Always in Uniform
‘ANCHORS AWAY’—Thousand Oaks resident Jerry Pereira, 73, is a retired Navy Reserve command master chief petty officer. His family was living six miles away from Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. The experience played a role in his enlistment in the U.S. Navy in 1955. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn NewspapersJerry Pereira was only 3 years old when Japanese troops attacked Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
It was a Sunday morning, and he and his family, who lived just six miles from the harbor, were on their way to church when the bombing began.
“We never made it,” Pereira said. “My dad worked at Pearl Harbor. So we headed back home and he went over there. We didn’t hear from him until that Thursday.”
Although Pereira’s father, a merchant marine at the time, made it back home safely after helping to clean up the harbor, the young boy was forever affected by the attack.
It was part of the reason the Honolulu native enlisted with the U.S. Navy in 1955. He stayed for 43 years, moving up the ranks until he retired as a command master chief petty officer with the Navy Reserve in 1998.
“That’s as high as you can go as an enlisted man,” Pereira said. “I was a command master chief for almost 20 years with the same unit. I got to mentor a lot of people who promoted up to chief and master chief. That was really great to see them come up through the ranks and do well.”
Today, the 73-year-old Thousand Oaks resident looks back on his Naval career with great fondness.
“In fact, that was one of the reasons I stayed on as a reservist,” he said. “I didn’t know whether I was going to have a job in the civilian community once I was done, so I stayed on with the reserves just in case. And I enjoyed it more and more, and advanced.”
Pereira was on active duty until 1963, before becoming a Naval reservist.
Although the Navy has a policy that service members can stay on for a maximum of 30 years, Pereira stayed for an additional 13 because of a number of special qualifications he earned throughout his career—as a diver and as a chamber operator.
If President Bill Clinton’s administration hadn’t cut back on military funding, Pereira said, he probably would have stayed on even longer.
At the beginning of his Naval career, he was assigned to the Amphibious Forces.
“That’s the land and craft group you watch in the movies. We operated the boats that would go in during war and drop the troops off.”
After one year in that job, Pereira worked in diesel submarines for another two years.
Then, he became a diver with the “mixed gas, salvage diving and demolition” unit in Washington, D.C., he said.
“We did a lot of work in the South Pacific cleaning up all the stuff left over from World War II,” Pereira said. “We also did a lot of cleanup for atomic testing sites.”
When the U.S.S. New Jersey— the only U.S. battleship that provided gunfire support during the Vietnam War in 1968—was recommissioned in 1982 under the Ronald Reagan administration, Pereira was one of the divers who performed a security swim around the 45,000-ton boat.
“We checked out the area for mines or other adverse materials,” he said. “We checked all underneath it in the Long Beach pier. Then we did the security setup for when the president arrived. That’s probably the thing about my diving I’m most proud of.”
Besides being a Navy reservist, Pereira also worked as an officer with the California Highway Patrol from 1968 to 1998.
“Being with the (CHP), they allow you 30 days of military leave a year,” he said. “Let’s just say I did a lot of stuff in that 30 days.”
As a CHP officer, Pereira patrolled central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley on motorcycle.
“When I got out of (Navy active forces) I just wanted to ride a motorcycle,” he said. “The CHP has the best motorcycle academy around, so I was trained by the best there.”
Now that he’s retired from both careers, the Navy veteran spends his free time riding with various motorcycle clubs, a few of which consist of current and former police officers.
“When you ride a motorcycle for 20 years with the highway patrol, it sort of gets under your skin,” he said. “I figure I’ve got a little edge . . . reading traffic every day for 20 years.”
Pereira said he has also discovered the perfect marriage of his Navy and CHP careers—as a member of the patriot guard with the American Legion Riders in Oxnard.
When active service men and women come home from duty, the patriot guard escorts them home from the airport. They also ride along at funeral processions, when military members are killed in action.
Pereira said both his careers have given him “personal satisfaction” and a wealth of life experiences.
“It’s been very interesting,” he said. “I’d do it all over again . . . with both jobs.”