial impression of the ship?
WELLS: Wow! I had no idea that anything…the size of it was big to me anyway. It seemed like it was pretty streamline looking too. It was a sleek looking job for a ship that large. It was real impressive.
KARLSEN: Great. What was your division assignment, job, watch station, and battle station?
WELLS: We were part of the I Division at that time. Most of our time until the war part of it was gone, was spent in CIC (Combat Information Center). We were plotting and on the phones mostly. Battle stations initially were in there. Then after the war was over we used to share duties with, I do not know for a fact, they must have reduced the crew or something a little, because we did lookout work. Battle stations changed and I remember being on a 40mm fire control radar at that time. It was a little different.
KARLSEN: I imagine fire control was different too?
WELLS: Yes. I do not feel it expanded as much…
KARLSEN: Was that radar control on the 40mm?
WELLS: Forty millimeter was the one I was on.
KARLSEN: Can you describe the ship’s employment and operations while you onboard?
WELLS: Of course, being a brand new ship, we went on a shakedown cruise and that took quite a time.
KARLSEN: Where did you go on the shakedown?
WELLS: Guantanamo Bay. That was the first place we stopped.
KARLSEN: Some things never change.
WELLS: Of course back then you had some islands down there you fired on, now we do not do that anymore.
KARLSEN: Right, right.
WELLS: They were doing a lot of things we did not even realize about the machinery and all that, work it out and make sure it did what it did. That was another thing that was impressive about that ship it went 30 knots or better. It was a pretty good speed.
KARLSEN: And you were a plank owner?
KARLSEN: So, the shakedown was really the shakedown.
WELLS: Yes it was.
KARLSEN: First ever. Wow! That is interesting just to think about.
WELLS: Like I was saying earlier the plank owner’s group was fairly large when this association started but it has dwindled down. We have tried to round up all we could here the last couple of days and it looks like there are five of us at this reunion.
KARLSEN: There are still more out there though.
WELLS: Yes. More of them cannot come. Evidently then they used to be able to, I suppose health and expenses and so on.
KARLSEN: So, other than GITMO how about interesting ports of call.
WELLS: Oh sure. After the shakedown cruise, I am a little bit fuzzy on some of the timing in there; we were supposedly training (for) kamikaze attacks and so forth. We were on our way through the canal through the zone over there, what do they call that, Asian Pacific. Before we even got to the canal Harry Truman authorized the button and that stopped a whole lot of things.
KARLSEN: I guess so.
WELLS: So, then we turned around, and back to I believe it was Norfolk. After a few days there we started on a South American cruise.
KARLSEN: Did you get as far as the canal when you were headed for the Pacific?
WELLS: No, we did not make it there. We would eventually get to the canal.
KARLSEN: We are coming up to that at some point.
WELLS: The first port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. We went across the equator. There was an experience all by itself, because we were a bunch of pollywogs for sure. Now, we had had several seaman, petty officers, and officers join us that had been on other ships. So, there were plenty of people to take care of us. They whacked the daylights out of us. They had a [unclear] I do not know if they do this in all initiations but, of course they saturated us with water and then you stand up on the metal deck and hang on to one another and then they hit you with something electric and it would go right through the whole group. Then everything they did after that, put you on a mess hall table and spread you out and tickle you with a Scottsdale brush but on the back of the plate. Then they would turn you over once and awhile and you had that table just a jumping. Everything you did it seemed like they were shocking the heck out of you. Amongst all the other stuff, it was fun after you looked back on it. It was not so much fun while it was going on.
KARLSEN: I guess not!
WELLS: Then they used to throw you in a chute that had garbage and everything else in it and water. I understood they quit that after a while. That was an experience. That was on our way to Rio.
KARLSEN: So, that was in the Atlantic.
WELLS: Yep. We went to Rio…That is funny I remember that crossing the equator was November 5th and my wife’s birthday is that day. Back then I did not realize that of course. We have been married almost 57 years.
KARLSEN: Wow! That is great!
WELLS: That was the 5th, then the 10th we got into Rio, November 10th.
KARLSEN: 1944 or 1945?
WELLS: 1945. Then from there we did several jots we went to Bohea, Rasiffe and back to Rio. We were there during Christmas I remember. I thought that was great. We have pictures on Coco Cabaña Beach. That was nice.
Then we made another trip down to Santos, which is Sao Palo and that neck of the woods. There is where there was a riot. They had to get the…our division was not on liberty, but I heard from several guys who were and it was sort of scary for them there for awhile. They finally worked it out. We went back to Rio again.
Then we took off for Montevideo, beautiful. That was really nice.
KARLSEN: Was it?
WELLS: There was, I do not know if Swift or one of these armors or one of them, put on this mammoth steak roast and beer and all that for us. That was terrific. We were supposed to go into Buenos Aires but that became an off spot. They would not allow us to go up that far, because you go right up past the [unclear] the Germans scuttled in the harbor up there. There is almost like a marker for them.
KARLSEN: No kidding.
KARLSEN: So, it was still there?
WELLS: Yes, yes.
KARLSEN: Gee, that must have been something.
Then when we came out of there, I do not think we went back to Rio again we were in and out of there so many times, then we evidently went on down around the Horn, doubling the Cape so to speak. Then hit some ports in Chile, Valparaiso with Port per San Diego. There was a little place in Ecuador, Quito.
KARLSEN: Quito is not on the coast is it?
WELLS: I am not sure which one it was they had us go to.
KARLSEN: Quito is inland is it not?
WELLS: Well no, Anto, this almost sounds like current history, Anto Fagasta, Chile…Here it is Santa Helena, Ecuador, I cannot even remember that. Then Peru, that was very nice, we got into Lima, Peru. Some of the guys, here again I was not on liberty, they went up into the Andes, and I gave a guy my camera to take so he could take pictures. It was real hot and they guys had off their jumpers off, and they got off on a place on the way up the Andes there to go look at something and anyway they got off the track. When they came back everything was gone, shirts, cameras, everything that was there.
I had given a guy some money and he bought me that Inca ring and I have been wearing it for all these years. I still have it.
KARLSEN: Wow! That is pretty heavy silver, beautiful. What is on the ring a star, a heart or something?
WELLS: Yeah, I cannot…some of their markings I do not know.
KARLSEN: Is it a face?
WELLS: Yeah, that is a face. It is worn a little bit.
KARLSEN: Boy, that is really heavy though. It is beautiful.
WELLS: It is amazing I have not lost it is 60 years; you know how you loose things. I have lost a few things. That was very educational and interesting. Oh, then of course we proceeded on up and went through the Canal.
KARLSEN: The other way, huh?
WELLS: Yeah, we came back to it. We went through the back door before we went through the front door. Anyway, we went through there and went to Cartagena, Columbia and that was the last port call in South America. All of them were really very interesting. Some of them were backward. The small like [unclear] those places there was not that much to them, but they were all just…I did not realize back then what an educational thing that was.
KARLSEN: Yes, what an adventure.
WELLS: Yes, it really was, something you could never imagine doing.
KARLSEN: How long were you in that circumnavigation of South America?
WELLS: I think it was about five or six months. We left Puerto Rico October 3, 1945 and we arrived back at Guantanomo Bay in March of 1946. Yeah about five months.
KARLSEN: That is great.
WELLS: Yes, it was.
KARLSEN: I guess you had some interesting ports of call.
KARLSEN: How were living conditions on the ship, quality of the chow and stuff like that?
WELLS: You know when you first get on there it just seems like it was very crowded, because there were 1200 of us back then. Nobody was used to all that close quarters that much, I mean the barracks and Quonset huts, but going up and down the ladders and all that. It something that seemed like everyone just did, and you just got used to it. It really was not that bad of deal. The food I thought generally speaking was pretty darn good, considering what you have to do and the number of people that were taken care of there. It did seem like back then you sort of stayed in your division and you had your duties. You really did not get to know a whole lot of people. Of course, there was a lot of complaining going on and all this kind of bologna, which is pretty normal. You look back on it and you say, “That was a pretty darn good experience.”
In fact, after we got back, it was not explained all that well. I think I would have changed my decision. We had so many credits for discharged. The fact she was at sea and stuff like that helped build a few more, than if you had just been on the base. It seemed like guys you hear about from home were getting out, so the thing was to get out. The ship took another cruise to Mediterranean and Scandinavian countries, and if I would have known all that was going to involve I almost could kick myself that I did not do that. It was a case where you had to make your mind up in a hurry and they had other crews ready to replace us. So, I got off in probably about May 1946.
KARLSEN: May of 1946, so you were aboard from November…
WELLS: To May or June of the next year. I did not get discharged at that point [unclear] I was sent to Philadelphia Navy Yard and stayed in the sub barracks. Boy, they had good food, very good. [unclear] in the gardens that were growing in, it was good.
I had a little duty there to go along with it, which was not too bad. I got in a Navy pickup truck in the morning and go up through the…they had small crafts, boats up through the Delaware River there beyond the Navy Yard tied up, and we had to check the lines on them. That was the morning duty, and in the afternoon, we played horseshoes a lot. Then at night, you could go to the Philadelphia Phillies or A’s whoever was in town playing.
KARLSEN: That is pretty good.
WELLS: A couple of us we got so we got to the midget race, midget poppinhouser car racers. That was back when they were doing that pretty much.
KARLSEN: So, how long were you in Philly then?
WELLS: Well I got sent to Lido Beach, Long Island and that is where we got discharged. That was the latter part of July.
KARLSEN: So that was just, once you left Little Rock it was three or four months something like that.
WELLS: Yeah, a couple three, something like that. I sort of wrapped it up real fast it was not two years even. Of course, when we volunteered there was not anything where you sign up for two, four, six, eight, they just wanted…
KARLSEN: It was for the duration.
WELLS: Yes. Boy a lot of guys flunked the physical too up here.
KARLSEN: No kidding?
WELLS: I weighed 117 lbs. I said I will never make it, but my teeth were good. They had been taken care of, my mother made sure of that. I was healthy enough to get in. Some of the guys, well the guys got thrown out for different things. Then they got drafted in the Army shortly after that.
KARLSEN: They were not so fussy then? So, you probably slept in pipe racks?
WELLS: Oh, yeah, triced up those bunks every morning.
KARLSEN: Was there any air-conditioning on the ship?
WELLS: I do not believe so, no. Like I said it seemed like a tight fit at the beginning, but once you got those bunks up out of the way at least you could pass through the passageways pretty good.
KARLSEN: Were there steel lockers there, or aluminum lockers like the…?
WELLS: thought about that and I cannot remember what I did with all my little toiletries, I have no idea. I remember putting a lot of my whites and dungarees under the, we pressed them by sleeping on them under the bunk. I guess you really would not even call that a bunk, it seemed like there were three of them to a rack. It was pretty tight. The only thing I can remember about lockers is we had a place where there were big openings that is where the peacoats went. I do not believe there was room for other things in there. That escapes me entirely. The peacoat lockers used to make a good place to stand around and play Pinochle on top of them, and Hearts and stuff like that.
I have tried a couple of times; I went down there to really find the compartment. If I could find out where the cooks were, they were right above us. Whenever it was payday, the dice rolled continually for two or three nights until two or three of the guys got all the money, because then they quit rolling.
KARLSEN: That is something. Mess decks were basically similar to what they are today?
WELLS: Yes, of course they changed it to some degree when they refitted for a missile cruiser. They took out some of the guns, but yeah basically.
KARLSEN: Tell me about some of your close buddies or some shipmates that you thought were colorful.
WELLS: We had a good crew. One of the guys, this fellow here is from Rhode Island, he sent me that.
KARLSEN: What a great picture.
WELLS: Isn’t that something.
KARLSEN: How do they do that?
WELLS: I have no idea. This fellow is here at the reunion now, John Breslin. Don Schuld interviewed him yesterday.
KARLSEN: Oh, really?
WELLS: He has got a heck of a memory for this stuff. I have talked to him off and on and he helps me remember some things by his talking. When he gets going, he can really go, I will tell you.
KARLSEN: What is his name again?
WELLS: John Breslin.
KARLSEN: Oh, John Breslin, sure I remember him.
WELLS: This fellow is from Tennessee, Will Montgomery, he passed away. This fellow is from Louisiana, originally from the Bronx, I lost track of him.
KARLSEN: Is that you?
WELLS: This is the fellow from Rhode Island.
KARLSEN: What a great picture.
WELLS: Yes, it is good isn’t it? I have never seen one done like that.
KARLSEN: No, I have not either.
WELLS: We were all pretty much the same, all about the same age and really wet behind the ears. We were a great help to one another. In fact, we grew a good bond. I had six of us exchanging Christmas cards all this time, and I still do with three of them. One of them the guy passed away, but his wife will send me things. In fact, she sent me that paper I gave to Jerry.
KARLSEN: That is great. This is a great picture of five of you superimposed on top of a long distance shot of Little Rock moored in Valparaiso, Chile. Wow that is really something, that is a real interesting memento there.
WELLS: It seems like you hung with the guys that were in your same liberty section, those are the ones you went out with on liberty. We watched one another’s sides. I think it was in Chile, we got a basketball team up and we played on land with the Chileans. I could not even remember how that came about, how we made arrangements to see them. There are two guys in there that I am still sending Christmas cards to.
KARLSEN: Isn’t that wonderful. Wow, all that time.
WELLS: It is, I know it. All I can remember about that, I cannot remember if we won or lost, it was outdoors and it was a wooden court laid on the ground. The natives, so to speak, they were cheering for us instead of their own people. We had a good time with it. Something like that you never imagined you would get into.
KARLSEN: So, it is the same five of you then in these pictures?
WELLS: No, there is a mixture there. A couple of these guys did not play basketball.
KARLSEN: That is great.
WELLS: In fact, one of these guys, I think it was right after we went on shakedown, he was quite an athlete and he got a letter about reporting to the Saint Louis Cardinals farm team for tryouts, of course he was a long ways from there. He had been writing and trying and all of sudden the thing came through, but he was long gone.
KARLSEN: That is too bad.
WELLS: Yeah. So, we did not have real bad guys you know. Once in awhile you had too much beer but…
KARLSEN: Well, that happens to most of us I would guess. Was it mostly guys in your own division as well as your own liberty section?
WELLS: Right, right. There were a few times that we would meet up with guys in other divisions and got to know a few of them, but it was not…It is more close and cordial now afterwards. I have met fellows I did not know on the ship. That is one of the nice things about these reunions.
KARLSEN: Nice for us too, those of us who have followed long after. It is great to have you guys around.
Can you recall any moments of great shock or fear or excitement during your time on board?
WELLS: Nothing drastic I guess. Some events like the initiation and things like that were eye opening. Being kids of this age we were a little uncertain about some of the things they were teaching us that we were going to experience later on, which we did not have to do. It was pretty normal. I guess back at that age you just took one day at a time and did not think too much about them at the time, but I am sure if the situation had been different you would have had…We were pretty lucky.
KARLSEN: It is amazing, that continued, Little Rock never saw combat so none of us who served aboard, those of use who were only one time assigned to a ship.
WELLS: Yes, because we did have some Petty Officers and stuff that were sunk off ships. A couple of them had more than one of them blow out from under them.
KARLSEN: I imagine they had some stories to tell.
WELLS: Yes, one Petty Officer from Chicago he would apply to that one thing you have back there on the second sheet about [unclear] He supposedly got involved with the criminal element in Chicago and the reason he was in the Navy is that that is how he got away from them.
KARLSEN: No kidding, that probably happened more than once.
WELLS: He had been sunk off.... of I cannot remember where it was now.
KARLSEN: I cannot imagine that. So, we were lucky on that score.
WELLS: Yes, sir.
KARLSEN: Do you remember your skipper?
WELLS: Yes, sure do, it was not anything of a personal nature, naturally, but he was a very short man. W.E. Miller he always went by. I know his name was William. I did not have any direct contact with him in our duties aboard ship. I do remember him very well. I can still see him the day we had the commissioning. Here were these several larger guys standing around and what a little gentleman he was, but he was a Captain.
KARLSEN: What about the XO do you remember him?
WELLS: Yes, I remember, it seemed like he always went by his initials. In fact, I had to write that down, but I remember his name, Commander Hazen, he was the Executive Officer. We had a couple of Ensigns. I think they referred to them as “90-day wonders” or something like that. We had a couple of real good ones that were in our division.
I remember Ensign Harding and there was a gentleman named Keaster he was an Ensign. We used to, I do not know how we got to joking around that much, but we would say, “Two, four, six, eight who do we appreciate?” Then we would go, “Keaster, Keaster, Keaster!” I can remember those two real well. Some of the Petty Officers, we had two or three that I can remember.
KARLSEN: How big was your division, how many men in your division?
WELLS: I would say there must have been twenty. I had a little book, someone got me across the Equator and it showed all the Shellbacks and the Pollywogs and I went through there and I underlined all the RDMs, three, two, one whatever they were. Golly, there were several of them in there. So, I was talking to Breslin about it. He said he thinks they sent some on while we were, I forgot if it was, after we got back from South America or before we went. They were not plankowners but they were there and their names in the book.
KARLSEN: You said RDM was that your designation?
WELLS: Yes, Radar, I do not know what the M is for, not man but…Of course some of them are typed from a list I guess. They had some spellings wrong and stuff like that. They show up like this. In fact, that is the guy from Chicago right there.
There were quite a few of them. I thought well golly we did not have that many. Then I would look at the ones and I would talk to John and he could remember definite, like Radarman Third-Class Larkin, I remember him. Greg Whire RDM 3C.
KARLSEN: Third-Class rating.
WELLS: Yes, that would be third-class right. Dately, I remember him and he was second-class.
KARLSEN: Wow, you got that from one of those [unclear]?
WELLS: Yes, it has all the officers on it and then it went through and gave you the Shellbacks and then it started in who were the Pollywogs. You can see there were quite a few of them.
Then when we came up the other side of South America on the way to Peru and Panama…
KARLSEN: Did you have some fresh meat going up there?
WELLS: Yes, they flew in and some of them were officers. You thought “Oh Golly, I had to get in on it. I took some pictures myself of it.
KARLSEN: I just happened to think of that port in Ecuador is Quy Aquia. I do not know if you were in there, it is Santa Elena or something like that.
WELLS: Yes, that’s what this thing here says. I could not really tell you for sure memory wise. There was one here that was spelled S-A-N-T-A then E-L-E-N-A, Ecuador.
WELLS: There was not much there. I remember, that was one place I did have liberty, we looked around there and we wanted to find some place to eat and we had to go through a fence into this old restaurant, and boy the darndest best steak.
KARLSEN: No kidding?
WELLS: Yes, sir.
KARLSEN: It is amazing what you find when you are on liberty?
WELLS: I know, by accident.
KARLSEN: Anybody else in the command structure that you recall or any incidents?
WELLS: No, not really. We had two Scout planes in the catapult. That was another fascinating feature about that 92. In beginning were those two catapults and those guys shooting off those things.
This one guy got, I do not know if you have ever seen that function, he shoots off the thing. Then he does his stuff and he comes back, and we make a turn and it made a little smoother way. He would come down and land on that thing. Then he would taxi it up on this big canvas, rubber thing we were pulling and that would stop him of course, and then the crane would go and pick him up.
KARLSEN: Pick him up, attached to the plane itself or to the thing underneath it?
WELLS: The plane.
KARLSEN: Just the plane.
WELLS: Take him right up. Then they would pull that other thing in somehow. This one time this thing was not smooth enough and it caught one of his tips and it flipped him. One time we lost a plane doing that. Another time it happened and they got the plane and they got the guy.
KARLSEN: Did they loose the pilot on that one time?
WELLS: No. The only guy I remember dying was in Brazil. I cannot recall what happened to him. There was a service. He passed away in a hospital in Rio. I cannot remember what the circumstances were I just recall that. There again, it was someone from another division you probably had no knowledge of.
KARLSEN: That is the crane then used to haul them up. The catapults, were they right on the deck?
WELLS: Well, they sort of were on the side above it and they would turn out. What was amazing about that thing. It was just a powder shot and it sounded like a five-inch gun going off or something. It would speed off the end of that thing. It always had to drop some, but quickly they would get up. It was quite a thing to watch.
KARLSEN: So, the propeller must have been turning before they shot up.
WELLS: Yes. What a concept, huh?
KARLSEN: Brave guys those aviators.
WELLS: No kidding, that is right.
KARLSEN: Like today landing on carriers and things.
WELLS: Hard to imagine. I just received a letter for support of the Reagan Library about a month ago. Nancy had a letter in there too, and for a donation you could get memorable cup and a couple things. So, I sent one off. They sent a picture of that CVN 34, which is the Reagan. On the back it tells all the statistics. They will blow your mind, reading that thing. The weight of the crops, tons you are talking about, and 18,000 meals per day served on it. It can stay out for years. It is amazing. It has so many acres of course up on deck. You can have eighty planes on the thing at once.
KARLSEN: That is amazing.
WELLS: Like you said, landing on those carriers that is something else. Some of the stories on guys we were talking about earlier, the people who were on other ships and came on ours, they would talk about the guys being out and if the ship goes down they have no place go. All the frantic radio conversations going on, that is really trouble there. You had to ditch them and try to get another carrier let them on, one or [unclear] go together.
KARLSEN: So, you said you detached from Little Rock in Philadelphia and when was that again?
WELLS: That would have been in May 1946.
KARLSEN: You were not in Philly long?
WELLS: Probably a couple of months.
KARLSEN: So, these crafts that you were checking the moorings on up river. Were they surplus to the needs of the service?
WELLS: Yes. After the World War, they had to find a place for them I guess and they just spotted them up to…
KARLSEN: Because they were small craft?
KARLSEN: The beginnings of the mothball fleet.
KARLSEN: What was your overall impression of your tour on the Little Rock?
WELLS: I would say very good. Like I said earlier I did not realize it then, but what a learning experience it was. It was a case of growing up, too. You just left the house a little while ago. The camaraderie of all the guys. I just wished I would have been more conscious of what was going on. This one particular friend from Arkansas he joined when he was sixteen. He ended up in…
KARLSEN: Did he have lie about his age?
WELLS: Yes, his mother had signed for him. He did not give us indication that he was going to make it a career. I lost track at first, but he turned out to be one we send the cards back and forth. He stayed in and he ended up going to the University of Michigan then he got into flight. He ended up retiring as a Lt. Commander, living in Virginia Beach. His wife still lives there, and she is the one who sent me this paper here. He has passed away. Here is this little sixteen-year-old guy like the rest of them only younger, and he ends up doing that. He did not have much of a home life, and that is probably the best he could have done.
KARLSEN: Wow. So, your next Navy assignment was CIVLANT.
WELLS: Yes. When I got discharged, I joined the Reserves, because I figured in six months we were going to be fighting with the Russians. I really did. With all the scuttlebutt you heard and news and things. I said I would rather not start over in boot camp and all. I would rather stay in the Navy if I have to go back in. I joined the Reserve.
Then when Korea started I received a letter, it was my option, they would appreciate it if I would join them, or I did not have to if I gave a valid reason. I got married and we were just getting ready to have our first baby so I respectfully said no, and that ended it.
KARLSEN: Did you have any advancement in the Reserves or anything?
WELLS: No, but that was another thing I found out later. Had I stayed on for that cruise, when I got off in a few weeks, they were going to have a third-class grade again. As it was there were too many of us in the category when we were on it and there was no room, but that would have created room for it, but I did not know about that either.
I enjoyed the radar, I really did. After Samson, boot camp, they gave some aptitude kind of test, and I played the clarinet in a band and I thought sonar sounded pretty good. Well, I went to test for it I do not know what the failure was if they had to many, or too late, or whatever. I ended up in radar. I thought well I guess that will be alright, and I just enjoyed that. It was very interesting.
KARLSEN You did boot camp at Samson. What was it called?
WELLS: Samson Training Center, Seneca Lake. That had quite an organization going, too where they preserved the…They have a museum and a lot of things there. I have not had the opportunity to get to it yet, but I joined that. A couple of guys that I have met here at reunions told me about it. I only lived about 25 miles from… Where I grew up was near Samson. I used to go up and pick grapes and peaches and stuff.
KARLSEN: Next thing you know you are up there in boot camp.
WELLS: We thought the Buffalo smell was quite a deal, that turned out to be quite a deal there too. [unclear] we had to chop them out of the ice to get them out and then it got so bad we could not get them out.
KARLSEN: Were these motorized boats or rowing?
WELLS: No, rowing. I can still see the guy up on one of the [unclear], “pull it, pull.” He is telling you what to do, sounding like one of these college things only a whole lot different.
KARLSEN: How many men were in one of those do you know, pulling the oars?
WELLS: Not too many, probably ten, something like that. We were taking turns I could not remember. Dead in the water, they were really. Of course, the wind was always blowing up there. Once you got out in there, you just got wet, there was no doubt about it, you might as well have gone swimming.
KARLSEN: That is interesting. You said you went into finance or accounting once you got out of the Navy?
WELLS: Accounting. I went to a school here. It was right opposite the Anchor Bar up on Main Street. I had no idea what the Anchor Bar was until they started all this business about waste, but the school was right across the street from it.
KARLSEN: So did you become a CPA?
WELLS: No, I did not get to that. I was a…(side A ends)
KARLSEN: You said you went to two-year courses in Buffalo.
WELLS: Accelerated accounting courses in Buffalo, I got out in September 1948 and on the 25th my wife and I got married. So, in 1948, I was 21 and I was [unclear] in the business school. I went to fill out some applications for it and they said, “Where have you been wasting your time?” It did not add up. How can you do all those things? They were just sitting there piled up on top of one another.
Yes, I came to this school up here, Bryant & Stratton Business Institute. Now I see it is called Bryant & Stratton College. I enjoyed that too. I stayed with it all the time.
KARLSEN: Did you spend a lot of time in Elmira then?
WELLS: Yes, that was home. I went back after school up here. I stayed there until 1967 when we moved to North Carolina. It was for the health of one our boys. He had a lot of breathing problems. The severe winter weather in New York were a detriment to his lungs. He was starting to get pockmarks, and getting bad. We tried to find a temperate thing and we tried different places and ended in North Carolina. They have four seasons but they are not quite as drastic, especially the winter one.
He had to wear a mask to go outdoors at school and things; it was not a good situation. It was sort of tough to do after we had lived there all our lives and our families were there, but it worked out well. After we had been down there awhile, my wife who was bad on the winter weather herself really, you sort of sit around pinching yourself wondering, “What am I doing down here?”
She said, “Well, if you go back, you go back by yourself.” She did not want to leave there, and here she had never been out of her backyard.
KARLSEN: So, she did not mind it at all?
KARLSEN: Was that in Greensboro? You settled right in Greensboro and stayed there?
WELLS: Yes. I did have an interview in profligate plant, I worked for Remington Rand, it was Sperry Rand then in Elmira for seventeen years. They had a division down in Durham, North Carolina it was in the small machine operations. There were not any openings and they did not see any coming up. We had already written to some of the cities and Greensboro was the most receptive chamber of commerce, so we went there. We liked that right away. It was really nice, it is a nice place to live and raise kids.
KARLSEN: Yes. We have friends in Greensboro; a dear friend of my wife’s lived in Greensboro for quite awhile. She taught Clifford College.
WELLS: Yes, Clifford County.
KARLSEN: Well, that is a pretty full life.
WELLS: Yes, it seems like it doesn’t it.
KARLSEN: A lot of activity jammed in early on there.
WELLS: Yes, right. Then you could say we sort of got in a rut. We just worked and had kids and mow the lawn.
KARLSEN: How many kids do you have?
WELLS: Just two, two boys. Unfortunately, one of them passed away.
KARLSEN: I am sorry.
WELLS: I made all ten of the first reunions, but then I missed the next three based on things like that, my wife’s health. I had a little trouble getting here this time, but I wanted to make the 60th Inauguration [unclear] if I could. I have people helping me out, watching her. She has had a lot of surgeries and a couple of heart attacks. I am just glad to be here.
KARLSEN: Well, we are glad you are here, too. You have been a member of the Association for quite awhile; do you remember how many years?
WELLS: I believe it was 1992, when was the first reunion…
KARLSEN: This is the 14th so it would have been 1991 maybe.
WELLS: Yes, my number is 206 if that means anything. That was another sort of interesting aspect. A lot of guys did not know the ship was here, that have joined. I just ran into a couple this time that just found it out. This is their first year.
My brother-in-law, one of the guys I joined the Navy with, he was up here at a baseball game back around 1991. He was up, they built a new stadium here, he is a big fan of baseball. He looked back and here is this ship over there with lights on it, and he saw the name. He thought it sounded like the one that he heard me talk about before. He went down there after the game and picked up some paraphernalia and mailed it to me, and sure enough.
So, the next time I came up to visit. My dad had passed away by that time; my mother was still living by herself. I came up to visit her, and then I came up here for a couple of days. I was shocked.
There was a Navy Chief that was working the doors there. I brought some of my things with me, my certificates and things, discharge, etc, “Oh, you do not have to pay anything just come on in here.” He said, “Make sure when you leave, help yourself go look around, but when you leave I have log in here I want you to sign.” So, I did that. I could not get over, I think it was in alphabetical order and I had to flip through it, and I saw all these Little Rock guys’ names. I did not recognize the names but they wrote Little Rock. As it turned out the men who started all this used that log book, in fact they sent me a letter, and asked me if I could give them five or six addresses, and I did. They just built on that thing; it was amazing how that got started. Further, it is amazing that some of the people do not know about it, because these guys have done a heck of a job of contacting.
KARLSEN: Oh, they have. What do the reunions mean to you?
WELLS: A great deal, like I said it has been a real joy to meet people that you did not have the opportunity to meet or get to know on the ship. Just to sit around and talk with them and banter some of the things that went on. The gang I grew up with on the ship with ended up being sort of the oldest ones now, but we had a great cooperation with them all. I think it really helps a fellow realize what a good life he can have. It is really great. These people that started ought to be congratulated because they put a lot of time and effort, not just the ones that started all of it, but as it has continued all of them currently. All of you guys doing this and things. Otherwise, it would die on the vine that is for sure.
KARLSEN: That is right.
WELLS: Also, it is pretty amazing the Colonel coming in there, being an old Army guy. He really has been a great emphasis of this thing. I remember I met him; I have not had a chance to talk with him yet. I shook hands with him. The bosun’s mate there, Russell Curry, he really pumped this thing, scout troops. I guess they even have some incorrigibles that would come on, and they had some overnights for them. I remember them talking about it a couple of times. It is about straightening out one kid, what a thing that is.
KARLSEN: I guess she straightened out a lot of kids didn’t she?
WELLS: Oh yeah, it did itself that is right.
KARLSEN: Every one of us in a way.
WELLS: We did have, this guy I did not know personally but he was on a division from South Carolina. I can still remember his name, his last name was Briggs. Anytime we had a liberty the shore patrol always had to bring him in, then we would go maybe another port or two before he could even get off again. As soon as he got off the same thing happened. I do not know if he ever got straightened out or not. It looked like a loosing battle. He was alright when he was on the ship doing his duties.
KARLSEN: So, do you swear that everything you told me is true?
WELLS: To the best of my knowledge.
KARLSEN: Okay I will take that.
WELLS: Some of these things really stand out and others are fuzzy. That is another thing, talking to all these guys you sort of recall things better.
KARLSEN: Any final thoughts or observations?
WELLS: No, just appreciate the fact we have this. We are pretty lucky we have a ship to go through. You talk to other people who were in service they just have no connection. This does gives you a little stability with something.
KARLSEN: It really does, yes.
WELLS: I cannot say enough about all the things that [unclear] has done. Some of us are pretty far away and cannot support them physically as much as we would like. It sure is a great operation we have going.
KARLSEN: Yes, I think so too. We are lucky to be a part of it. Thank you Gordon. This ends the interview with Gordon Wells. This is tape number one.
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