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Veteran’s Day: Honoring Edward A. McMurray, Jr.

 

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., 1943.
Edward A. McMurray, Jr., 1943.

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., was just completing his first semester of college  when the news on the radio told of the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1942. He was working in a gas station to help with college expenses plus helped support his mother as he could. He had dreamed of going to college, but felt he needed to go to war, since he was 18 years old. His duty to his mother as an only child prevailed, however, and he continued with college and work. By the time  December, 1943 rolled around, however, there was no escaping it- he needed to put his dream of being a doctor like his father on hold. Ed enlisted in the Army Air Corp on 24 Oct 1943 in Des Moines, Iowa, and officially began boot camp on 13 Dec 1943 at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri; like all Reservists at that time, he spent his tour on active duty throughout World War II.

Ed wanted to be a pilot, so had signed up for a training program at college for flying (possibly the Civil Air Patrol?); unfortunately, his eyesight was not good enough to be a military pilot. His second choice was to go into the Medical Corps, but by that time, they had enough trained men to fulfill the need.  So Ed went to boot camp at Jefferson Barracks, then was off to his training school to become an aircraft mechanic.

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in uniform with unknown friend. c1942 in Newton, Iowa.
Edward A. McMurray, Jr., on right in uniform with unknown friend. c1943 or 1944 in Newton, Iowa.

Mac’s unit left the United States for the South Pacific on April 28, 1944. (See my previous post about his time in the South Pacific here.) He spent 22 months overseas, returning 14 Feb 1946. He had served in the 3rd & 4th Engine Over-Haul Squadrons and the 13th Depot Supply Squadron, and remembered his Serial Number even into his later years: 17152911. Ed separated from the Army Air Corp on 22 Feb 1946, just eight days after returning from overseas. He was honorably discharged.

In 1949 Iowa offered its World War II veterans a service compensation bonus. Mac filled out a two page application that detailed his squadrons and service dates. (What a treasure for genealogists!) The  WWII Service Compensation Board determined he had earned a bonus of $345.00.

Thank you, Edward McMurray, and all the brave men and women who have served throughout the years to keep our country, and our world, free. Freedom, of course, is not free, and so many were prepared to pay the ultimate price if needed. We are so grateful that Ed and so many others came home.

 

Make sure to thank a veteran today.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; ARC: 1263923. World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park. College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.

2) Military Monday: Edward A. McMurray, Jr. in the Pacific Theater of WWII: http://heritageramblings.net/2014/09/08/military-monday-edward-a-mcmurray-jr-in-the-pacific-theater-of-wwii/

3) Ancestry.com. Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: WWII Bonus Case Files. State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa.

4) Not quite sure how the WWII service compensation was calculated, but they looked at his months of foreign duty (22) as compared to active domestic service, which they noted as 29 months. Not sure where that number came from, as he had signed up in October 1943 but did not leave the US until Feb. 1946; that was only four months, for a total of 26 months in service.

 

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Military Monday: Edward A. McMurray, Jr. in the Pacific Theater of WWII

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in South Pacific or Australia, c1944.
Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in the South Pacific or Australia, c1944. (Click to enlarge.)

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., called ‘Mac’ by so many, was an airplane mechanic in the Army-Air Corps (technically in the Reserves though he served on active duty his whole service time). He told his family stories of how the Marines would go in and take one of the small South Pacific islands in fierce battles with the Japanese, the SeaBees would then bulldoze an airstrip, and his unit would be the next to come in to service the airplanes flown in by the pilots. He had wanted to be a pilot himself, but was too young- just 17- when Pearl Harbor occurred on 7 Dec 1941 and brought the US into the War. Although he wanted to join up right away, he also had to help support his mother, so he finished high school and continued working part-time. Ed then started college, hoping to be a doctor like his father, but enlisted two years after Pearl Harbor, in December 1943. By that date the military had already trained a lot of the pilots needed, and had a greater need for aircraft mechanics; additionally, he had worked at a Newton, Iowa gas station so had some mechanical experience, thus the military made him an aircraft mechanic.

Ed’s active duty began in boot camp at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. He went next to a military training school, and then overseas. He spoke of his trip to the Pacific and being packed into the troop ships (converted from passenger ships) like sardines, with hammocks six high- one couldn’t even turn over as the guy above was only inches above- and the heat of all the men and the tropics sweltering. He crossed the International Date line and endured whatever ceremony the sailors enacted upon them- he would never tell us details, as it was supposed to be secret.

"US landings" by General MacArthur's General Staff - MacArthur, Douglas (1994) [1950] Reports of General MacArthur (Vol. 1 ed.), Center of Military History, p. 432.
“US landings” by General MacArthur’s General Staff – MacArthur, Douglas (1994) [1950] Reports of General MacArthur (Vol. 1 ed.), Center of Military History, p. 432. Note #32 is Biak, with US landings on 27 May 1944. (Click to enlarge.)
Mac was stationed in Australia, New Guinea (where there were still head-hunters in the remote mountains), a tiny island called Biak, which always intrigued him- we did find it later on a map (see above)- and many other small Pacific islands. He said they would bulldoze a wide strip around the camp and barracks on the islands, but you could still hear the enemy rustling out in the forest at night, just beyond that strip. (It must have been terrifying to live like that day after day.) The Pacific War often gets overlooked with the horrors of the Holocaust, but the Japanese practiced similar horrific torture, ‘scientific experiments,’ mass killings, and unendurable POW camps.

Possibly Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in South Pacific or Australia, c1944.
Possibly Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in the South Pacific or Australia, c1944. (Click to enlarge.)

There were horrors within the Allied camps too. To get to aircraft engine parts that needed working on, sometimes the mechanics had to clean out those areas first- there might be bodies, body parts, and/or blood and other fluids in those areas, depending on how much fire the aircraft had taken on the latest mission.

Maintaining our military readyness could be a dangerous job even though Mac’s unit was not on the front lines.One of Mac’s duty stations had a big pit dug for them to dispose of the used and mangled aircraft parts, oil, etc., and gasoline would have been everywhere within. Of course, in those days, much of the population and many of our service people smoked cigarettes. One day, Mac was off on a break when someone possibly threw a lit cigarette into the pit; whatever the cause, the pit exploded in flames. He had been working in there and was supposed to have been working there at that time; he always had ‘survivor’s guilt’ that he was on a break when the conflagration occurred. So many of his friends and coworkers died or were burned terribly. They rescued as many soldiers as they could, but the horrors of the day included the smells of burning flesh and screams of the dying; they stayed in his mind forever after.

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in uniform with unknown friend. c1942 in Newton, Iowa.
Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in uniform with unknown friend. c1942 in Newton, Iowa. (Click to enlarge.)

Being on the other side of the world, so far from home must have been incredibly difficult for all those sweet 19-year old Iowa boys, and those from elsewhere, but their committed service shows the true grit they had, and their determination to save the world from the Axis powers and their planned world domination. When asked why he enlisted, Mac replied that it was his duty to protect his mother, his future family, and the innocent people of the world. These men and women truly were, “The Greatest Generation.”

 

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) Family photos and oral history.

2) US Landings in the Pacific: “US landings” by General MacArthur’s General Staff – MacArthur, Douglas (1994) [1950] Reports of General MacArthur (Vol. 1 ed.), Center of Military History, pp. p. 432. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_landings.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_landings.jpg. Accessed 9/1/2014.

3) To illustrate the zeal of the Japanese soldiers, the last Japanese soldier to surrender did so in 1974- he had been holed up on an island in the Philippines for 29 years. Hiroo Onoda thought that reports that WWII was ended were Allied/American propaganda to entice him to give himself up. It required a trip by his former commanding officer to the P.I. to convince him that the war was really over. See interesting articles about Onoda, who died 16 Jan 2014, at http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/17/world/asia/japan-philippines-ww2-soldier-dies/ and http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/17/hiroo-onoda-japanese-soldier-dies.

4) For an American point of view, see Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It chronicles the life of juvenile delinquent Louis Zamperini,  who became a track star and participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. A favorite of Hitler, Zamperini was on target to break the four-minute mile, but the cancellation of the 1940 games due to the war never gave him that chance. He enlisted and his harrowing life as a pilot and prisoner of war are detailed in the book and an upcoming movie (to be released Dec. 25, 2014) directed by Angelina Joile. Zamperini, who died in July, 2014, also wrote 2 memoirs about his life: Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in Word War II (William Morrow Paperbacks, reissue 2011, ISBN-13: 978-0062118851), and Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life (Dey Street Books, 2014, ISBN-13: 978-0062368331), to be published November, 2014. See also:

http://www.louiszamperini.net/?page=bio

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/04/arts/louis-zamperini-olympian-war-survivor-unbroken-dies.html

 5) The Pacific, an HBO Miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, tells the story of three real Marines and their experiences in the Pacific.

 

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Copyright 2013-2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

 
We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post, and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.

 

Edward A. McMurray, Jr. at the Surrender of Japan, 02 Sep 1945

(Due to scheduling conflicts, our post for “The Man with the Hoe,” Edward B. Payne, and Labor Day, Part 2 has been delayed until Thursday, 4 Sep 2014.)

 

Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in South Pacific or Australia. c1944.
Edward A. McMurray, Jr., in South Pacific or Australia. c1944. (Click to enlarge.)

Edward A. McMurray did not talk much about his time in the Pacific during World War II. He had a few stories he would tell only when extremely prodded, and would just say that he couldn’t remember much more, though it was obvious that he did. When the WWII Memorial was being proposed and built in Washington, DC, however, he became more interested in his time in the military- though sadly that did not translate to new stories being told- and he even donated money to the Memorial. He was very excited about it finally being built, and wished he could have gone to see it. I wish we could have taken him there, but he did not want to travel once he was in his late 70s/early 80s.

One of the stories he told again was that he was on a ship in Tokyo Harbor the day of the surrender of Japan to the Allies, which ended World War II officially.

The clouds hung low in the early morning over Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945, and the harbor was full of ships, including the one that Ed and those in his unit stood on to listen to the radio. The Stars and Stripes, along with the flags of the Allied Nations, were rippling in the breeze over the USS Missouri, on which representatives of the Japanese and Allied powers stood at attention. The ceremony and its broadcast around the world began at 9:02 am.

"Shigemitsu-signs-surrender" by Army Signal Corps - Naval Historical Center Photo # SC 213700. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 02 Sep 1945 aboard USS Missouri.
“Shigemitsu signs surrender” by Army Signal Corps – Naval Historical Center Photo # SC 213700. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. 02 Sep 1945 aboard USS Missouri. (Click to enlarge.)

After the Japanese signed “The Instrument of Surrrender,” American General Douglas MacArthur accepted it and signed the surrender as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. He gave a brief speech that included the following words:

“It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn

occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past.”

In just 23 minutes, World War II, the “war to end all wars,” was truly over. This date is commemorated as “V-J Day,” or Victory over Japan Day, in the US. (“V-E Day,” or Victory in Europe Day, had occurred on 08 May 1945.)

Edward, just 21 on that momentous day, told how elated they all were to be a part of the occasion, and right there in Tokyo Harbor, after all they had been through the past few years. They were later allowed to go visit in Japan, and he brought home Japanese money, a chocolate set, and a Japanese flag.

He also spoke of how incredible their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty was as their ship finally returned to the United States. It was a reminder of what they had been fighting for, and that now the world was safe. They could return to their lives as planned, though they themselves, would be forever changed.

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) Fold3 HQ- the official blog of Fold3: Japan Surrenders: September 2, 1945. http://blog.fold3.com/japan-surrenders-september-2-1945/?utm_source=tmih&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tmih-sept-2014. Accessed 09/01/2014.

2) History.com- This day in history, September 2: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/japan-surrenders

3) Amazing color footage of the Japanese Surrender. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5MMVd5XOK8

4) Japanese Instrument of Surrender: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Instrument_of_Surrender

“Shigemitsu-signs-surrender” by Army Signal Corps – Naval Historical Center Photo # SC 213700. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shigemitsu-signs-surrender.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Shigemitsu-signs-surrender.jpg

5) Family photos.

 

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Copyright 2013-2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

 
We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post, and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.