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Local Navy veteran who served on first USS Little Rock reminisces

Fifty-five years after serving aboard the USS Little Rock, Paul G. Enser of Orchard Park stood port side near the bow of the decommissioned ship.

Enser was among several hundred people who watched Monday as the new Little Rock – one of the Navy's newest vessels – sailed past in the Buffalo River.

"My blood was tingling," he said.

Enser, a South Buffalo native, served on the old Little Rock for 11 months in 1961 and 1962. The new $440 million littoral combat ship bearing the same name arrived in Buffalo on Monday morning to be commissioned next to its namesake on Dec. 16.

"It's a great experience," Enser said. "These two ships, they're like sisters."

The decommissioned Little Rock, a World War II-era guided missile cruiser now part of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, was one of the six ships on which Enser served in six years. He transferred onto the ship from the USS Long Beach and his main duties on the Little Rock were to assist an admiral and flag officers with cryptology, decoding messages of the enemy, he said.

He also trained sailors on using field radios and pistols.

The new Little Rock is quite different from the one on which Enser served. When he served on it, his compartment had 40 bunks. The largest compartment on the new ship has eight.

The new bunks are bigger, too. In the bunks on the old ship, you couldn't sit up.

"I was good at reading laying down," Enser said.

The new Little Rock is much more agile than the old one – the new ship can maneuver in shallow water. During sea trials in Lake Michigan, the ship hit speeds of about 45 knots, or about 52 mph.

The ship carries 36-foot-long rigid-hulled inflatable boats and a Sikorski SH-60 Seahawk helicopter. Crews on littoral combat ships also can scan for and destroy submerged mines with remote-controlled equipment.

"That's the new Navy," he said.

USS Little Rock's Buffalo arrival gives 'the crowd a show'

The missile-launching technology is also obviously much more advanced.

"When they fire a missle, they don't miss," he said.

After the Navy, Enser came back home and attended Canisius College. He went into business, later for himself, and began volunteering as a docent aboard the Little Rock about a year and a half ago.

"This ship holds a special place in my heart," he said.

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