Summary: George Mullins, the oldest child of G.N. Mullins, grew up in rented houses near Osyka, Mississippi. He moved to Baton Rouge with his family in 1939 and returned to Pike County in 1942 to marry Hazel Strickland. During World War Two he joined the US Coast Guard Reserves. He spent the war years in Galveston and on a patrol boat in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1938 Junior was in the tenth grade at Osyka High School. He started playing football in the 8th grade when he weighed 150 pounds. By the 10th grade he weighted considerably more and was the fullback on the school team. He was a star of the Osyka team and articles were written about him in the McComb newspaper. His cousins, James and Joe Turner, were also on the football team. James was an end and Joe was the halfback. Their mother, Junior's aunt Willie, always prepared Junior and her two sons a steak dinner before each game. At the end of the football season she always hosted a dinner for the entire team. G.N. was also an enthusiastic supporter of the team. He drove a group of the boys to and from games in his Model T Ford car.
There were only 25 boys in the Osyka school and 16 of them were on the football team. There were always some boys out on injury and one time, when Junior was sidelined with a hurt leg, the Osyka team had to play with ten men. Despite this handicap the Osyka team had a winning record. In the 1938 season they lost very few of their games. The team was issued baggy canvas uniforms and didn't have to attend classes on the days when they had a game. This was always on Friday. On game days the team lined up on the field in the morning and goofed off the rest of the day. Their coach was the science teacher. He gave them advice when he could. Mostly they played rough and tumble football with very few set plays and little finesse. When Junior moved to Baton Rouge High School in the 11th grade, he found that big city schools did things differently. The Baton Rouge team consisted of dozens of boys, all dressed in tight fitting polyester uniforms. On Fridays before games the team spent the day in the school gym. They ate a breakfast and a light lunch but no supper at all. The games were played on a real football field with grass. This was a sharp contrast to the make-shift arrangements found in rural Mississippi and Louisiana.
During the 1938-1939 football season Osyka High School played teams from Gallman, Liberty, Kentwood, Gloster, Magnolia, Crosby, Franklinton and Varnado. At Crosby the game was played on a new clay field without a grass cover. It had rained for several days and the field was a mud hole. Once Junior got tackled in the end zone and got stuck in the mud. It took the help of his teammates to free him from the suction-like grip of the red mud. At Liberty the playing field had drainage lines under the surface and yellow jackets had made their nests in the pipes. Whenever anyone ran too near their entrance hole, the yellow jackets swarmed out and stung the players.
At the village of Gloster the field was also hard clay with no grass but it was dry. There was, however, a horse wallow in the middle of the field. The Gloster team played dirty football. They threw dirt into their opponent's faces and kneed the ball carrier when he was down. The officials refused to intervene. The Osyka coach saw that his team was angry and he decided to forfeit the game rather than risk getting someone hurt. They left during the half-time. Also at this game the Osyka coach and the School Superintendent almost came to blows during an argument on the field over game strategy. The players had to separate their two screaming coaches.
At Franklinton, Louisiana, the field was a cow pasture and no one had removed the cow manure. Once when a runner was tackled, he fell onto a cow paddy and slid 20 feet. This was good for a big laugh at the next huddle. At Varnadoe, also in Louisiana, Junior carried the ball from one end of the field to the other, right through the Varnado line, to make the game's only touchdown. He tried to carry the ball for the extra point but slipped on the wet grass and fell. Osyka won the game 6 to 0.
In 1938 Junior lettered in both football and basketball. The only gym in Pike County was at Fernwood High School so the most important basketball games were played there. Junior remembers that the ball bounced higher on the wood floor than on clay. He also remembers that after the last game of the season, someone stole his basketball uniform from the locker room in Fernwood. The Osyka boy's basketball team, on which Junior was a guard, did not do as well as the football team. He recalls at least one game that Osyka did win. He was bringing the ball down court, the clock was ticking away the final seconds of the game and the crowd was screaming, "Shoot! Shoot!" He hurled the ball from center court just as the whistle blew and made the basket. He was more astonished than the fans. They crowded around to congratulate him for what was really a lucky shot.
Junior was an all-around athlete. He played baseball in the 8th and 9th grades; football in the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades and basketball in the 9th and 10th grades. He ran on the track team and played on the Osyka town football team that was organized to oppose the team from the Southwest Junior College in Summit. He was more or less famous and had been scouted by at least one university football coach.
Early in 1939 G.N. moved his family to Baton Rouge. Junior boarded with the Joe Cutrer family in Osyka until school was over in the spring. Then he too left for Baton Rouge. He and Hazel Strickland had just started a tentative romance that would have to be carried on by long distance. Whenever the Mullins family came back to Pike County Junior and Hazel made sure that they spent some time together. Two years later during the year Hazel worked at the Tax Assessor's Office in Magnolia, Junior was working out of Beaumont, Texas, as a pumpman on the tug, Helen M. He wrote Hazel a letter every day and addressed them to the Tax Assessor's Office. In the spring of 1942 Junior and Hazel were engaged to be married.
Following her engagement Hazel quit her job and moved back home. During this time Percy had a garage on old Highway 51 in Osyka in partnership with Otis McElvin. They hired Hazel to run the office and to pump gas. She rode with Percy to and from Osyka in his car. It wasn't long before Percy got drunk one afternoon when he should have been working. Hazel won't tolerate this. On the way home that evening they had an argument and Percy told Hazel that she was fired. The next morning he had forgotten everything, as was his custom. He convinced Hazel to return to work at the gas station in Osyka. But the arrangement didn't last and when Hazel married in April 1942 she was working at Sam Fortenberry's hardware store in Osyka.
On Easter Sunday, April 5, Junior and Hazel were married in the living room of her parent's home by an elderly Baptist preacher. A few hours later the new couple attended the evening service at the Bluff Springs Baptist Church where they were recognized and congradulated. They then returned to the Percy Strickland home for their honeymoon. Junior had just quit his job on the tugboat and the couple moved to G.N.'s farm near Mt. Hermon in Louisiana. Junior farmed all summer and, in the fall, joined the US Coast Guard Reserves. Hazel stayed on the farm at Mt. Hermon with her aunt Irene while Junior went to boot camp in New Orleans. She stayed at Mt. Hermon for about six months after Junior was sent to the Galveston Life Boat Station in Texas. Just before her first son was born in March 1943, Hazel moved to her mother's home in Pike County. Her son was born in the living room of that house. She stayed for a further six weeks and then went by train to Galveston, Texas, where Junior had been sent for advanced training.
About 500 men had arrived at the Galveston Life Boat Station at the same time. Even though there was a tremendous housing shortage in Galveston, Junior managed to locate a small cabin at a place called Orange Court. The cabin was built on pilings right next to the beach and intended to be rented overnight by vacationers. It had one bedroom, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom. The family lived in this cabin until June 1944.
As a Seaman Junior's base pay was $50.00 a month with an additional $50.00 monthly for his family allotment. With the addition of the baby in March 1943, the family allotment went up to $75.00 but this was not sufficient for the family to live on. To supplement his income Junior started to work as a stevedore at the Port of Galveston. Junior was being trained as a baker by the Coast Guard. When he was baking his job was to make about 50 pies each day. This would take two hours and then he would be off the rest of the day. He worked regular hours at the Life Boat Station from 8 AM to 5 PM and from 6 PM to 11 PM at his second job at the Port. After a few months of training as a baker, he started cooking. As a cook at the Life Boat Station he was on-duty 24 hours and then off-duty for the next 24 hours. With his schedule he managed to work regularly at the Port.
He and a dozen other men from the Coast Guard Station starting working as stevedores together. There was a real shortage of stevedores so the US Coast Guard officers did not object to this moonlighting by the enlisted men so long as the men were not too fatigued to perform their daytime duties. The work at the Port was not steady. When a ship was in port, the men lined up at the gate just before the start of the evening shift. There were two stevedore companies and two rates of pay. The men unloading the trains received only half the pay of those loading the ships. For this reason the two stevedore companies, which had control of loading the ships, could pick the best men. They left the weak and those of doubtful reputation to the City, which controlled the warehouses and the unloading of the trains. Junior was a good worker and was strongly built. After he understood the situation he never worked unloading the trains again. He was in such demand that he occasionally witnessed arguments between the foremen over who would get him on their crew.
Most of the ships were Liberty ships being loaded with Lend-Lease supplies for Europe. Each ship was loaded with a particular product, often sugar or flour in bags. One ship would be loaded with bags of sugar, the next with flour. The stevedores carried the bags individually from the warehouse to a hoist. After the hoist was boomed aboard the ship and lowered into the hold, other stevedores stacked the bags carefully to completely fill the hold. After the ships were loaded and the hatches battened down, huge boxes containing three Jeeps or a tank or an armored vehicle were placed on the deck. These ships were usually loaded until the water-lines painted on their bows disappeared into the water. On one occasion the harbor pilot misread the depth of the shipping channel and ran his ship against a sandbar. This ship had to be unloaded and the cargo put back in the warehouses. Many of these ships were going to Russia. Each train had a few extra cotton bags on board in case any of the bags split open. Junior took several of these bags home and Hazel made aprons for him to wear to work. She tried to bleach the huge black letters out of the material but it was still possible to read the Lend-Lease logo and the word "Russia" on the aprons.
Junior worked steadily as a stevedore until June 1944. One by one his Coast Guard buddies were transferred or quit. Almost always the work was hard labor but Junior remembers one night in which he and another man simply sat on a pile of dunnage for the entire shift. They had been told to wait there so they waited until the shift ended. Another time the stevedores loaded bags of some chemical. The next day many of the Coast Guard men reported to sick bay with respiratory complaints. Inside the ships the air would be so dusty that the men wore respirators. Some of the men were ordered by their officers or their doctors to quit and other simply grew tired. By the spring of 1944 only a few men were left at the Galveston Life Boat Station. Even the cooks and bakers were being replaced by civilian women. Finally Junior and some of the other men were assigned to a landing ship which was to embark from New Orleans. Junior was going to war.
Hazel took the baby and went to live with her parents in Pike County. Junior boarded a train with the other men on June 20, 1944, bound for New Orleans. However the Coast Guard had no available billets or beds in New Orleans so the men were put off in Baton Rouge. The men stayed in Baton Rouge for a month. They occupied their time by playing touch football on the grounds of the old State Capital Building and by touring the night clubs. Finally their orders were canceled and they were all sent to the Lakefront Receiving Station on Lake Ponchetrain near New Orleans to await other assignments.
The Lakefront Receiving Station was full of idle men waiting assignment. It was run by a Warrant Officer who seemed to enjoy court marshaling his men. It was like being in boot camp again. Junior went to the office and asked to be assigned to the first available ship. A couple of days later he was rushed to the office, given a set of orders and was handed over to a woman driver who told him that he was going on the "Blanco". She drove him into town to a Coast Guard base on the Industrial Canal in New Orleans. She dropped him off and left. Junior didn't see a ship. However, there were three poles bobbing gently up and down at the side of the wharf. The wharf was eight feet above the water. The poles were the three masts of the schooner "Blanco". The US Coast Guard had acquired the Blanco in August 1942, designated it a coastal yacht and refitted it for submarine patrol. It was the only sailing vessel in the Eighth Naval District. Junior was to serve on it for the next 15 months.
The Blanco, that in civilian life was called the "Atlantic", was assigned to patrol a 250-square mile area of the Gulf of Mexico. Its task was to search for German submarines and to gather weather data. In other words to protect the very ships that Junior had been loading in Galveston. The schooner had been built in Denmark in 1923 with two diesel engines and before the war had belonged to the Schlitz brewery. While on submarine duty its sails were used whenever possible. Its three masts were 100, 95 and 90-feet in height and about three feet in diameter. One of the masts went through the galley where Junior worked. Junior had not expected to be assigned to anything like this. He thought that being on the Blanco was like a trip back into time. He had plenty of time to get to know the ship. It had to be in its assigned area for 30 days. The ship then returned to New Orleans for supplies. However it could not be gone from its assigned area for more than ten days. During that time another ship patrolled its area. The trip to New Orleans took a maximum of one and a half days. This meant that the Blanco could be in port for at least seven days between trips. With all sails out and with favorable winds , the trip in or out could be made in as little as 27 hours. The captain always tried to be as close to the edge of the assigned area as possible on the 30th day and sometimes he was on his way to New Orleans before he was supposed to be.
Almost half the crew took leave at the end of every trip but Junior rarely did. He was still a Second Class Commissaryman but he was in charge of the galley and had one or two men under his command. He had to make arrangements for the next trip. He spent the last day on shore just picking up supplies in a truck. However unlike some of the other men, he did not have to go far to be home. Hazel had found a one-bedroom apartment at 1821 Magazine Street in downtown New Orleans. There was no yard but the baby George could run up and down a little alley next to the house. The apartment was in a residential area and next door was a workshop for the blind where brooms were made. Three blocks away was Coliseum Square, a park to which Hazel took the baby to walk and play. The apartment was about a half-mile from the Mississippi River and two miles west of the French Quarter. It was on a streetcar line that ran between Audubon Park and the canal where the Blanco tied up. The streetcar cost seven cents to ride so Hazel had easy access to the rest of the city.
Junior was gone for 30 days and then he would be back home for eight or nine days. He usually could take four to seven days off after each trip. He managed to be home for Christmas 1944 and the family went up to Pike County to visit relatives. Usually Hazel was alone with the baby in New Orleans but the little apartment had a living room and there was space for overnight visitors. Once Hazel's sister, Edna, and her son Leonard, came and stayed a few days. In June 1945 when Hazel's second child, Philip, was born, her two sisters Christine and Trennette came down from Pike County to help. The baby George was taken to stay with his grandmother Irene for a month after the birth of Philip and Christine, who was 16, and Trennette, who was 13, stayed in New Orleans. They slept on a bed in the living room. Junior was out to sea so Hazel took a cab to the US Marine Hospital where the baby was born.
During the time Junior was on the Blanco he missed only one voyage. One the way down the river from New Orleans, he felt the beginnings of a toothache. The doctor at Pilot Town at the mouth of the river suggested that he not make the voyage. Junior went back to New Orleans, had the tooth pulled and was off almost a whole month. He did not enjoy this leave. He knew that the other cook would have to cook every day in his absence. This was unfortunate for both the cook and the crew. The other cook was a good baker but unskilled as a cook.
Life on board the Blanco very quickly became routine. There were 32 men on the 130-foot ship. The Blanco was equipped with radar and sonar equipment. On the rare occasion when something was picked up on the sonar, it's volume would be turned up so that it could be heard all over the ship. Usually the sonar picked up whales. The Blanco was nearby when the last German submarine to be sighted in the Gulf was sunk. A merchant ship spotted the sub and the US Army Air Force sent out planes with depth charges to sink it. Junior was working in his galley when the Blanco received word that the sub had been hit and was sinking. This was the only submarine that the Blanco encountered while on submarine patrol.
Only rarely was the ship's routine broken by such excitement. However the crew was prepared for an encounter with the enemy. The Coast Guard installed one three-inch cannon and half a dozen 50-caliber machine guns on the schooner's deck. It had two "K" guns for launching depth-charges and a rack on the stern for rolling depth-charges overboard. However the ship was too slow in the water to use the rack. It was used once in practice and the Blanco sprung leaks all over. The depth charges were filled with 350 pounds of explosive and when they detonated they threw up a geyser of water 50 feet into the air. Every time the Blanco returned to harbor the depth-charges had to be unloaded and stored in a concrete building in the swamp near Pilot Town.
The crew practiced regularly on the guns. Even Junior was encouraged to fire a machine gun at crates thrown into the water. Every fourth bullet was a tracer and the gun had bicycle grips and no recoil so it was a simple matter to follow the line of the tracers. The US Navy supplied them with plenty of old ammunition on the condition that they return the spent brass casings to the Navy depot at Pilot Town. Ordinarily Junior's duty station was just forward of the big three-inch cannon. His job was to operate a hand-powered water pump that cooled the machine guns. He put cotton in his ears and watched the gun crews as he pulled the pump's handle back and forth. The three-inch cannon was mounted in the middle of the ship between the first and second masts. A target consisting of a tripod made of 2x6 lumber wrapped in a bed sheet was dropped overboard and fired on at a range of one-half to a full mile. Lt. Commander Ruhge, the Blanco's commander, would calculate the windage and the elevation. The gunners mate would set the shells to explode at a pre-set distance and the gun drew would work frantically to keep the target in their cross-hair sights as the ship rolled and pitched.
The crew never had to use their guns against the enemy. However the weather sometimes gave them a good fight. Because it was on patrol the Blanco would not run away from a hurricane. When the weather got really rough they would seal the portholes with metal plates, hoist a couple of sails and turn on the motor. This allowed the helmsman to keep control of the ship to prevent it from turning sideways against the wind. The ship would climb the side of the waves, fall off the top and then descend the other side. Three or four men would crowd into the pilot house to watch the ship climb the 75-foot high waves. On one such night the Blanco received a coded message saying that a Navy landing-ship, an LST, was adrift in their vicinity. The skipper offered a ten-day leave to the man who spotted the LST. Men lashed themselves to the ship's yardarms and searched the horizon during the flashes of lightening but to no avail.
The seaman's quarters were forward of the galley and just astern of the chain locker and the anchor. Even in relatively calm seas this end of the ship sometimes rose 30 feet on a big wave. Several of the men including Junior choose to sleep on deck. On the top of the ship's wheel house was a box where lines, fides and belaying pins were stored. In the warm months Junior took the space next to this box as his sleeping spot. He rolled his bedroll in a piece of canvas and kept it there. The boom was only three feet above his head and if he had ever gotten up at the moment that the boom was being swung around, he would have lost his head. Many times during the night, a quick rain would come up and the other ten or so men sleeping on the deck would make a mad dash to get below. They would grab their mattresses and, always, one of them would get stuck in the doorway. This would leave his fellows standing in the rain, pushing and cursing. Junior would simply roll the piece of canvas up over his head and lay there until the rain stopped. In bad weather he would sleep in his bunk in a room which he shared with another petty officer.
Water was rationed on the Blanco. The crew was allowed one shower a week. A yeoman stood at the valve with a clock in his hand. When a man's time was expired, the yeoman closed the valve and there was no more water. The two cooks were allowed to bathe every second day. Junior used a piece of canvas to catch water from the sails during the rain squalls. In this way he almost always had a bucket of fresh water sitting on the deck. He used part of the water to bath and rinse himself and the rest to wash his aprons.
Naturally Junior's primary concern was his job in the galley. The quality of his meals had a lot to do with the morale of the crew. Junior was the senior cook and was in charge of the galley so, unlike the other cook, he worked seven days a week. The ship had a small ice maker and Junior realized that if he saved this ice all week, he would have just enough ice to make three gallons of ice cream on Sunday. He set this as a policy. The ice cream was made in a hand-cranked machine. The man who volunteered to crank the handle was given an extra helping of the ice cream and there was always volunteers weeks in advance.
Junior soon found that he could not keep the galley clean. The walls, and everything else, was always covered in soot. The stove burned diesel oil. The fuel oil was atomized by a pump and a spray nozzle. A spark plug ignited the fuel until the firebricks got red hot. When the firebrick was hot enough to keep the fire going, the spark plug shut off. However, whenever the ship fell off a particularly big wave the fire would go out. The pump would continue to blow diesel fuel onto the firebrick and it would finally ignite. When the happened there would be an explosion and soot would blow out of a small hole in the side of the stove. The ship's mechanics tried all kinds of smoke stacks but nothing worked. Even the food tasted of fuel oil. Since it was impossible to keep the galley clean, Junior put a burned-out light bulb in one of the two kitchen light sockets during skipper's inspections. In this way, the skipper would not see the blackened walls. He would tell the cooks to put a new bulb in place of the bad one but this was far simpler than trying to clean the soot-covered walls. Nor did the skipper ever realize that the men hid beer in the ship's bilge. The bilge was accessible only through a hole in the bulkhead behind the flour bin in the galley and a few men hid their beer there.
The skipper, Lieutenant Commander Ruhge, was liked by all the men. Junior kept in touch with him until Mr. Ruhge's death in Chicago long after the war was over. Mr. Ruhge had brought the ship down from the Great Lakes and he stayed on board for the duration of the war. He ate with the crew on a coach at the one end of the table. 12 or 14 men ate at every shift. The crew sat on benches on either side of the table. At least once the ship hit a big wave and everyone except the skipper fell off their seats and onto the deck. Mr. Ruhge was pinned between the wall and the table and so he could hang on.
The ship had gear to take water temperature to depths of up to 200 feet and sometimes the men used this to catch red snapper. The skipper also had deep sea fishing gear. When a shark was sighted, the skipper would get baloney from the galley and use it to bait his hooks. If he hooked the shark he would get it near the ship and the gunner's mate would shot the shark between the eyes. They never ate the sharks. One time they were pulling a shark in when, suddenly, it broke the line. It swam away quickly and, just as rapidly, swam back to the ship. It stopped at the gunwale as if daring the men to come into the water. The skipper threw out his line and hooked the shark again, this time for keeps.
In this way Junior served out the war. When the Blanco was in port Mr. Rughe would give Junior a 48-hour pass and a 72-hour pass. They would be used consecutively as passes instead of counting as leave. This way Junior accumulated the 30 days of leave that he was entitled to each year. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was over. However the war in the Pacific continued and so did the anti-submarine patrols in the Gulf. It was not until surrender documents were signed with Japan on September 2 that the war was over for the Blanco. Since there were no more submarines in the Gulf, the Blanco was going to be decommissioned and returned to its owners. The skipper asked 15 men to go with him to South Carolina to decommission the Blanco. Junior was in the US Coast Guard Reserves and was eligible for immediate demobilization. However he had no immediate plans and so he volunteered for the trip. It turned out to be a fun trip. They stopped in Miami for a week and then spent a week or two in Charleston, South Carolina. Junior cooked breakfast and dinner and then everyone went ashore for supper. In Miami they took in the fabulous floor shows in the beachside hotels and in Charleston they toured the bars. After delivering the Blanco to the naval yard in Charleston, the crew took a train back to New Orleans. There they were discharged. Three of the men stayed in the Coast Guard after the war and a couple of the men went into business and became millionaires.
Junior had maintained his address at Sunny Hill, Louisiana so he received two bonuses from the State of Louisiana for his military service during the war. Junior left the Blanco on October 31, 1945, and was discharged from the Coast Guard Reserves on November 6 as a Ship's Cook, Second Class Petty Officer. He received two medals: Good Conduct and the American Theater Medal. He and Hazel and the two children stayed on G. N's farm near Mt. Hermon until February 1946 when they leased a farm three miles from that of G. N. and a mile east of Mt. Hermon.
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