America Loses a Giant, South Carolina loses a Friend
Col. Charles P. Murray Jr.
Col. Charles P. Murray Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.) – a recipient of the Medal of Honor, a fellow South Carolinian and friend – passed away Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. He would have been 90 in September.
Murray – like all recipients of our nation’s highest award for combat valor – is a giant among heroes, and the recorded action for which he received the award is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
America will always remember Murray’s demonstration of “supreme courage and heroic initiative … while leading a reinforced platoon into enemy territory” near Kaysersberg, France, on Dec. 16, 1944.
According to his citation (a portion reads, a portion paraphrased), “Observing a force of 200 Germans pouring deadly mortar, bazooka, machinegun, and small arms fire into an American battalion,” Murray crawled ahead of his platoon, and positioned himself at an exposed point from which he could call-in artillery fire on the enemy force. He did so until his radio went dead. He then – under heavy fire – battled the enemy, first with rifle-launched grenades, then with an automatic rifle.
“Burst after burst he fired into the enemy, killing 20, wounding many others, and completely disorganizing its ranks, which began to withdraw.” He then manned a mortar, and began lobbing mortar shells into the enemy ranks. He then launched an assault on the enemy, attacking and capturing 10 enemy soldiers in their fighting positions. An eleventh, feigning surrender, threw a grenade which detonated, knocking Murray to the ground and inflicting eight wounds. “Though suffering and bleeding profusely, he refused to return to the rear until he had chosen the spot for the block and had seen his men correctly deployed.”
Superman, right? But it was his wellspring of selflessness and humility – which all recipients seem to have – that those of us who knew him, will most remember about Murray.
For the past several years, my mom, Tita Smith Rowell – who has always referred to Murray as “the sweetest man” – and stepdad, Lt. Col. Howard T. Rowell; regularly stopped to speak with the perpetually-smiling, soft-spoken Murray shopping in the grocery store. “I’ve never met a friendlier man,” said Howard.
South Carolina veterans like Howard and I, remember Murray always in attendance at almost all veterans’ or patriotic events, often accompanied by his lovely wife, Anne. And there is always an event to attend here in the military-tradition-rich Palmetto State.
I most fondly remember his attending my promotion from major to Lt. Col. And months later when I was fortunate to receive special recognition from another Medal of Honor recipient – Maj. Gen. James Livingston, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), who was that day unable to attend – Murray was there. He made the presentation on behalf of Livingston, and delivered remarks which I will forever cherish.
But there is one instance I will never forget. It was an unusually hot, humid day in the early summer of 2009. Several of us were leaving an awards presentation at FN Manufacturing here in Columbia, S.C.
FN (the U.S. manufacturing arm of Belgium-based Fabrique Nationale Herstal) – which currently produces the majority of M-16 rifles for the U.S. Defense Dept. and 100 percent of all M-249 and M-240 machineguns – had received recognition for its support of the Medal of Honor Society’s forthcoming annual convention which was held – and Murray, then 88, also attended – in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29—Oct. 3, 2010.
As we were leaving FN’s facility and crossing the parking lot to our cars, several people were complaining about the stifling heat, and the fact that they couldn’t wait to get back to their air-conditioned homes and offices.
Someone asked Murray – who unlike the more casually dressed attendees, was enduring the heat in a suit and tie – if he was going somewhere to cool off. He smiled and said, “No, I’m going to the Horseshoe [the horseshoe-shaped historic section of the grounds on the campus of the Univ. of South Carolina] to be with the graduating class at an outdoor reception.”
Another person remarked, “My gosh, but it’s so hot to be outdoors.”
Murray’s smiling, soft-spoken response; “Oh, it’s not so bad. And besides, those young people have worked so hard to finish college. I really need to be there with them.”
Murray, then 88, did not personally know any of those young college grads. But he felt a “real need” to be with them as they celebrated their achievement.
That’s the kind of man Col. Murray was, and it is why – 67-years ago – he nearly lost his life to save others.