Muliphen Operations Officer’s Capsule Views of Life on the MULE from 1955-1957
by John Fahey
I. My first cruise in Muliphen
From 1943 to 1953 I was a Navy airship pilot and 1942 to 1943 an aviation cadet. I never served aboard a ship, but made 171 landings on aircraft carriers only going to my bunk before taking off again. Qualifying in fixed wing aircraft in 1954, it was discovered that I had no night depth perception and my flying career was over.
In 1954 to July 1955 I attended the following Navy schools: CIC School, Boston, MA, Damage Control School, and Fire Fighting School in Treasure Island, CA, General Line School in Monterey, CA, and Officer of Deck Underway School, Norfolk, VA.
On July 1, 1955 I reported to the USS Muliphen as Operations Officer. On 2 July we left to celebrate the Fourth of July in Boston’s port. Approaching Boston Harbor, I was eager to see the ship’s Captain Howard R. Prince take Muliphen through the channel to its berth.
I waited for his first order to the helmsman when he turned to me on the bridge and said, “Mr. Fahey, take the con.” The navigator started shouting positions to me as I frantically looked ahead for the first channel buoy and tried to look at the chart for the first time. I gave up on the unfamiliar chart and searched for channel markers. Seeing one directly ahead I ordered a turn to starboard. Captain Prince advised me, “If you want Muliphen to react in time, treat it like a blimp in the air. Give it lots of power.” So I said, “All engines full!” I conned the ship all the way up the channel full speed just looking for markers ahead. Captain Prince remained silent, only taking the con upon reaching the area of the pier remarking, “Nice job. Fastest trip that I ever made to Boston.”
I was happy to be in Boston because my childhood was spent in a close suburb, Medford where my mother and brothers still lived. However I thought that Captain Prince was going to have me take Muliphen out the channel after the Independence Day holiday, so I remained aboard the ship the entire stay, studying the chart and planning every order and turn out the harbor. On July 5 when every one was on the bridge, I said, “I’m ready to take Muliphen out the channel, captain.” He replied, “CDR Masterson, the Executive Officer, will have the con for our departure, Mr. Fahey.” I was devastated. I had even studied the most likely positions from the navigator if I was off course so I could order the appropriate turns to the correct course.
CDR Masterson was not any more prepared than I was entering the harbor. All Captain Prince’s comments were about speed. Masterson didn’t go full speed in the channel as I did so he received more coaching.
Captain Prince was a master at ship handling, better that any commanding officers I observed in the next three years aboard AKA’s. I wish that I could have served more than two weeks under his command, but was thankful for the opportunity to have learned what I did from him.
From July 20,1955 to September 2, 1956 was an uneventful, quiet period in Muliphen history. The ship was deployed to the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean without any major action. It was called to Beirut, Lebanon where there was a short period of tension, but the situation was quietly resolved during Muliphen’s presence.
Captain Robert W. Leach was content with his crew operating the ship with little input from him. On one occasion when there was a major fire in the engine room, the executive officer and I ran to his cabin to inform him. He was entertaining a guest and nodded at our excited concern calmly introducing his guest and giving no response to our message.
The captain let me run operations and let the Executive Officer, CDR Chris Masterson, carry out the plan of the day. All aboard seemed to enjoy a relaxed routine. The only times I saw Captain Leach disturbed was when one did not observe strict Navy terminology. It seems like a hundred times that I heard him say, “You don’t serve on a ship, but in a ship.” Every officer must have heard that at least once. He was very devoted to his mother and made sure to change the house screens and storm windows. He obviously was looking forward to retirement.
All of a sudden the opportunity to retire materialized. At the time there was a glut in number of Navy captains. An announcement encouraging those in the rank of captain to apply for tombstone promotions before they no longer were authorized. This meant no increase in pay, but the opportunity to retire at the next higher rank for civilian life and of course from then on be considered a rear admiral. Captain Leach was delighted and applied for a tombstone retirement.
Captain Leach was a good commanding officer in the sense of allowing everyone to take responsibility for his own duties without outside pressure. He maintained a happy ship which performed all assigned tasks well throughout his tenure.
Despite the quiet 1955 aboard Muliphen, there were some amusing adventures. We returned from a Caribbean cruise in the fall. Despite strict limitation of quantities of alcohol allowed to be brought into the United States, on St. Thomas Island and in Kingston, Jamaica almost every crew member bought large amounts of inexpensive liquor. I was more cautious in my thirties than in my twenties and only purchased to fifths of rum.
Arriving home, we were directed to anchor off Little Creek to await the boarding of U.S. Customs Officials during the next morning. All night long we were besieged with warnings about bringing in illegal quantities of liquor into the United States. We were told that Customs would confiscate the alcohol and impose severe penalties on offenders. Throughout night you could hear the splashes, as one after another crewmen began to throw overboard cases of rum, scotch whiskey, and bourbon.
Muliphen’s supply officer, Steve Danko, was a friend on mine extending back to the middle forties when we were fellow students at the Navy Language School. He couldn’t resist the unbelievable liquor bargains and had a stash of crates of liquor in his stateroom. All night he had ignored the warnings which increased in volume and threatening content until early morning.
When daylight dawned, Steve Danko sought me out for advice. I advised him to throw all his treasure overboard. He held out to almost to 10:00 a.m. When we were sure that we saw the customs boat leave the channel to Little Creek, he then asked me to help him throw the booty overboard.
The customs inspectors arrived, talked to Captain Leach, and departed after about fifteen minutes. Actually no inspection was conducted. Muliphen had stocked Davy Jones’ Locker with a treasure trove.
Upon departure of the inspectors, a sad Muliphen crew sailed to the piers at the Norfolk Naval base. No one was more downcast than my good friend, Steve Danko. Disembarking from the ship, I sighted our Catholic chaplain, Father Kelley, lugging a dolly down the pier.
“What do you have there under the blanket, Father?”
“Four cases of scotch. I have four more to get before I leave.”
I was stunned and surprised. I probably shouldn’t have been. Davy Jones has been associated with being the devil. I should have realized that there was no way a Catholic priest was going to give all that good scotch to the devil.
When underway, I was on the bridge day and night. Captain Campbell was with me during the evening and if there were no formation drills, he left for his cabin before midnight. When we anchored off Greece, I took a seconal and slept for 16 hours. When I woke up, the captain summoned me to his cabin and informed me that the captains of the other ships were scheduling parties aboard their ships for orphans. He was told that orphans were now scarce, but he wanted to host a group of them. He asked me to go to Athens and find some orphans for Muliphen.
Checking with another ship, I obtained the address to get orphans and headed for the city. When I inquired, a pleasant lady in charge informed me that there were absolutely no orphans left. I asked if it were possible to have a group already scheduled for a ship to come to our ship on the following day. This was not permited - only one ship and one party.
I asked, “Are there no other orphans in Greece?”
“None who attend ship parties.”
I persisted, “What about orphans that you do not schedule?”
“There are none available. The only other orphans in Athens are the Queen’s Own Orphans and they do not visit ships.”
Finally after several telephone calls, I was able to locate a woman who was reponsible for the Queen’s Orphans. When I told her how proud the crew of Muliphen would be to host the Queen’s Orphans, she was delighted and arranged the visit for the day after next.
Arriving back aboard Muliphen, I told Capain Campbell the good news.
He rejoiced, “The Queen’s Own Orphans, what a party we’ll have!”
The next day the captain had the cooks bake a hugh welcoming cake and the crew gather favors, streamers, and prizes. He oversaw all the preparations.
The following day the orphans, dressed to the nines in neat colorful uniforms, came aboad smiling and most happy to be greeted by the captain and crew members. It was a great party. Lots of photos were taken for the cruise book. Captain Campbell couldn’t wait to tell all the other ship commanding officers that his crew hosted a party on board Muliphen for the Queen’s Own Orphans. I never saw the skipper in a more happy mood.
V. The day Muliphen flunked the flag ship
From January to June 1956 USS Mount McKinley (AGC-7) was the flag ship for the Sixth Fleet Amphibious Task Force in the Mediterranean Sea. Muliphen deployed to the 6th Fleet with the flag ship.
Like other ships in the amphibious force, Mount McKinley had to endure periodic inspection and the “Mule” was designated to conduct such an inspection of the illustrious flag ship during the 6th Fleet deployment. All Muliphen departments were involved in the inspection which lasted a few days. Mount McKinley’s crew was not enamored with having an AKA conduct such an inspection, but on the other hand it provided an opportunity to show off the flag ship’s magnificence. Captain Campbell designated me to inspect Mount McKinley “Visit and Search” boarding party, as we approached the eastern Mediterranean certainly an important concern.
AGC-7’s operations officer seemed overjoyed to accept my offer to let him choose the foreign ship to be boarded. He selected a Soviet ship for the drill and called the boarding party. About ten enthusiastic officers and enlisted men reported. I played the role of the captain of the Soviet vessel.
The leader of the Mount McKinley party through one of the two interpreters asked, “What is the name of your ship and where are you going?” One of the party’s interpreters asked the question in hesitant Polish. I replied in Russian, “My Polish is very poor, please ask the question in Russian. We are a Soviet vessel.” Neither interpreter understood my Russian response and I stopped the drill and informed the operations officer that the party had no interpreter to handle the situation so the flag ship’s score for the inspection was unsatisfactory. It was unfortunate for the ship that I was a qualified interpreter and translator of the Russian language, but for the Navy it should have been obvious that “visit and search” procedure had a weakness. Not only was the spoken language unavailable during the boarding, but how could the log, other material, and equipment nomenclature be read.
The flag ship tried to get Captain Campbell to convince me to change the unsatisfactory result. I refused and heard nothing more about the inspection.
Three years later in February 1959 a visit and search party faced a actual boarding. Admiral William Martin in Argentia, Newfoundland sent a boarding party in the destroyer Roy O. Hale to board the Russian trawler, Novorossisk, which was suspected of cutting the transatlantic cable. The party leader, LT Donald Sheely, confronted the trawler’s captain who didn’t speak English. Finally it was learned that a member of the party knew some French from his younger days with his father who was from Quebec. One of the trawler’s crewmen knew French so the interpretation went from the party leader to his crewman who relayed the message in French to the trawler crewman who in turn told the trawler captain in Russian, etc. Far more important was that the log was inspected, but could not be read. A suspicious sounding gear was found. but no printed information could be read on it or on other equipment. The boarding party did not have a camera
Unknown to Admiral Martin, there was a supply officer, LCDR Steve Danko, on his base who was an interpreter and translator of Russian who could have been the party’s interpreter. By a rare coincidence LCDR Danko was the Supply Officer aboard Muliphen in 1955, so the MULE had two qualified interpreters of the Russian language that year - and the flag ship had none.
The flag in Mount McKinley should have made a list if fluent foreign language interpreters for boarding parties.
The Cuban crisis revealed that the lesson was not learned and the flag ship of Amphibious Force Commander, Vice Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr., in this major crisis now at sea was again USS Mount McKinley (AGC-7). I was Executive Officer of USS Thuban (AKA-19). During the crisis there was only one boarding of a vessel that violated the blockade line established by the President. LCDR Dwight Osborne, former 1st Lieutenant of the Muliphen and now Executive Officer of DD John R. Pierce, was senior officer in the boarding party inspection of the Russian-chartered Lebanese freighter, MARUCIA. The cargo was sulfur, paper rolls, trucks, and truck parts. Fortunately the Greek captain spoke English. In my view there were other problems during the crisis with the lack of the American forces knowledge of Russian, but that is another story related to another AKA - USS Thuban.
>>> to be continued...