Sorting Saturday: Armed Forces Day

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Edward A. McMurray, Jr., 1943, likely taken in boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Edward A. McMurray, Jr., 1943, likely taken in boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.

McMurray Family (Click for Family Tree)

Today, the third Saturday in May, is Armed Forces Day in the United States. It is a day to honor our military service members in all five branches of the service: Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army, and Coast Guard. So it was somewhat serendipitous that while sorting through and organizing computer files today, this image surfaced.

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., (1924-2010) served his country proudly in World War II in the Army-Air Corps. He was an aircraft mechanic in the South Pacific.  He told his family that the Marines would go in and take a little Pacific Island from the Japanese, the Army would secure it, the Navy Seebees would bulldoze a landing strip, and the Air Corps pilots landed their airships and mechanics were brought in to service the planes. Barracks, hangars, and supply areas were quickly built, all with a wide strip bulldozed between them and the jungle. They knew the Japanese were often still out in the jungle, as they could hear them at night rustling through the vegetation. If the men had not worked so hard during the hot, stiflingly-humid days with frequent rain showers, sleep might have been a problem with knowing the enemy was just outside the compound, waiting for a chance to attack.

Although they were not in combat, their work itself was inherently dangerous. A pit was dug for scrapping used oil, rags, engine parts, and sometimes the airmen had to get down in there to try to find a needed part or push things closer together so they could continue to add to the pile. One day Ed was taking a break, and the pit caught on fire, possibly from a lit cigarette. He said that he was supposed to have been working in the pit at that time, but was ‘goofing off’ – hard to imagine as he was SUCH a hard worker his whole life, even as a young boy per his mother! Sadly, it was impossible to rescue all the men in the pit, and Ed said the screams and the smell of burning flesh would always remain with him. It must have been horrific for all concerned. Ed may have been just barely 20 when it happened, and although he was a stoic individual, this incident affected him even into his later years.

As Ed was stationed in the South Pacific, they were frequently on board ship, heading to the next small island that had been laboriously taken by our combat troops. Ed said they frequently lost men overboard when it was rough, or sometimes even in calm seas from a misstep on the deck. At night it would have been almost impossible to find a man treading water in the ocean. It was challenging during the day, too, as it often was some time before it was realized that a man was missing. Ed also spoke of the sharks that followed the ships (partly because they threw their waste overboard). It was especially frightening around the Great Barrier Reef of Australia- he said a man did not have much of a chance of survival flailing around in the water there. That being said, they did all go swimming at times off the aft deck of their ship. Ah, the joys of youth and a feeling of immortality, even in wartime.

So thank a Veteran today, and think about those who came before, those who are serving us today, and those who will serve in the future to protect our freedoms. Think about those who did not come back home too, whether they were serving overseas, or on our own land in the French-Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, or our bloodiest war, the Civil War. We need to honor them all, every day- and especially today, on Armed Forces Day.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Portrait from our family treasure chest of photos.
  2. See also “Veteran’s Day: Honoring Edward A. McMurray, Jr.“, “Military Monday: Edward A. McMurray, Jr. in the Pacific Theater of WWII“, and “Edward A. McMurray, Jr. at the Surrender of Japan, 02 Sep 1945“.

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