World War II vet shares memories
Ripley man is guest at Rotary
By SUE HAMMOND
Air attacks, typhoons and the radio voice of Tokyo Rose were topics described by William “Bill” Mulson, a U.S. Navy veteran during World War II and a current Ripley resident, when he was the guest presenter at the Nov. 12 meeting of the Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club at The Parkview in Westfield.
His program was sponsored by John “Doc” Hamels, Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club President and Mulson’s son-in-law. The program consisted of Mulson’s overview of his experience and also a video interview that he had given five years ago as part of the Robert H. Jackson Center’s Defenders of Freedom Project.
Mulson said, “I grew up in Ripley and attended Ripley Central School. At the age of 17, I finally had talked my parents into letting me join the service. On Feb. 24, 1944, I joined the Navy.” When asked why he joined that branch of the military, Mulson quickly replied, “The Army got the work. Marines got the credit. And the Navy got the pay!”
He said, “The war was heating up, and the military was really short of men. I had only three weeks of boot camp. I was trained as a gunner’s mate, and I had to repair all of the guns. We had to train in the dark, since we would be repairing them at night during any battles. Our ship was the USS Maddox, a destroyer. We were first sent to Boston, and after a few repairs, we went down the East Coast and began our duty of escorting the USS Ticonderoga, a CV-14 air carrier, through the Panama Canal. We were at sea for 90 days.”
Mulson said that he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, with his first battle being the Liberation of the Philippines. “I served in all of the battles there until the end of the war, with the exception of Iwo Jima.”
Mulson noted that the 20 mm guns could fire 60 rounds in 7 seconds. He said, “Every third shell was a tracer, and after two magazines, we had to switch out the barrels. They got too hot, so we put them in a tub of water. Saltwater corroded the guns. We had to clean them and repair them at night.”
“Our assigned watches for air attacks were from 12 noon to 4 p.m. and 12 midnight to 4 a.m. You could stand up sleeping while on watch, but you better not get caught! On Jan. 21, 1945, off of Formosa, I was in charge of the gunner’s shack during one watch. Then I was allowed to go to chow. After chow, I was in charge of the merry-go-round, which was down one deck. It was a carousel on which we put ammunition. From there the ammo for the gunners went up in an elevator.”
“Suddenly our gunner’s shack was hit on its blind side by a Japanese suicide plane, a kamikaze. Seven men were killed and 30 guys were transferred to a hospital ship. I was lucky, and I figured, when the good Lord wants you, you’re going to go.” Mulson then sadly described being a witness to watching one of his fellow shipmates get badly injured while being on the torpedo deck. Mulson said, “This guy crawled to sick bay. The doctor saw that his one leg was dangling. He took out his sheath knife, finished taking off the guy’s leg, and then threw it over the side of the ship. Can you imagine watching your own leg being cut off and thrown out to sea?”
Later, Mulson was assigned duty on twin-mount, 40 mm guns on the ship’s bridge. After a particularly heated battle, using a quad mount of four guns, four shells in a clip, and setting off 16 shells at a time, Mulson noted, “We finally sank our target. Back then, we weren’t given any hearing protection to use. I couldn’t hear for a couple of days.”
Mulson said that the U.S. had a significant advantage over the Japanese during WWII by being able to refuel ships and planes at sea. He and others were aware of a turning point in the war, when the Japanese began conducting their kamikaze missions. “We figured that they were using these suicide plane attacks as a last resort. Things were getting a bit hectic.”
He talked about being on watch in battle one night. “I heard this noise, looked up, and saw a Japanese plane open its bomb bay doors and drop its torpedo. I could see the exhaust from its engines! The USS Maddox and two other ships rode that plane out of the sky.”
In addition to being involved in battles, Mulson and his shipmates rode out three typhoons during his 90 days at sea.
During one of the typhoons, Mulson stated, “The USS Maddox rolled over 68 degrees, with its stacks down, and incredibly righted itself and did not sink. Three ships were capsized. In June of 1945, we rode out a seven-hour typhoon.
Afterward, we saw the USS Pittsburgh (CA-72), a heavy cruiser, and saw that its bow had been torn off.” Though the USS Pittsburgh suffered significant damage from the 70-knot (130 mph) winds and 100-foot waves, not one of its men were lost at sea.
When not in battle with air attacks from the enemy or the high winds and waves of typhoons, Mulson and shipmates played cards. Mulson recounted, “I played a lot of Cribbage and a game called Acey Deucey. Also, we were able to get mail at sea every month. My mother always said that I didn’t write her enough. But they would censor our letters and cut out most of what we said with scissors.”
After some islands had been taken back, Mulson recalled the relief of not being in battle, and instead being able to be in port for a short time. He said, “They gave each guy two cans of beer and allowed them to go on shore. We drank, ate coconuts and listened on the radio to Tokyo Rose and her baloney. We knew that her purpose was to break down our morale. I guess you could say it was a bit of entertainment for us. We enjoyed the sound of a female voice.” Tokyo Rose, whose real name was Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, was an American who participated in radio broadcasts in English that were transmitted by Radio Tokyo to Allied soldiers in the South Pacific during WWII.
While on the USS Maddox, he and other seaman who had not ever crossed the equator were referred to as Pollywogs, in a time-honored tradition. Mulson said, “On July 30, 1945, we crossed the equator. But they would not initiate us as Shellbacks for having done so. We had to meet up with the USS Indianapolis. Eventually, after 90 days at sea, we finally saw the Golden Gate Bridge and were thankful to be in port in San Francisco.”
Following his tour of duty, Mulson returned to Ripley, married his sweetheart Wilma, and raised a family. “I have four grown children, 11 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and I’ve lost count of the number of great-great-grandchildren I have.” Since the early 1960s, Mulson has been a Master Mason and earned a number of Masonic awards. After retiring from 43 years of working for the railroads, Mulson enjoys hunting, playing cards, and caring for his roses, apple trees and vegetable gardens. It is said that he can “fix and fabricate just about anything that someone needs.” Also, Mulson was instrumental in planning for the construction of the Ripley Veterans Memorial.
The Rotary Club of Westfield-Mayville salutes Mulson for his patriotism and for proudly serving his country. It is grateful to him for offering a glimpse into the life of a U.S. Navy sailor, who courageously participated in battles, and who, thankfully, returned home safely to share his story.