Melrose Park Memories

Digital collection of historic Melrose Park artifacts

Glenn E Kerley

Name: Glenn E Kerley
Rank: E4
Date of Birth: 1952
Birth Place: Melrose Park, IL
War: Vietnam
Dates of Service: 1970 – 1973
Branch: US Navy
Unit: USS Ticonderoga
Location: San Diego
Prisoner of War: No
Award: Vietnam Ribbon

Audio Interview

Veterans Memorial Project
Veterans Memorial Project
Glenn E Kerley

Interview Transcript

Today is January 30, 2008. This is Fidencio Marbella with the Melrose Park Public Library in Illinois. Also present is Heidi Beazley, also of the Melrose Park Public Library. Today we’ll be speaking with Glenn Kerley of Melrose Park, Illinois. Glenn served in the Navy from 1970 to 1973 and participated in the Vietnam War and in three space recovery missions. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Okay, let’s go ahead and get started. Glenn, why don’t you tell us a little about when and where you were born and tell us about your family and your siblings.

Well, I was born in Melrose Park, Westlake Hospital. My mother lived in Melrose Park as a little girl and my father was born in southern Illinois and moved up here, met my mother. I was born in Westlake, my brothers and sister were also born in Melrose Park, Westlake and eventually we moved to Bellwood. Went to school in Bellwood and grammar school and on to high school at Proviso East High School.

You joined the Navy in ’70?

Yes, I decided to join the Navy. My brother was in the Navy for three years prior.

And he talked you into it?

No, he told me some pretty nice stories about how he saw the world, Japan and Singapore. Thought it might be a pretty good idea to join and experience some of that. See the world, as they say.

What was the reaction like of your parents to joining the Navy?

They were very proud. My first cruise to, when I got aboard ship, it was funny because in transit, getting my report to duty orders I was ordered to the USS Berkeley out of California and then I asked the Chief if there was any chance I could get brother duty aboard the USS Ticonderoga and funny enough he changed the orders on the spot and I was off to San Diego and surprised my brother.

Pretty nice of them to do that.

Yeah, it was, I was really surprised because from what I’m told you don’t want to be on a destroyer in the Pacific Ocean. So I reported to duty and it was around August, 1970, right out of high school.

Where did they send you after you enlisted?

Well, when I enlisted they sent me to boot camp first of course.

Where was that?

Great Lakes. That was quite an experience. It was up at five o’clock every morning and the sloppiest breakfast you’d want to eat and then out to the training yard doing calisthenics and running, shooting, things they do in boot camp.

How long was boot camp?

Boot camp was nine weeks. Nine weeks and they shipped me off to San Francisco, Treasure Island to await my orders. That’s when I got my orders to the USS Ticonderoga.

Had you ever been on a big ship before joining the Navy?

No, I hadn’t, never been on a ship, period, other than a fishing boat.

What was your reaction like when you saw the Ticonderoga?

Well, when the taxi drove me up to the Ticonderoga, I couldn’t believe how huge the ship was. In reality, it’s a smaller class aircraft carrier. Our sister ship was the USS Coral Sea and Kitty Hawk, which dwarfed, we were a crew of forty five hundred, fully loaded. The Kitty Hawk, Enterprise and Coral Sea were six thousand strong, so I was pretty amazed.

Now what was the Ticonderoga, an aircraft carrier?

Ticonderoga was commissioned around 1945 and her sister ship, this was the story, her sister ship was the USS John Hancock. The John Hancock became the Ticonderoga and the original Ticonderoga became the Hancock.

Why was that?

I don’t know. That’s the story, somehow the names were given out of place or something like that, the story has it. So when I did get aboard ship my brother had been there for three years already, so he knew everybody on the ship including the HR personnel, so I had my choice as to what I wanted to do aboard ship. So it was a matter of being a boatswain’s mate chipping paint or cleaning up the ship or becoming a ship’s serviceman. Ship servicemen, SH3 consisted of the laundry, seven stores aboard ship: candy store, barber, bookstore, clothing store and toiletries store. So he said, yeah take that and the barbershop was also included. So that’s where I started my naval career.

When was this?

This was September, 1970. Ironically enough, I got aboard ship on Thursday and the ship left for Hawaii on Monday and we were doing exercises off the coast of Pearl Harbor with New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

What was that like?

It was pretty exciting. We were doing war games in the Pacific, allied exercises. The amazing thing was watching the jets. First time I saw a jet takeoff and land aboard.

What was that like?

It was exciting. Don’t know how these pilots do it. It was just amazing. Waves of fourteen and fifteen feet high. You ever see the movie Top Gun, pretty similar to that.

So your first responsibilities aboard the Ticonderoga were as . . .

They assigned me to what they called the gedunk, which is actually the candy and soda pop store and it was open eleven hours a day and I was in it eleven hours a day. That’s so all shifts of men could come down and get a snack, candy bars, ice cream, soda pop, things like that. And it was a source of income for the ship. And then I told the division officer I didn’t want to pump Cokes for my naval career so I wanted to become a barber and he told me, you have to make rank. You have to make rank to become a barber, Kerley. So I did. I worked hard and passed the test and became a barber.

When was that?

That must have been six months after I’d been aboard ship.

How long were you aboard ship for any one stretch of time?

Well when we left for, our first Vietnam cruise was in ’71 and we left for nine months at a time.

You were on the ship for nine months?

Yes, we were out at sea for five months, then we’d go in for R & R. We’d go to Olongapo City in the Philippines, refuel, take a few days off and go back out, while the jets would fly off and bomb, have Mig fights with the Russian Migs. It was pretty exciting. At night you could hear the bombs rumbling.

You were that close to shore?

Oh sure. You could see the flashes. It was pretty interesting.

Now what was it like, I’ve heard stories of first-timers crossing the equator?

Yes, it’s what they call the Pollywogs versus the Shellbacks.

Tell us about that.

It was fun, it was, well, if you hadn’t been across the equator, you’re called a Pollywog and there’s an initiation that goes on once you do it for the first time where from the time you get up in the morning to the time all the festivities are over, it’s probably an eight hour ordeal. They walk you around the ship on a chain like you’re a dog and all the Shellbacks, a Shellbacks is someone who has crossed already. They would cut three foot hoses and beat all the Shellbacks [Pollywogs] on the behind all day long and once we were up on the flight deck we had different stops we had to make along the way. We had to kiss the boatswain’s mate’s belly which consisted of about a four hundred pound chief with a huge beer belly with a stomach full of black axle grease. He would grab our heads and just smother our face in his stomach. Then we bobbed for hotdogs in the toilets and then we’d go to the royal barber and he’d take a clump of our hair and cut it off. They would save the garbage for two weeks prior to crossing. They would save up all the garbage, the beans and the potatoes, the scraps and put them in, I don’t know how you’d say it, tunnels, tunnels like a hamster would walk through but human-size. It’d be all full of this garbage and all us Pollywogs had to crawl through these tunnels into this garbage and get beat all the time while we’re doing it. I had a ton of pictures, but I can’t find them. Once it’s all over, you jump into a swimming pool with water and shark repellant and you never smelled anything like shark repellant in your whole life. So once the ceremony was over, you jump into the shark repellant to clean yourself off. You take all your clothes off, you throw them over the side, and you walk off the ship and then you’re congratulated by the rest of the Shellbacks. So that was about an eight-hour ordeal. That was during the Apollo 16 recovery. When we got back from Vietnam we went on the Apollo 17 recovery and now I was a shellback. It was my turn. So that’s the story of the equator.

Was this like both officers and crew?

Everybody, you didn’t have to.

But everyone did?

No. There are those that refused to participate. But yeah, the officers went through it, the chiefs went through it, there’s no rank in the ceremony.

So for the first cruise that you went to Vietnam, how long were you off the coast of Vietnam in total, do you know?

Well we were probably out there for four months at a time. But it was nice; we had six guided missile destroyers around us as we were there.

What were they for?

Well they were to protect us against any kind of air attack or submarine attack. We were a CVS, which is sonar so when we’re not in battle, we looked for submarines. But when we’re in battle, we’re CVA which stands for attack. That’s when the jets came aboard, F-4s and F-8s. Then you’ve heard of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Once we left Vietnam we went to the Gulf of Tonkin during that crisis. It was pretty exciting. We didn’t know what we were going to encounter there, Russian subs or what have you. No incidents.

Did you have much of a chance to watch the flight operations of the carrier while you were onboard?

All the time. When we weren’t on duty, I went up there quite a bit and I was no more than twenty-five to fifty feet from the jets taking off. You’d have to wear ear gear because the noise was so loud, but I’ve seen one crash.

What was that like?

There was a time where all officers, pilots have to go on what’s called “carrier quals.” That’s when the pilots have to have so many carrier landings to qualify to land on a carrier. We would go out to sea two weeks at a time off the coast of San Diego to get them qualified. Many of them would run out of gas and have to go land on shore to refuel. There was this one incident where, when they land they hit the, there’s four cables that the hook on the jet has to catch and most of them would hit the third or fourth cable and once you hit the cable you have to gun the engine and shut down right away because if you miss the cable you have to gun the engine to take off again but if you get the cable you have to shut down right away. So there was one pilot who caught the cable but didn’t shut down so he took the plane up with the cable and came crashing back down on the deck, cracked the jet in half.

What happened to the pilot?

He was fine, he might only have come off the ground ten or twelve feet, came down and broke the jet in half. That was a fiasco that day. Then we had a couple of men overboard.

How does that happen?

The wind will blow them off or they’re fooling around or something. Both times we found them.

Is there a whole drill when there’s a man overboard?

Definitely, everyone reports to their quarters and be accounted for and they try to figure out who’s missing. And they have to turn the ship around, which takes a long time being a [big] ship. But they do send up the helicopters. Had a helicopter crash.

What happened with that?

He was hovering near the ship and he crashed into the water, just went straight down. The pilot and men were in pretty bad shape, I saw them bringing them down to the medics, they were in pretty bad shape, but they survived.

So what was life like aboard an aircraft carrier? You worked eleven hours, twelve hours a day?

It depended on what you did. I did that when I was serving in the gedunk. Once I became a barber, we had barber’s hours. Out at sea we’re open from like eight in the morning after breakfast to about eight in the evening. The barbershop was our division lounge also. The TV was in there so anybody who wanted to watch TV after hours would go to the barbershop. What was nice about being a barber was you got perks. When you’ve got the cooks and you’ve got the HR people that need a haircut after hours, they’d come see me and I’d take care of them so when I’d need a perk I went to the head of the line in the mess hall or maybe get a few dead days off from HR, so it was a lot like anything else, politics as usual.

What would you do with your days off onboard ship?

You never had a day off when you were aboard ship at sea. You had, when you were in port you had your forty-hour week and then when you had duty you had duty for twenty-four hours. You had to stay on for twenty-four hours. When we were in port it was like a job. When we were out at sea it was like a job, but you’d find things to do after hours, play cards, a lot of card playing: hearts, spades, poker.

Some of the pictures you have here are of them re-supplying the ship at sea. What was that procedure like?

When an aircraft carrier is replenished out at sea, there’s probably about, I had aerial views of all the ships involved. There’s a refueling ship which brings on the fuel. There’s a munitions ship that brings on the bombs and what have you. There’s a food supply ship. There’s refrigerator ships. If you saw it from the air it would be like the aircraft carrier would be in the middle and all these other supply ships would be surrounding it just bringing, they called them . . .

Breeches buoy?

Yeah, ship’s stores is what they called them. They brought in the meat and candy, whatever.

How would they get it from ship to ship?

Helicopter or rope.

They would swing a rope between two ships?

Well, like when they refueled they would throw the monkey’s fist. Monkey’s fist is a rope tied into numerous knots that’s attached to a smaller rope when we throw it, not throw it, shot like an air gun across to the other ship and the other ship would take the smaller rope and be attached to the hoses for the fuel and pull it in because you couldn’t throw the eight inch fueling hose so you would throw the rope with the monkey’s fist, so it was kind of interesting. It had to be precise because many times we came close. The large waves came real close to the ship so the captain had to keep it close but not too close.

What was the weather like while you were out there?

Some days it was twelve to fourteen foot waves; other days it was like glass. When it was like glass it was really hot. No wind.

Was the ship air-conditioned?

Yes, compartments were air-conditioned.

Not like WWII.

No, of course this ship was 1945, so it was in WWII. They might have added the air-conditioning later, I don’t know. The second, Apollo 17 when we went I was a shellback at that time, unfortunately there weren’t that many shellbacks, I mean pollywogs, I got my licks in. When we were aboard that ship, Eugene Cernan was on that mission and he is from Bellwood as I was and he graduated from Proviso East right here in Maywood and so did I so when the ship was recovered the hangar bay had a cake cutting ceremony and as they were cutting this cake, a beautiful cake that the bakers made, Eugene Cernan was cutting the cake and I yelled out “Bellwood says hi.” He looked up and he was really surprised, “Who said that!” I just waved to him. So after he cut the first piece of cake he said “Where’s that kid from Bellwood?” Then I got presented the first piece of cake. I’ve got a picture of that somewhere, can’t find it though. But we talked for a while, talked about home, talked about school, so that was really exciting.

When you were cruising off Vietnam you mentioned about getting shore leave occasionally? Where would that be?

Well, the Philippines had a large base, Olongapo City. Subic Bay was the name of the base and we’d go there, they’d dock and we’d get off, a couple of days off and then just relax for a few days.

What was the Philippines like?

The Philippines were, when we were there in 1972 was when Ferdinand Marcos made it martial law, so there was a time you could be out all night long, partying, drinking, just sightseeing, what have you. But once he declared martial law you’d have to be off the streets at one o’clock. They patrolled the streets with soldiers with German shepherds and made sure everyone was off the street at one o’clock. People were nice and I went to Manila. Saw Manila and it was different. From there we went on to, I’m jumping around my naval career here.

That’s all right.

From there we went on to Singapore and visited there, Sasebo, Japan.

This was all while the ship was off Vietnam, its first cruise?

Yes, then we went back, the second Vietnam cruise wasn’t as long, we were only there for four months because by that time it was winding down and I think Nixon had already, ’74 was the end of the war?

For U.S. involvement?


I think so.

It was winding down so we only stayed for four months that time.

By then were you the ship’s barber?

Well I was. There were six barbers. There was the crew’s barber, the barbershop had four barbers, they had a chief’s barber and they had an officer’s barber.

Which one were you?

Well I started off as the crew’s and then I made it up to the chief’s then I cut hair for about two months for the officers.

Did you get to meet a lot of the aircrew?

All the time. I’d put up an appointment board and they’d have to sign it and make appointments for their hair.

What were they like?

Young, sassy, captains and lieutenants. Just loved flying. These guys had some stories, really exciting stories.

Do you remember some of those?

No, just encountering the Russian Migs, they’d talk about it, sadly a couple of our guys got shot down, while we were over there. Just the excitement of flying they said, they enjoyed that. Once I left the barbershop I went to the ship’s stores. I was in charge of collecting all of the cash out of the cash registers, balancing the cash registers, turned in the money to the disperser.

That’s a big job for a young kid.

Well, it wasn’t hard. It wasn’t too hard. The cigarette store made a lot of money. They had a cigarette store, they had a toiletries store, a clothing store. Laundry was the worst. Hot, never did the laundry. Never did the laundry. But once I, my last duties aboard ship, must have been right around July of ’73, I was in charge of the luxury store. We sold stereos, we sold lighters, watches, rings, cassettes, boom boxes, anything in that store you could have gotten at a shopping mall. That’s where I got my business experience.

So after the Ticonderoga was through serving off of Vietnam they recovered three different space missions?

The first mission was Apollo 16. The second mission was Apollo 17, which was the last of the Apollo missions and then the third one was Skylab 1. That was right off the coast of San Diego, so it was old hat by then. It was no big deal. When the Skylab came back it was raining and foggy so we couldn’t see very much.

How about the two Apollo ones? Were you able to see much?

Oh yeah. The two Apollo ones were as clear as, the sky was blue and it was really calm. When the capsule came floating down with three huge red parachutes, it was just a sight to behold. Just floated out of the air. It looked like it was going to land on the ship but it was really a mile away. Then our helicopters would go out and pick them out of the water. And they had the band playing when they brought them aboard ship. We were all up there in our dress whites congratulating them.

There were three astronauts on each mission?

There were three astronauts on each mission. I don’t remember all the names, Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin, Eugene Cernan, Duke. That’s all I can remember.

Did you get to meet any of the other astronauts, aside from Eugene Cernan?

No, but I did meet the admiral.

Which admiral was this?

I don’t remember.

He was an admiral though.

Our Captain Boyd. When I first got aboard ship, Captain Boyd was our captain and he later, when he retired, they made him an admiral and he had cancer and we buried him out at sea, which was pretty sad, but it was pretty cool.

What was that like, the ceremony?

Well, everyone didn’t have to go but everyone’s on the flight deck and they’d line up. They had the twenty-one gun salute and the flag-covered metal casket, green metal. It’d be put on like an aluminum table with a foc’sle so it would rock so when they did bury him they just lifted up and slid right down, right down the chute. He would sink to the bottom. Buried two people out at sea. One was a chief petty officer plus Admiral Boyd. Our second captain’s name was Greene. Captain Greene.

What were your officers like?

Our division officer’s name was Caskey. Officer Caskey. He was a junior lieutenant, just like a boot camp officer right out of ROTC or right out of college. He came in gung-ho and we were all old salts by then. Turned out to be a pretty nice guy though.

How about your shipmates? What were they like?

Well the shipmates were from all walks of life, from the South, the North, the West and guys from Alabama, guys from Ohio, all different accents, it was a good bunch of guys. At that time there was a lot of racial tension in the, not only the United States but aboard ships. As a matter of fact the USS Coral Sea had a lot of race riots. But for some reason on Ticonderoga we all got along. Never had problems with race, racial problems.

Was that because of the officers you had?

Could have been. Just seemed to get along okay. Food wasn’t too bad.

What was that like?

Well, aboard an aircraft carrier, if you wanted eggs you’re getting powdered eggs because they made them for so many people. You don’t get to order your breakfast. They had oatmeal, they had pancakes, they had eggs, milk, coffee. Thanksgiving they put out a huge spread, just as if you were at home with a turkey dinner. They had a midnight snack line; you could go at ten o’clock at night and just make yourself hotdogs and stuff.

Were these mid-rats?

Exactly right, thanks I forgot about that. You may think it’s gross, but when we went down the line to put mustard and ketchup on our hot dogs the containers would be lined with cockroaches. The ship was infested with cockroaches. All ships are infested with cockroaches. They come in with the stores, in the boxes, in the crates. You’d open up your locker to change your clothes and they’d scatter.

Back then, were you able to have much communication with the folks back home? Mail or phones?

Yeah, we had mail call, just normal mail.

Did you ever get care packages from your parents?

Cookies all the time. My mom would make cookies.

Were they still okay after . . .

They’d be broken up. Everybody shared what they got, whoever they wanted to share with. When we were out to sea we got to talk with our loved ones from the ship via the radio. That was kind of cool.

So you finished up your career in 1973?

1973, the ship was decommissioned. As a matter of fact as I was getting processed out the ship was being decommissioned, so they were taking out the beds and the tables and started chipping away, getting ready for the graveyard.

Now was this ship, it was built during WWII, was it hit by a kamikaze?

I think the Hancock was. I’m not quite sure if we were, but I think the USS John Hancock was hit by a kamikaze. Of course I could be wrong.

Was there any kind of a memorial on the ship describing why it was named that?

No, I believe it was named after a fort, Fort Ticonderoga. Most carriers were named after different battles, so I guess it was the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga.

During the Revolutionary War?

They must have changed that later because there was a John F. Kennedy which was a carrier and the Nimitz. They started naming them after presidents and admirals.

So you mustered out in 1973. What was that like getting out of the service?

Well, about three months before you’re out you let everyone know that you’re getting out because everybody can’t wait to get out. And then when you’re getting out in three months there’s still guys aboard ship that have three years and so we used to make necklaces out of pop tops. We’d start with ninety of them and each day we’d take one off. When we got down to thirty days and fifteen days it would shrink and you’d rattle it in front of all the people that still had a lot of time left, make them jealous. It was quite an experience and I’m glad I did it. It was fun being aboard ship with my brother too. I shared a year with him together.

Where were you actually mustered out of the Navy?

San Diego. All the orders and the papers were processed right on the ship.

Now when you got home from San Diego, what was that like?

Oh it was a relief. When I went in I had a job with Sears, Roebuck. They offered me my job back with my raises and things like that, seniority. Had a job waiting for me and I thought that’s what I wanted to do, so I went back working my job with Sears.

Did your parents have any kind of a welcome home party?

Well, yeah, when we were in ‘Nam they had the two stars in the window because Dennis and I were both in Vietnam, the first time together. She had the two star flag in the window, so that was kind of cool to see when I came home. We used to surprise them. When we came home on leave we wouldn’t tell them. So we’d come walking up and surprise them, it was kind of exciting. They knew I was getting out so they picked me up at the airport.

How have your wartime experiences affected your life?

Well I think I, when I went in I was right out of high school and immature of course, eighteen years old, came out when I was twenty-one. Well, I picked up, could’ve been a barber, could have worked retail, so I picked up some business skills as far as inventories, taking inventory, working a cash register, just running a store. You ran your store like it was yours. When you were short on inventory you reported to your chiefs saying okay, I’m out of this, I’m out of this. We were inventoried about once a quarter, just like you would if you were in a department store and if you were over, you were over and if you were short, you were let known you were short. I learned a lot balancing cash registers and collecting money out of vending machines. No rocket science.

Still useful.

Street smarts, everyday things you might want to know. Matured and made you a man.

Thank you very much for sharing your memories with us.

You’re welcome, it was fun.

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