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A Cup Shows It Can Handle Itself--and Mug for Cameras

Military: A Marine's drinking utensil goes AWOL but soon has an e-mailed tale to tell of heroism and high jinks in the war on terrorism.


UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN AFGHANISTAN — On Nov. 25, as U.S. forces were mobilizing for the international campaign against terrorism, a personalized coffee mug disappeared from the wardroom at a San Diego Marine air base.

Three weeks later, the owner, Marine Maj. Dennis Stephens, received a photograph via e-mail of his coffee mug aboard the Navy amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard somewhere in the Pacific Ocean en route to South Asia. The photo showed the coffee mug nestled in a Navy life vest. It was accompanied by the following message addressed to Stephens under his aviator call name Nunya:

Dear Nunya, I am sorry to have left without saying goodbye, but I have always longed to sail the high seas and saw the Bonhomme Richard as my best opportunity. I promise to be careful, and will try to stay out of trouble. Sincerely, Mug.

Thus began the Many Adventures of Mug. Not long after that first message, a Marine pilot's prank pulled on his former executive officer was being shared via e-mail with hundreds of U.S. service members around the world, a military manifestation of the "traveling objects" trend. In the lonely and often tedious routine of overseas military duty, Mug's travails provided relief.

For despite his promise, Mug did not "stay out of trouble." Oh no, he did not.

Mug's misadventures included nearly getting killed in a terrorist attack in Singapore and being roughed up in a fight with U.S. Army soldiers in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Through it all, Stephens good-naturedly played the role of Mug's concerned master.

A Times reporter encountered Mug and his Marine friends in Afghanistan. On the condition that the cup's exact whereabouts not be revealed, the officers shared some of his messages and photographs. The following is an account of Mug's exchanges with Stephens:

Nov. 25, 2001: Porcelain mug bearing Marine aviator wings and name Nunya disappears from coffee room of Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar. Stephens, executive officer of the HMH-462 "Heavy Haulers" helicopter squadron, reports the disappearance to his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Rick Schmidt. Mysteriously, Schmidt's mug, a.k.a. Pappy, is left untouched, although the cup reportedly suffers depression over the departure of its friend.

Dec. 15: Stephens receives first message from Mug aboard the Bonhomme. Mug reveals that he left California by stowing away in the helmet bag of Capt. W.D. "Slick" Collier, whose itinerary appears to match that of the cup almost exactly.

Dec. 18: Mug reveals that he was caught stowing away on a Super Stallion helicopter flight over Wake Island and confined to quarters.

Dear Nunya, I finally made it onto my first flight today, but unfortunately I was apprehended in the act. I had made it into the cruise box of one of the aircraft, and when I thought it was safe to look outside a crew chief grabbed me! Sincerely, Mug.

Later in December: Mug writes that he has been hanging out in the Bonhomme Richard's command tower:

Dear Nunya, As you can see I am back at work on the ship again. I like hangin' with the Boss, he lets me talk on the radios, and I feel like I can make people do stuff. . . . I don't know if I will be allowed to be the tower flower anymore. With all those colorful switches and buttons around, I couldn't resist seeing what some of them do. Turns out one of my favorite ones sounds the collision alarm, and the other is a fire alarm. Anyway, I got to meet several high-ranking individuals who sure know how to make you feel guilty for singing on the 1-MC. I mean, who couldn't love my rendition of Hank Williams Jr.'s "If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie" anyway? Sincerely, Mug.

Jan 10, 2002: Alarming news from Singapore, where the Bonhomme Richard is making a port call. Stephens receives an anonymous e-mail from some of Mug's Marine comrades with a photograph of a shattered coffee mug:

To whom it may concern: We regret to inform you that Mug has been a casualty during a recent port call in Singapore. While standing guard aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Changi naval base, Mug was witness to terrorists' attempts to sabotage the U.S. ship. A group of 3 swarthy terrorist bastards approached the ship while it was docked and threw a grenade toward the catwalk. The grenade failed to make it more than 4 stories up the ship, however it came to rest on the catwalk where Mug was standing his watch. With less than a matter of seconds to make a decision, Mug jumped from his post and threw himself on the grenade. The majority of the blast and shrapnel was absorbed by Mug. This entire event was witnessed by over 200 Marines and sailors who quickly overwhelmed the terrorists, disemboweled them, and fed them to the local fish and sea gulls. Mug's actions prevented possible damage to vital portions of the ship, to include the wardroom lounge big screen television and adult movie collection. Mug is currently in stable condition. . . . With luck, and a little super glue, [he] may someday be able to hold room temperature beverages again.

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