Goodwill Cruise

Mullinnix Postcard

Meanwhile in South East AsiaÖ
January 1, 1972
Only 133,000 U.S. servicemen remain in South Vietnam. Two thirds of Americaís troops have gone in two years. The ground war is now almost exclusively the responsibility of South Vietnam, which has over 1,000,000 men enlisted in its armed forces.

December 10, 1971 - January 11, 1972 Cuba - Patrolled northern choke because Cubans were attacking commercial shipping. On 7 February, 1972 the MULLINNIX departed for a goodwill cruise to Central/Latin America taking with her a (Navy) rock band. The MUXMEN lived up to their reputation by spreading goodwill to Key West, Florida; Vera Cruz, Mexico; Limon, Costa Rica; Colon, Panama; Willemstad, Cuarcao; San Jan, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. MULLINNIX returned home on 21 March 1972.

Some of the songs from the cruise...

Three Dog Night - Celebrate
Three Dog Night - Easy To Be Hard
Three Dog Night - Eli's Coming
Three Dog Night - Joy To The World
Three Dog Night - Just An Old Fashioned Love Song
Three Dog Night - Liar
Three Dog Night - Mama Told Me Not To Come
Three Dog Night - Never Been To Spain
Three Dog Night - One Is The Loneiest Number

From the band's perspective (an unknown member of the band's fond memories)...

I was "on" the USS Forrestal 1972-73, some time after the famous fire. Actually, the damned thing caught fire twice a day, but usually just oily rags, not bombs and missiles. My unit was berthed next to "R" Division, the principal fire response team, so whenever the alarm went off, they'd come storming through our little slice of Heaven to go put out the latest.

Fortunately, we didn't actually spend much time on the old tub. I was in the Navy Rock Band (officially "The Third Wire") and we spent most of the tour gigging around Europe. In ten months, we played more than 200 one-nighters, hauling huge mounds of equipment and luggage around on every conceivable mode of transportation. We once did consecutive performances in Lisbon, Athens, Copenhagen, Majorca, Munich, Naples and Istanbul. In that order. In one week. It wasn't just an adventure. It was a nightmare.

Damned fine band, though. We rocked hard, and then some. Kicked some major ass wherever we played, from shithole e-clubs to fancy embassy parties to monster college concerts to gigs so strange they defy classification.

Like the time the Sixth Fleet invaded Turkey ó just for drill, of course. ComPhibLant beached a few thousand Marines, and when it was over, threw a giant party, complete with steaks and beer, the hookers that followed the fleet, and us. We were plunked into one of those John Wayne WWII landing craft, the idea being that we'd run up on the sand; the cox'un would drop the ramp and ó ta-da! ó Instant Beach Boys.

Well, nobody counted on the rough ride. Drums rolling around, amps falling over, water spraying over the top, major voltage surges through our tender bodies, barfing horn players, general chaos and confusion. The boat hit a sand bar about a hundred yards out, the cox'un dropped the ramp, a wave surged in and flushed us all out like so much soggy garbage, guitars and everything. 'Bout two hundred jug heads had to dive into the surf to rescue us. No concert. For which I was nearly court-martial led, since I was technically the band leader (I was the only petty officer, an E-5 to everyone else's E-3).

The band was the brainchild of the then Chief of Naval Operations, a four-star Admiral named Elmo Zumwalt. He thought he could modernize the hidebound and tradition-loving Navy by imposing some fairly silly cosmetic changes by fiat, such as allowing sailors to wear civvies on liberty. Whoopee. When he turned his attention to the music department, he commanded, "Let there be Rock," where there previously was none. "Hip" to these guys was Glenn Miller.

Well, they didn't have to like it, so they went to the personnel jackets to find the worst possible screw-ups to man what they hoped to be a sinking ship. Which, oddly enough, may have been the best possible way to find a rock band. At this point in the Viet Nam War, the level of musicianship in the Navy was unbelievably high, since it was very competitive to get into a band through pre-enlistment auditions. Guys were coming off four years of student deferments out of Julliard and scrambling to play a horn rather than wind up in a rice paddy.

I got in because I was a tuba player, with three years of college as a music major. I was tired of it all and signed up with no preconditions, hoping to be a corpsman or combat photographer. But the Music Department had a rule that bassists (meaning string and electric) had to play tuba as well. Bass and tuba are not a natural double, so that's not as common as it might seem. So they were taking all the decent tuba players that showed up in Boot Camp and assigning them to the Navy School of Music in Little Creek, Virginia following basic training. With the proper motivation, you can teach someone who already knows music how to play the double bass. That doesn't work the other way around, because a horn player's lip physically takes years to develop.

I wound up in a room with several dozen other tuba players and an asshole. The asshole explained that the Needs of the Service required that six of us in the room would be chosen at the end of six months' training to become Navy musicians. The losers would be assigned to a riverboat on the Mekong Delta. Life expectancy of about six weeks. Now, that's motivation. Somehow, I made the cut. My friend, Kilanowski, was seventh. Sure enough, he went to Nam and came home in a bag. Didn't even take six weeks.

So I spent the next couple of years in a sixteen piece Fleet band and served on the USS Pocono, the USS Mt. Whitney and the USS Shreveport. Life sucked, but at least I was breathing. Made rank quickly. One night at the Officer's Club, I hustled some drunk off the stage to keep him from damaging Navy property. Later, in the parking lot, I was forced to put the bastard down. Turned out to be the base Commanding Officer. The next day, he informed my Chief Petty Officer that I was out of there. When the Music Department heard that I'd beaten up a Captain, they put me in charge of the new Rock Band, no doubt chortling with glee the whole time.

They were a sweet collection of fuckups, but God how they could play. We were eight pieces, with four lead vocalists (two white and two black), horns, keys, the drummer from Hell and a screaming guitar god. Though I had a little rank, I was not the leader. Classically trained, I had never even listened to Rock before. But I learned. We found an abandoned building at the end of the runway at the Norfolk Naval Air Station and, between takeoffs, practiced sixteen hours a day.

When we were ready, lacking any "official" Navy gigs, we set up for a concert at Virginia Beach during Spring Break. It was a sensation. It was also a riot, involving thousands of students, and we wound up in the brig. Not for the last time. A picture of me wearing a Superman t-shirt, surrounded by horny college babes, wound up on the front page of the local newspaper. The Navy lifer community was appalled and outraged. The Music Department guys triumphantly dropped a copy on Zumwalt's desk and said something to the effect, "See, we told you so."

Zumwalt was delighted. He bailed us out and put us on a destroyer, the USS Mullinnix, for a little jaunt around the Caribbean to see what we could do to promote goodwill for the US at a time when we needed it. In Vera Cruz, we played two concerts on the City Plaza. The first one was to the pigeons. Somehow, word got around about the Norte Americanos, and the second concert was beyond huge. Another riot, actually. Have you ever been loved by thirty thousand Mexicans? With really good weed? I mean, I never touched the stuff, myself. But, a few months later, the entire crew of the USS Mullinnix was busted, Captain and all, for smuggling dope. Our leftovers.

We weaved our way unsteadily to Costa Rica, Panama, Curacao, Puerto Rico and Guantanamo Bay. Leaving a trail of broken hearts, not to mention broken eardrums. And a haze of, uh, goodwill amongst the natives.

Back in the US of A, the now frantic Music Department boys hustled us onto the USS Forrestal, leaving for a ten-month Mediterranean deployment. The two-star admiral we were assigned to had no use for musicians. As far as he was concerned, we were just fodder for his "flag plot", the bridge where admirals get to play with their fleet.

Little known fact: admirals don't actually have a very large staff of enlisted personnel. A driver, a photographer, some Phillipino stewards, a couple of yeomenÖand a band. So every musician ó who invariably winds up assigned to some admiral's staff ó has to go to Radar School and learn how to man the various consoles that control our fighting forces at sea. That's right, the nerve centers of our forward defenses around the world are manned by musicians. I know you'll sleep more soundly tonight knowing that some tuba player is defending our sacred shores.

We had no band room. In fact, our equipment was locked up. We were informed in no uncertain terms that our playing days were over. All we could do is try to poison the son-of-a-bitch, but there wasn't anything we could get our hands on that was worse than his coffee, anyway. Desperate messages sent through channels to our patron, Adm. Zumwalt, mysteriously disappeared. In Barcelona, our first port, we were not even allowed liberty. This was bad.

So, when we got to Istanbul, we broke into the equipment locker, jumped ship, stole a bus and headed off to Incirlik Airbase on the Black Sea. We'd heard that Armed Forces Radio was doing a live broadcast of some stateside band that was playing there. When we got there, they were just finishing up their first set, prior to starting the radio show. We locked them in their dressing room and took their place, too late to stop the show. We were our usual sensational selves for about forty minutes until the other band broke out and stormed the stage. There was a beauty of a fight, all on the air.

In addition to about a million servicemen worldwide listening to the broadcast, the Admiral's people heard it and came after us. They caught us trying to get back on the ship like nothing had happened, and we wound up in irons. I don't recommend it. Stayed in the brig until we got to Athens, where three-star Admiral Miller (who outranked our guy) couldn't wait to book the now-famous Navy Rock Band for his next party. Turned out he played a little piano, so ó in an astoundingly astute move ó we got him to sit in with us. Out fortunes were made.

There is a whole lot more to this story. Like how we wound up with an entourage of spooks for "roadies" who only seemed to move the thirty-some-odd tom-tom cases we suddenly acquired as we toured all over Europe. How we were helicoptered onto another aircraft carrier that had been taken over by mutinous blacks, the (harebrained) idea being that we would somehow restore peace and love and magically quell the uprising through music. How I was stranded on a desert isle for three days with all the equipment and then almost court-martial led for desertion. How we won the All-Europe Battle of the Bands. How we played protest and antiwar songs to 15,000 college students in Thessaloniki. How we survived the brawl at Cadillac Sam's in Naples, the world's toughest sailor bar. How we were practically worshipped by every enlisted soldier, sailor and airman in half of Europe for getting away with all the things they wished they could get away with. Oh, and much, much more.

Every bit of it is true. I've got pictures. Someday, I should write a bookÖ

16 Feb 1972 (Steaming towards Limon, Costa Rica from Veracruz, Mexico)

Dear Mom, Dad, Sue

Mail is supposed to go out either today or tomorrow, with luck. We left Mexico yesterday. The best time I ever had in my life. They had a big fiesta (Madi Gras) while we were there. The streets were packed with people. Bands everyplace, everybody dancing. Youíd meet girls one night, and have dates from the next day. They couldnít speak English, but that was half the fun, trying to talk to them. We had a band with us on the ship. They played in the parades and gave two concerts. I bought a poncho and a fox skin belt.

We are headed for Limon, Costa Rica now. We get there Saturday morning. They may have a problem. We might not be able to use the fuel they have down there. So weíll spend a day in Limon, and to go Panama to re-fuel and liberty for a day. We have beautiful weather down here. About 80 degrees all the time. We have to go about 5 or 6 hundred miles south still. It probably will be hotter than heck down there.

Weíre supposed to get mail Monday, hope to get a letter from you. Write soon. Love, Frank PS: Iíve been in 2yrs exactly today. Hurrah. All down hill.

20 Feb, 1972 (Steaming towards Panama from Limon, Costa Rica)

Dear Mom, Dad, Sue

We left Limon, Costa Rica this morning. I donít know why they call it a liberty port. There wasnít much to do. No shops, no nothing. Just a regular town. We couldnít refuel there so weíre heading for Panama. We get there tomorrow morning. Itís rough tonight. I keep sliding back and forth across the compartment. I havenít got sick yet. Hardly anybody has. Our director doesnít work. The train motor went bad. We pulled it out, and canít get a new one till we go to Rossy Roads. It weighted about 300 lbs. We had a little trouble with it.

Itís been raining all day today. Weíre supposed to hit a hurricane tonight or tomorrow. I hope not. Before today the weather has been beautiful. Weíve been gone 2 weeks. It seems like a year. Weíve got 4 more to go. Well, itís time to go to bed. Nothing to do but itís too rough to sleep. Iíll probably sleep in plot Ė you can lie crosswise instead of straight. Itís easier to stay in one place. Write when you get a chance. Hope to see you this summer. Love, Frank PS: Been in the Navy 2 yrs. 4 days. All down hill. Hurrah.

23 Feb 1972

This was clipped from the Lincoln (Nebraska) Southeast Sun on Feb 23, 1972 by a Red Cross Volunteer

ďNavy Seaman Frank A. Wood, son of Mr. And Mrs. William A. Wood, 3128 Alden, has sailed for South America aboard the destroyer Ė USS Mullinnix based in Norfolk, Va. He is a 1968 graduate of Southeast High.Ē

29 Feb 1972 (Off the coast of Roosevelt ďRossyĒ Roads)

Dear Mom, Dad, Sue

I canít believe my little sister is getting married. What happen to the little girl I use to fight with? Sue, I wish you all the luck in the world!! I guess that makes me the old maid of the family. But thereís no hurry, is there Mom?

Curacao was nice. Shopping was outrageous (expensive), worse than the states. A typical tourist trap. But it was a beautiful little city. They had open-air restaurants that you just sat, and unwound and relaxed. Met a lot of tourist from the states.

Everybody had something to say about Nebraska.

Weíre of the coast of Rossi Roads Ė we had liberty Sunday. Went swimming and got a good tan. Lost my glasses again. Iím wearing Navy issue, my last pair. Iíll have to buy another. Good chance to get my eyes examined. We go to San Juan, Puerto Rico this weekend. Itís another tourist trap. But itís supposed to be beautiful. A lot of stage performers perform in the hotels and clubs. Might catch a couple of shows.

Weekend after next we go to St. Thomas again. We were there last Feb. About the only thing Iíll do there is buying a gallon of liquor. You can get if for about $8 or $10. What would you like? They come in 5ths.

Iím going to make a little investment instead of saving money right now. Iíve always wanted a complete stereo system. Iím going to order it from Pacific Mail Order System out of Hong Kong. Itís way lower than stateside prices. Itís a good company, no sly deals. Iím going on a crash savings program. As I save the money, Iíll buy each item. Iím getting a turntable, a tape deck, an AM/FM Amp and 2 speakers. It will be a great set up when I get the whole thing. Iíll bring it home with me this summer. I figure by June Iíll have bought the whole thing if I stay to my savings program.

After that Iíll start saving money. Iím thinking of raising that allotment to $150 a month instead of $100. That would give me around $3000 when I got out. Thatíll go on a car. I havenít decided were to go to college, the truth is, I havenít thought much about it. Please write soon. Love, Frank

Later that year...

In early April, the events in Vietnam required that the MUX prepare to get underway within 48 hours. Men came off liberty and leave to prepare the ship for a deployment of undetermined amount of time. The steam began to pass through the shipís arteries once more bringing movement and life to the ship...

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© 2007 by Frank Wood, All rights reserved.