Lt. jg Robert E. Miller

The Saga Of The Mighty "M"

Written by Lt. jg Robert E. Miller

Communications Officer USS Mullany 1943-1945


On 23 April 1943, a ship was born.  But wait a moment we are getting a little ahead of our story.  Way back in March 1921, a little four-stack destroyer, the U.S.S. Mullany (DD325) was commissioned in San Francisco, named in memory of Rear Admiral J. R. Madison Mullany, U.S.N.  Rear Admiral J. R. Madison Mullany, 1818-1887, was a Naval hero of the Civil War period and was cited by the United States Congress for extreme gallantry in action at that time.  The little ship, besides proving herself as a good ship of the line, had a long and arduous trip to Australia.  There is ample evidence that, our crew, our predecessors, found the warm hospitality extended by the Australians to be fully sincere as the present inhabitants are wont to extend.  This ship, after establishing and excellent record in true Navy tradition, was decommissioned previous to the present war.

A new ship, 2100 tons, of the Fletcher class destroyer, was renamed the U.S.S. Mullany (DD528), again commemorating Rear Admiral J. R. Madison Mullany, U.S.N., and constructed and launched 10 October 1942, at the Bethlehem Steel Shipbuilding Yard, San Francisco, California.

A mass of steel, machinery, equipment, does not become a fighting ship of the Navy until it has come to develop a personality.  The men who live, work, and play with her make that ship into and efficient unit and give that ship its personality.  She in turn gives each man his right to be called a fighting man of the Navy.

Back in the early months of 1943, Uncle Sam’s boys began responding to a call to the nation at war, and were assigned to a ship called the Mullany; men from farms, from the cities, from machine shops, from business offices, men who had already risked their lives, seen their ships go down and came back for more – these were to come to San Francisco to make a new fighting ship.

Treasure Island, a plot of ground where, five years previously, there had been nothing but water – an island built entirely by man’s hand. (“Paradise of the Pacific Coast” – so said the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce!)  Barracks, drill, chow halls, schools, drill, chow halls, liberty, barracks, liberty, chow halls, liberty – liberty.  What a Paradise!  Every road led to Barracks “F”.  Such things as motion picture programs, trips to Point Montara, infantry drills, small arms instruction, loading drills, and calisthenics made the days go by – the hard way.  (Ask many!)  There was always the problem of numbers at Treasure Island.  We, the crew, mustered every morning – all hands present or accounted for – then off to the morning movie.  At the order “To the left – march” we usually lost twenty percent going in the wrong direction:  twenty percent had to drop out to close their lockers.  Winding our way through barracks and dark and torturous passageways cost us a good 49.5 percent of personnel; 9.5 percent found the gedunk parlor extremely inviting.  Mr. White and Loudani, WT1c, had good gin rummy sessions on the steps of the movie theater.

Perhaps the most perplexing problem was liberty and leave.  All that was needed for liberty was a single dated chit.  These could be procured for any amount from a quarter on up (something which undermined our disciplinary system to no end).  For those who weren’t in the know, it was only about 2/3 liberty and 1/3 duty each day.  The politicians will well remember the week and the Ditty, MoMM2c, took charge.  What a fouled-up mess!  The “right” people just didn’t get off the island that time.  And the crap games in the Mess Attendant’s section, the “bones” crackling, the tinkling of coins, the groans, the knives flashing – Cunningham reporting to the sick bay every day for “sleeping sickness”.

We must not fail to mention the never settled controversy between the “regulars” and “reserves” with Taylor, the raving gunner’s mate pitted against the other three hundred odd recruits.  To mention a few of the many who will never be forgotten:  Loudani, WT1c, the original M.A.A. who began his career as the “Little Dictator” at Treasure Island; Ditty, another M.A.A. who really thought he was a tough guy;  “Sherlock” Wilson, CMM, the great “locator” who dug up more lost members of the crew than all the “grinders” put together; Engelund, the earnest yeoman we rescued from the detail office and put to work on our many notices, lists of school parties, etc.; Falgiano, PhM1c, the guy who always had another “shot” to give;  Petrovic, S2c, who always had and urgent date to keep with a certain nurse;  “Sergeant”  Moore, MA1c, the smoothes and most slippery mess attendant we ever hope to see;  Joe Byrne, Y2c, who would report “when” he got out of the brig – and we could name more.

During this time the original officers were tearing their hair out over in Building 11, at Bethlehem Steel Shipbuilding Yards, working a good three hours a day except Sundays and other days when they “had to go to Treasure Island”, doing their best to get the ship’s organization ready for the commissioning date. 

And so, though it seemed that we would never get to sea, the days rushed by and suddenly we found ourselves at attention on the forecastle at the commissioning ceremony of the ship, 23 April 1943, watching Captain B. J. Mullaney, U.S. Navy, receive the commissioning pennant and command of the U.S.S. Mullany, each of us feeling that a brand new ship of the Navy was being given to us to live with, be responsible for with the risk of our lives if necessary, to fight with to the best of her ability and ours.

At 1600, the first watch was set, and now we really got down to business.  Thee followed three days of work and more work getting our belongings aboard, receiving supplies, equipment, provisions, and ammunition, and stowing them in the proper places.  Then the great day – we were underway for the first time.  Now we were sailors in the true sense of the word.  Up and down San Francisco Bay we went, calibrating, testing, etc., and finally out to sea for test firing.  Possibly one person will not remember that day?  Ninety nine percent of the complement, as a conservative estimate, were violently “under the weather”, and I mean it was rough.  Every bucket on the ship was called into play.  It was an interesting, if not pleasant or appealing, sight to see ten men in a mad scramble of rotation for the use of the one bucket in the radio shack.  There was more refinement shown on the bridge.  The bridge personnel quietly hung their heads over the side a let nature take its course.  Back in we went for drydocking and Hunter’s Point.  Then on 11 May 1943, we got underway from San Francisco, heading for San Diego for our shakedown cruise.  Very few of the crew remember this trip, as again most of us were seasick.  Our “sea legs”, being only budding members at this time.  The trip was uneventful except for one submarine contact, at which time at least on million fish lost their lives under our vicious attack.  Our shakedown training period was quite successful, with most of the crew developing new and useful abilities heretofore unknown.  Quite a number of black eyes were developed as a result of liberties taken at Sherman’s and Bradley’s gin joints at San Diego.  On May 25, we left San Diego for San Pedro.

Suddenly, with the utmost secrecy of preparation and a lively amount of scuttlebutt, we readied ourselves and on 1 June 1943 put to sea, escorting a battleship and cruiser to Adak, Alaska, arriving there on 9 June.  We stayed just long enough for everyone to develop a fine cold, then immediately returned to San Francisco and necessary last minute repairs.  On 11 July 1943, we again left San Francisco, heading north, taking a convoy as far as Amukda Pass, then returning to San Francisco.

On 29 July 1943, we left San Francisco, and at least 350 weeping females for the last time for many month to come, arriving in the Aleutians on the 5th of August 1943.

The gray Aleutians.  What bitter, barren soil.  What a life for a man to lead.  After three days of basking in the Adak fog we tried to liven things up a bit by pitting the might of the Mullany against the Kuluk Bay rocks.  The Mullany won by a nose.  The men of the Mullany really earned their stripes during the months in the Aleutians.  Remember the cold, bitter days, the ice, slippery decks, fouled anchors, green water over the bridge, the day of the fifty four degree roll – the main compensation being the possibility of a thirty day survivor leave – the williwaws?  But there are more pleasant memories.  Remember the football games on the beach, “Rocky” Jacobsen diving in to recover the white hat, medicinal stimulants for immersion in icy water, Chief Daniell leading us into bigger and better beer parties, Mr. Macomber using the lower part of his anatomy to recover the ball jus south of Finger Bay, the night coffee, the bull sessions where such enlightening subjects as home, sex, sports, sex, girls, sex, music, sex, and even the war were discussed, the pin-up collections, the start of the hobby that was to grow into a monster – the thoughts that those pictures would inspire.  Then came Mullany’s first combat experience, the first chance to come to grips with the enemy.  How our throats tightened!  How our hands shook!  Our emotions and imaginations ran wild on D-day – Betty Grable always made our emotions run wild – the picture was “Rosie O’Grady” – remember?  Anyway, we took Kiska, and without a doubt.  We did drop some depth charges, and it is uncertain whether in so doing we ruined Japs or some more Jap fisheries.

On 20 October 1943, we left Adak by way of Dutch Harbor for Hawaii – land of mystery, land of peace and enjoyment, of stale beer and boosted prices, of sailors and stinking fish markets, of New York souvenirs, tattoos and pictures for fifty cents, Waikiki beach and that natives that laughed up their sleeves as we paid fifteen bucks for a “real” grass skirt, the allure of history, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head – brother, we really saw Hawaii!  After ten days of leave and recreation we returned to the cold northland, but only for a short stay, during which we proceeded by way of Massacre Bay, Attu, to scout the Komandorski Islands for Jap fishing and in an attempt to draw the Jap Fleet out.  Then, in November, the powers that be having decided that the good ship Mullany was due for better things, we happily left the Aleutian Islands forever (we hope!) and for the other end of the Pacific.

After a short stay in Pearl Harbor, we sailed for the Southwest Pacific, the land of General McArthur.  On the 15th of December 1943, we crossed the equator, at which time the numerous Pollywogs were introduced in no uncertain fashion that messenger of the deep, Davy Jones, and to the Rules and Regulations of the Domain of the fabulous King Neptune.  In view of the numerical superiority of the lowly Pollywogs, some difficulty was experienced for a time by the Shellbacks in finding means to curt the enthusiasm of the Pollywogs for the occasion, and in a manner of speaking, testing the ability of the Shellbacks to perform the offices allotted to them by King Neptune’s representative.  For a time, judging by the number of shellbacks who fell before the brooms, water hoses, and shillelaghs wielded by the inferior Pollywogs, there was considerable doubt in the minds of onlookers as to whether these old timers had quite the stamina to preserve their delegated powers and rights.  However, diplomacy intervened and by due right of process all members of the ship’s personnel became once and for all, loyal, and somewhat subdued subjects of the Ruler of the Deep.  King Neptune in the person of Chief March,  Holte, QM1c, the Queen, Chief Cy Perkins as Davey Jones, Loudani, WT1c, as the exceedingly repugnant Royal Baby, Chief Stuckey as the Royal Priest, held Royal Court viewing the poorly recipients of their pleasure as they passed through the line-up.  Following a good whacking with “blivys”, the boys had the extreme pleasure of kissing the Princess and then the mustard-smeared corpulent belly of the Royal Baby.  They were then stimulated to prayerful effort by the Satan’s electric pitchfork.  All then had a Royal Haircut, a good greasing and painting, and a a bit of a tasteful, if not pleasant, concoction squirted down their throats, following which they ignominiously buried themselves in the Royal Garbage Tunnel.  Then came the shower bath, from the forces of which only a matter of nineteen people were washed over the side.  And at last those who survived became true and honorable Shellbacks.  The ship received quite a jolt as it hit a line, which felt suspiciously like the shock of a depth charge.  Possible that this only was King Neptune giving vent to his pleasure on this occasion!

Enroute we visited Funa Puti, Ellice Islands, then after a short stay at Esperito Santos, New Hebrides, we arrived at our destination and new home, Milne Bay, New Guinea, on 21 December 1943, rested and proud and zealous in our new assignment.  The hard, long days in the Aleutians, the training, the work and routine and occasional play all had their good effect.  The Mullany had now become known as a good ship, a straight shooting, a hard working, clean, well organized unit, ready to give all she had, and we were eagerly anticipating getting into the “thick of things”.  We had not long to wait.  Christmas of 1943 we delayed our “turkey with stuffing” long enough to go Jap hunting at Cape Gloucester.  It was a great thrill to most of us to finally be an integral part of a major landing operation, to see the intricacies of planning and organization, bombing and firing, and the actual landing of troops.

Christmas time and no presents.  “Hey, Seyford, how about some mail?”  Many cases of homesickness cropped up now.  The mails were all fouled up as usual, a thing no one has ever gotten used to.  But we were busy.  The “milk runs” form Buna to Cape Gloucester kept adding a few gray hairs here and there, and places along the coast of New Guinea provided us with ample opportunity to test our courage and ability to do our part of the job well.  The Mullany’s place as a top ship was attested to many times in the reports of excellence in operations made by her.

What were these rumors being spread about the ship along in February of 1944?  That we were soon to make a visit to the great land “down under”?  Impossible, scuttlebutt!  8 February 1944 found us entering beautiful and never to be forgotten Sydney Harbor.  A tiny bit of heaven in a troubled world.  It’s no wonder the Japs tried so hard to take the place.  We’ll have our stories to tell about Woolloomooloo, milk bars, pubs, the Trocadero where the boys who “never lifted a glass” could be seen trying to get their feet above their heads, “rotgut” at 12 bucks even, Bondi, the trams, the Red Cross, the friendliness of the Australian girls – and we poor souls, without any clubs with which to beat them off!  It’s true what they say about Sydney!

Following our stay in Australia we returned, much refreshed, ready for future assignments against the enemy.  Now we became members of a striking force.  Mullany and Ammen were made a functioning part of a unit of Australian naval ships.  The Mullany and Ammen became inseparable.   Anyone making trouble for the Ammen now had the Mullany to contend with also, and vice versa.  These two ships formed a combination which later became famous as a fighting unit.  The Mullany and Ammen were always the first ships in, the ships nearest the beach, ships that opened fire first.  Our friends, the Australians, proved to be fine fighting comrades and excellent forward representatives of the well-known Australian hospitality.

There followed weeks and months of fighting, training, waiting, more operations, hard work, some play.  We had ample opportunity to compare the characteristics of the natives of the Admiralty Islands with those of New Guinea.  We will not mention the name of a member of the crew who paid ten dollars for a knife ostensibly of native manufacture, who on return to the ship with it found the imprint of the U.S. Army prominent upon it.  It was a continuous hunt for souvenirs.  March to August 1944 saw our heaviest operational activities.  During this time we learned what it meant to be bombed, to be fired upon by the enemy, to have our hearts in our mouths under enemy air attack.  We became proud of the fact that we and our ship could shoot straight and fast, could shoot down planes, and could destroy the enemy as was our job, and do it even better than most.

In August, after a long and wearing six months, we again returned to Sydney, Australia, for another happy visit.  Remember the gunner’s mates that started the war with the Boise in the Mayfair, the first night in port?  Maybe we got the worst of it the first night, but before our visit was over, the Boise crew were respectfully addressing our seaman seconds as “Sir”!  What happened to “Fat” Sanders’ car, was there something about a fire?  We knew our way around this time, and we had the right addresses and phone numbers.  The ship’s Dance and Paddington Town Hall was one of the high spots.  Ziarko, RdM2c, and Rechten, S1c attempted the impossible feat of carrying each other home that night.  (A little too much is enough, boys.)  How many people were trampled to death in the milling mob that gathered at the gate of Woolloomooloo Dock as the Aussie lassies came to say their last farewells to the men of the departing Mullany?

There was some talk of the Mullany returning to the States directly from Sydney.  Was it true?  No.  Again we returned to the fray.  This time for one quick operation and then our greatest operational endeavor.  This time the Mullany and Ammen, as a result of an excellent record of fighting during the previous months, were awarded the honor of escorting the Chief of Operations to the combat area.  There followed two hard weeks of much fighting, almost continuous general quarters and frequent opportunities for us to demonstrate the Mullany’s skill as a combatant ship, which we had made. 

Then the long awaited for word!  Could the Mullany be going back to the States?  It was true!  We were headed for San Francisco and home.  The thrill of seeing her for the first time – what will it be like?  It will be like everything we have dreamed of, for well over a year and a half. 

It has been the greatest experience of most of our lives, to see at first hand and to be an individual part of the United States Navy, the greatest in the world, in the greatest war the world has ever known.  It’s been fun to sail with each and every man aboard.  The things we have seen and done, we will never forget.  Good sailing to one and all!