Local radio personality Zeke Mullins can be heard everyday across the airwaves of WNXT-AM Radio in Portsmouth, but more than 60 years ago, Mullins had a very different job to do.
“I was in the Three-C's camp in Idaho, and after the war started, they sent everybody home. When I got home, the radio was saying they needed men to sail ships to haul stuff overseas,” Mullins said.
He said his brother, who was serving in the U.S. Navy at the time, told him he should be prepared to go to war.
“If you think you'd like to be on a ship, you're going to have a nice, warm bed every day and good food. Your odds are getting sunk, but the odds are the same everywhere else, so you might as well be comfortable while you're at it,” Mullins said his brother advised him.
So, he enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and was placed in the Navy Reserve. It was Mullins' job to transport equipment and supplies on his boat over to the troopers - things like grenades, jeeps, gasoline and more.
“When we pulled into port (in Naples, Italy), there were a bunch of soldiers on the dock who said, ‘You should have been here last night. The Germans are 15 miles out of town,'” Mullins said. “That night, the Germans came over and started bombing the harbor.”
His unit carried supplies to Naples, Casablanca, Grimsby and other places where the war had reached. He said he was in England during the D-Day invasion, and in Saipan when the atomic bomb was dropped.
“We were unloading hand grenades in Saipan when Japan surrendered,” Mullins said. “The radio man came on and told us they had just dropped the bomb, and it was more powerful than all the ammunition we had with us.”
He said he never carried a gun or marched into battle, but said at times the war still was a gruesome sight to behold.
He shared one story of a soldier he was serving with, who found the severed head of a Japanese soldier on the battlefield. The soldier carried the head back to the boat, he said, and steamed off all its skin in a bucket, to take the skull home as a “souvenir.”
“I'd have never done something like that, but he did ... for a souvenir,” Mullins said.
In the first few years following the war, he said Merchant Marines were not recognized as veterans. It wasn't until the 1990s, 48 years after he left the war, they gained that status and recognition.
“People went on thinking all along that people in the Merchant Marines were draft dodgers, and they really weren't,” he said.
He said he was very pleased now to have been recognized for his service, and said he believes veterans are treated very nicely in our country today. Once a year he goes to the veteran's hospital in Chillicothe for a health checkup.
Mullins decided to collect his stories in his book, “Zeke Remembers When,” that retells his stories from the war and his early days in radio broadcasting. After his book was released, he announced it on the air and before the day had ended, he already had sold 100 copies.
“I think we was right, and we did the right thing,” Mullins said, looking back at the war.
He also said the state of war today is vastly different than it was during WWII.
“War nowadays is not fought like it was back then. It was up to the foot soldiers. They're the ones that has to carry the burden,” he said. “It's all in politics anymore, and I don't know how we're ever going to get out of that one we're in now.”
He said there's “always some idiot trying to run the world,” and it would be like that forever.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.