Ray Mullin was born in San Francisco on October 10, 1952. He spent his childhood in San Francisco and moved to Marin County when he was sixteen years old. His father was a CPA for Greyhound and his mother was an office manager.
Before he enlisted, Mullin remembers considerable negativity towards the Vietnam War. In his opinion it was primarily people who would rather whine than do anything about it. Mullin believes that most people did not really understand the war, and that much of the negativity was merely spread by those with very little education about the situation.
The Vietnam War lasted from 1962 until 1975. Mullin served from 1970 to 1979. He was living in San Rafael, California when he enlisted. He and his buddy, Mike Baker went down took the test during their senior year, got their signatures, and were ready to enter at the completion of high school. When asked why he enlisted, Mullin simply replied “It was the thing to do.” There was never any question about entering the service. His father was pro-military and both his Mother and Father’s families had a long history of service. He had family members who had served in WWI and WWII in the Army, Marines and Navy—every branch but the Air Force. Mullin had heard the stories of the older folks who had told of marching through Hell and Georgia in the Army; he decided that wasn’t for him and enlisted in the Navy.
Basic training was at a Naval training center in San Diego that has since closed. Boot camp was unique. “You go in as a 17 year old and this 19 year old starts yelling at you. You honestly believe this guy is your God, at least for the first week or so until you figure out this guy is just a bit further along in training than you are.” Mullin remembers that Boot camp was more physical back in 1970. Along with the physical aspect he learned about the Navy and its tradition, how to run a ship, marching, drilling, and shooting. The best coping mechanism for basic training was the camaraderie. There were two companies, 331 and 332 who went through training together. The Navy utilized a system wherein if one guy got in trouble “we all did”.
Mullin felt his efforts were taken seriously, so much so that, “When you came out of Navy training you think you are the best guy the Navy has ever produced.” But then he remembers that this situation was clarified when you left Boot Camp and realized that you were simply one more guy in a long chain of men.
After basic training Mullin went to engineering school at Great Lakes. In the Navy you are given a set of tests and then assigned according to your results. Mullin tested with an aptitude in engineering so they sent him to Basic Propulsion Engineering School in Great Lakes. He lived in “the Cave” a giant barracks north of Chicago with about 400 men for three months. It was cold, real cold. However, Mullin didn’t want anything to do with the bottom of the ship [or propulsion school]. He wanted to be corpsman. His mother, however, had other ideas as she was concerned because the corpsmen were the men getting got at in Vietnam. So Mullin ended up leaving the propulsion school and joining the supply ranks, “an excellent career”.
His first assignment was in 1972 on the USS Coral Sea (an aircraft carrier stationed in the Tonkin Gulf). Mullin was Ship Serviceman, Second-Class as he made rank quickly. His first job on the carrier was as ship’s barber. He and two others lived in the barbershop on bunks and cut hair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The food was good, a lot better than other branches of the service. Entertainment was limited. They had one television station, or they went up and watched flight desk operation. There was a weight room, but no bowling alley (contrary to popular belief). They did a lot of reading. There was also continuous training and assignments, “whatever was needed”.
After working in the barbershop Mullin was assigned to the graveyard shift in the laundry. He also worked as a tailor and eventually took over the smoke shop. Throughout all his jobs there was the usual complaining and moaning, but the men supported the war effort and felt that what they did was important.
Mullin was on the USS Coral Sea the last day of the war. After the war ended he worked at the Navy correctional center for a year and was then assigned to the USS James Reasoner, a frigate.
After the USS Reasoner, Mullin finished off his service with a year of isolated duty on Diego Garcia, a small British owned island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The US Navy Support Facility there provides logistical support to operational forces deployed to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. After that assignment Mullin was briefly stationed at Treasure Island in San Francisco. He then decided to leave the service. He had intended to remain in the service for ten years, and stayed for 9 years, 11 months. 23 days and 6 hours, “give or take”. Of that time about six years were spent overseas.
During his service Mullin had overall good opinions of his superiors. Commander Capt. Scoggins, was the best skipper he ever had but removed after an incident when the ship ran aground. Scoggins was followed by Captain Robert Christianson, another good commander and finally Captain Paul Peck (who went on to become Rear Admiral) was the next commander.
Mullin said the best way he coped with his service experience was “by not getting blown up”. Security was good and the aircraft carriers were not targets. “No one was going out of their way to shoot at us.”
Communication with family was by mail only. There were sufficient supplies and Mullin does not recall any shortages as due to the nature of their assignment, the carriers are continuously supplied.
On his leaves, Mullin generally came back to California. One leave he took in Perth Australia, on another he got married. Navy ships go to ports of call, so every time they pulled into port it was a kind of vacation.
Mullin received nine medals altogether; Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Occupation medal, Navy Expeditionary Medal and others he cannot recall the name of.
The government was not helpful in his reentry into the civilian workforce; Mullin recalls there wasn’t even a “see’ya”. It did not help that the civilian population was negative towards vets. “You go for a job as a Vietnam vet, and that’s not a good thing. Better to say graduate of Cal Berkeley. That was the mentality of the American public at the time.” Today there is a glossing over of what went on, but there is strong resentment by some veterans over the lack of assistance they received from the government and bitterness about the homecoming they received from the American public. Mullin left the service five years after the war had ended, so he did not “get the brunt of it”, but he recalls being in uniform out in public, such as airports, and the harsh treatment he received by civilians.
Shortly after leaving the service Mullin went to work at a marine engineering firm in San Francisco. His duties involved installing equipment on navy ships. So, he went “back on board the navy ships”. He then took a job working for the U.S. government again maintaining ships, sites and equipment.
In 1992 Mullin got a “wild idea to give back”. He took a job at a school for disabled adults. He started out as a driver and, years later, ended up as director.
Mullin sees notices of reunions for those who served on the USS Coral Sea all the time. There is one coming up in Florida but he does not intend to attend. Mullin is active in other veterans affairs; he has been a member of the American Legion Wilkins Post 37 for twenty years and has acted as commander of the post for twelve years. He is a life member of Veterans of Foreign Wars and a life member of Vietnam Vets of America Chapter 547 and a member of The Forty Eight, which is an American legion hierarchy. He is also a member of the National Legion Press Association.
When asked what the toughest part of the service was, Mullin said it was “getting out”. He had given himself a deadline (mentioned above) and just made it.
Mullin most interesting experience in the service was when the USS Sperry ran ashore. Due to an outgoing tide the ship turned portside and ran aground. Other than that “every day was a party, every meal a feast”. He recalled with amusement the crossing of the equator. There is a Navy tradition-those crossing the equator for the first time are called pollywogs and are subjected to mischief at the hands of those more experienced seamen who have crossed before. “Fun stuff” recalled Mullin with a chuckle.
Mullin gave ten years of his life to the service and feels that sacrifice was justified. The service made him grow up. Up until then one would do stuff like “bum a couple bucks for gas or try to trick your father that you haven’t been out late as he sees you sneaking in while he heads out for work”. Being in the service made him grow up. He was overseas in countries where there were not age restrictions. He saw and experienced things he would not have experienced here at home.
The most memorable experience of all was the last day of the war aboard the USS Coral Sea. The Coral Sea was the last ship on the line. They were still flying missions when word came it was “time to go home”.
When asked what advice Mullin had for those entering the service he was clear: “ Don’t be stupid. Take your test. Take it a couple times to get your highest scores. There are hundreds of fields available in the service where you can acquire the training and experience necessary to turn into good paying civilian jobs. You can learn a trade. This is a great opportunity.”
When asked what advice Mullin had for young people today he said, “Select a government that is not going to be a bunch of sissy’s. Don’t rule with an iron fist, but realize an iron fist may be necessary.” He also asked that people realize the importance of maintaining the Veteran’s Administration because the vets coming back today are “just as messed up” as those coming back from previous wars.
Interviewer’s Note: After the conclusion of our interview Mullin gave me a tour of the meeting hall for the American Legion Wilkins Post 37. The vets had taken an old shell of a building and completely renovated it. There was a large hall, a kitchen, and a bar area. The bar itself is a 12 foot long display of ribbons and medals scanning the history of wars and engagements since World War I. The hardwood flooring, which is beautiful, is placed in squares of about 12×12 inches. Each square contains five nails, one for each branch of the service. The vets did all of the work. “No one took even a dime for his or her time”. The building is a testament to the veterans’ generosity and camaraderie.
Interview by Landon Kleinbrodt on October 20, 2012.