Deborah Mullen’s family connections with the American Red Cross stretch back more than 65 years to when her father entertained troops in the Pacific with a Broadway show as part of the Red Cross Military Welfare Services.
Mullen gained her own firsthand experience with the Red Cross 35 years ago as a Red Cross volunteer in the hospital pharmacy at the Naval Academy. And now, as the wife of Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Deborah Mullen continues to see first hand the support by the Red Cross for members of the military and their families.
Her connection with the Red Cross has been constant as she advises spouses about emergency notifications and other Red Cross services to armed forces. Following the 9/11 attacks, Mrs. Mullen worked at the Pentagon Family Assistance Center—again the Red Cross was there.
“The Red Cross is always there,” Mrs. Mullen says. “The Red Cross never fails—ever—to fulfill its mission for the military.”
A Producer’s Legacy: Use the Talents You’re Given to Serve
Her father, Edward Morgan, wanted to serve his country, but was too young to be a soldier during World War I and too old to enlist when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
But being 42 didn’t stop this creative and determined pianist, composer and dancer from contributing to the war effort.
Morgan joined the American Red Cross Military Welfare Service, the World War II Red Cross division offering recreational and other assistance to servicemen and servicewomen at home and overseas.
Assigned to the Pacific theater, Morgan entertained thousands of troops with an original Broadway show, provided opportunities for soldiers suffering from malaria to join in the fun and even met his future wife.
Deborah Mullen, recounts the importance of the American Red Cross in her family. “My father was delighted to be able to go to the South Pacific to entertain troops,” she says. “Because of the Red Cross he was able to support the nation in the best way that he could.”
During an interview in her home, Mrs. Mullen holds up her father’s field jacket. The American Red Cross Military Welfare Service insignia is missing from the left lapel—the absent insignia is buried with her mother.
Another constant in Deborah Mullen’s life has been the theater. Both she and her husband are from families with entertainment backgrounds. Music filled their homes. Trips to the theater were routine.
The son of amateur musical performers, Mrs. Mullen’s father, Edward Albert Morgan, wrote his first song, “Indian War Dance for the Piano,” when he was 7.
Morgan joined the vaudeville circuit as a young man. He soon began staging amateur musicals at college campuses and other venues throughout the Northeast.
When the American Red Cross recruited talent for the war effort, Ed Morgan signed on.
Serving through the Red Cross was a natural thing to do. At the time, every American wanted to help with the war effort in some way. Morgan could not enlist in the military. He had always loved theater and music. So he gave what he could do best.
Broadway Goes Down Under
Initially, Morgan and other Red Cross recruits trained in New York City. The first mention Mrs. Mullen has of her father’s service is a copy of a September 17, 1943, newsletter, “Trainee Times,” published by the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces New York Training Division.
The newsletter reports on an evening game and stunt program arranged by Ed Morgan and four other trainees, including Fred Kraut who became Morgan’s lifelong friend—Uncle Freddy to Mrs. Mullen and her brother, John Stewart Morgan.
That same September Morgan boarded the John G. Brady, number 2095 of the 2751 Liberty Ships mass produced for World War II, and sailed for Australia. Off North Carolina’s coast the ship sailed through Torpedo Junction where German U-Boats had sunk dozens of merchant ships.
An unknown ship was sighted and trainees thought their ship would turn around, but the John G. Brady churned on through the Panama Canal and out to the South Pacific.
Morgan hit the ground running when he arrived at Rockhampton in eastern Australia. He had written an original script, Snafu, and set about to produce the musical review. He wrote the words and lyrics for all the songs in the show, including Windy City Kitty and I Wonder What’s Happening Back Home.
Troops Get in the Act
Entertaining troops was just one part of Morgan’s vision. He not only wanted to cast local amateur talent in his musical review—he also wanted to cast troops. The decision to involve troops is legendary among Morgan’s family.
Rockhampton was home to the 32nd and 41st U.S. Infantry Divisions, two National Guard units that were among the first to engage the Japanese in New Guinea. Troops suffered massive losses, from battle and from tropical diseases such as malaria.
Morgan decided to recruit soldiers from the malaria ward to perform in Snafu. “The troops who fought the Battle of Buna-Gona saw horrendous combat,” Mrs. Mullen explains. “Many were wounded, even more contracted malaria. My father was determined in some small way to lighten their way, to lift their spirits.”
To recruit malaria patients, Morgan needed the permission of Lt. General Robert Eichelberger, Commanding General, 1 Army Corps. It wasn’t easy to make an appointment, so Morgan took a different route. He simply made sure to be in places where he might run into to the General. He did, and Eichelberger said yes. “The troops loved it,” Mrs. Mullen says.
Morgan produced several showings of Snafu while working at Rockhampton in early 1944. He brought a sense of fun to the 20 men from the malaria ward engaged in the performance, and to members of the 41st Orchestra who provided the music. His was the largest show in the South Pacific using troops, as well as local amateur performers. Snafu entertained thousands.
Mrs. Mullen laughs when she talks about the first performance. “Dad was a great director,” she begins. As he raised the baton for the opening, the orchestra’s drummer hit the cow bell—an indication in the theater world that the person on stage is an amateur. All the musicians and cast laughed. Then they went on to entertain an audience of 2,200. Snafu was a huge success.
Theater was only one venue in which Morgan entertained. Anywhere there were troops, Morgan was there. He visited hospitals and camps, providing individual piano and dance performances and taking requests from the audience.
When troops began leaving Rockhampton for a campaign in New Guinea that May, Morgan was transferred to Sydney, Australia.
Armed with letters of recommendation from Lt. General Eichelberger, Morgan received permission to do the show again in Sydney. He recruited local performers and troops and rehearsed at Sydney’s Frances Scully Dance Studio. He put on the first performance—from City Hall—in June 1944.
While auditioning dancers at the Frances Scully Studio, Morgan met one of the school’s graduates, dancer and singer Jocelyn Stewart. They were married six weeks later.
As a married man, Morgan could no longer continue his position with the American Red Cross Military Welfare Service. He returned to the United States, resigned from the Red Cross and waited for his new wife to join him. The couple settled in Los Angeles, California, and founded a successful mortgage business at a time when the area was booming.
Mrs. Mullen says some of her earliest memories are hearing how her parents met, about World War II, the Red Cross and serving.
In Australia, her mother, Jocelyn, volunteered to send Morse code all day, communicating with service members so they could hone their messaging skills. Her mother talked about the dire straights her country was in, and the importance of every citizen to lend a hand.
Mrs. Mullen’s father, too, encouraged his children to serve. He had a great deal of pride in the contributions he was able to make through the Red Cross—and to have been given the opportunity to share the talent he had.
Ed Morgan embodies the Red Cross Fundamental Principles of humanity, impartiality and voluntary service. His humanity led him to join the American Red Cross Military Welfare Service during a time of war, and to travel to the Pacific without regard for his own personal safety. Not all Red Crossers serving in World War II came home safely. Over the course of the war years, 86 Red Cross workers—52 women and 34 men—lost their lives as the result of their wartime service.
Morgan sought out troops with malaria to perform in his musical review. By doing so, he demonstrated impartiality, recruiting people with the most urgent need and training them, even though it would have been much easier to simply complete his cast with local talent.
He devoted more than a year of his life doing what he could to improve the situation for America’s soldiers. He applied compassion, creativity and plain hard work, and never expected any gain for his efforts. That’s what the Fundamental Principle of voluntary service is all about.
Ed Morgan didn’t shy away from service. He welcomed it.
He passed that legacy of service on to his children, teaching them that using one’s talents to lighten another person’s load is both a rare opportunity and a moral obligation.