Everyone has a hero, someone you admire and wish to become. Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are, for it shows me what your ideal of manhood is and what kind of man you long to be.” As a young boy, my heroes were Wally Schirra, Jim Lovell and Neil Armstrong. They were naval aviators and astronauts, who I watched in the 1960’s on my small black and white Zenith television as they launched into space and were recovered back on earth by one of our aircraft carriers at sea. As a naval flight officer I spent time on our carriers at sea, but not quite into space.
Patriots Point on Charleston Harbor in South Carolina contains the USS Yorktown (CV-10), other ships and the museum of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Patriots Point draws many visitors young and old fascinated by our nation’s heroes. I still watch my heroes as they come aboard, but they are getting older these days.
Yearly, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Patriots Point to remember and learn about American patriots and heroes. Every weekend four to five hundred scouts will camp onboard the aircraft carrier as her crew. The scouts’ duty is to connect with our American story of patriotism, honor, and character. Occasionally, scouts attend on a Medal of Honor weekend, where several Medal of Honor recipients meet with and speak to the scouts and answer their questions. It was during one of these weekends, when I first heard this amazing story.
One October, Medal of Honor weekend, Colonel Charles “Chuck” Murray, USA (Ret), a World War II recipient and Colonel Joe Marm, USA (Ret), a Vietnam recipient, were speaking to the scouts aboard and had just opened the session for questions from the scouts. One twelve-year-old Boy Scout raised the question with Colonel Murray, “Who is your hero?”
I had never thought of asking a Medal of Honor recipient, “Who is your hero?” The question from the young Boy Scout was fascinating, asking one of our nation’s heroes about his hero. Just as fascinating was the story that Colonel Murray told as he spoke about his hero.
His story began in France, forty miles south of Strasbourg on 22 January 1945. It was early evening and two feet of snow covered the ground. The high temperature that day had been 14 degrees Fahrenheit. His unit was Company C, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division and Colonel, then First Lieutenant, Murray was company commander. His company consisted of three rifle platoons of about thirty men each plus mortars and machine guns in the weapons platoon. The company’s fighting strength was about one hundred and thirty men.
Lt. Murray’s mission that cold, January night was to move through enemy territory about 4000 yards to the Ill River, to cross the river with one platoon and establish a perimeter to secure a crossing site for the rest of his battalion. Prior to reaching the Ill River and then moving to the crossing site, his company had to cross two smaller streams which flowed through open, snow-covered fields. The troops were wearing white, camouflaged pullovers. They were carrying inflatable, two-man boats for use in crossing the Ill River and were carrying planks to assist in crossing the small streams. In this situation, speed and secrecy were very important.
Moving quietly through the frozen terrain, they came without incident to a narrow, snow-covered farm bridge across the first stream. The leading platoon with Lt. Murray crossed the bridge. As the sergeant leading the next platoon was crossing the bridge, he exploded a mine. The sergeant and three men were hit. A medical aide fell out to care for the wounded and the rest of the company moved on. But the soldiers now moved with the certain knowledge that the enemy were aware of them, and in this situation secrecy was probably lost.
Indeed, mortar rounds began to fall in the area and a machine gun opened up somewhere in the distance. The troops moved forward until they met the second snow-covered bridge. Lt. Murray halted the company and the troops melted into the snow as they awaited orders. It was decision time for Lt. Murray. What should he do in this situation?
Stay tuned to Part II on Monday, when we learn the rest of the story and discover a Medal of Honor recipient’s hero… A Hero’s Hero!