The late Army Col. Charles P. Murray Jr. rarely spoke of his daring World War II rout of 200 German Nazis that earned him a Medal of Honor, the nations highest award for military valor.
But a new documentary that airs tonight on ETV will reveal the full scope of Murrays heroism as well as the character of the humble man his friend retired Army Col. Ted Bell described as the finest soldier and man to walk the earth.
I have always felt that Charles Murray never got the credit he deserved from this country, Bell, the most decorated Citadel graduate in World War II, said Wednesday at the premiere of Man and Moment: Charles P. Murray Jr., Defining a Hero, which airs at 8 tonight. He never talked about his exploits. He never said a word.
The Man and Moment series is part of the South Carolinians in World War II project, a partnership between The State newspaper and the ETV Endowment.
Murray was studying accounting at the University of North Carolina in 1942 when he was drafted into service, joining the Army like thousands of other young men who would become part of what has become known as the Greatest Generation.
Murrays heroic moment came on Dec. 16, 1944, when he and his men of Company C, 30th Infantry, Third Infantry Division found themselves near Kaysersberg, France. While leading a scouting mission, he spotted about 200 German soldiers pouring deadly mortar, bazooka, machine gun, and small arms fire into an American battalion occupying the crest of the ridge, according to his Medal of Honor citation.
He first radioed for artillery fire, but when it missed the mark, Murray returned to his platoon, grabbed grenades and fitted an M1 rifle with a grenade launcher and began firing. After using all his grenades and drawing fire, Murray returned once more to his men, got a Browning automatic rifle and unloaded nearly 2,000 rounds, killing 20 and causing most of the Germans to retreat. Murray disabled a truck carrying three German mortars and positioned a mortar to fire into the confused German ranks.
As he and his platoon moved forward to secure a bridge, they captured 10 surrendering Germans. An 11th German who pretended to surrender pulled out a grenade, a potato masher, as Murray described it in the film, and tossed it. Murrays legs were peppered with shrapnel but he refused to abandon his post.
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, his citation reads. By his single-handed attack on an overwhelming force and by his intrepid and heroic fighting, 1st Lt. Murray stopped a counterattack, established an advance position against formidable odds, and provided an inspiring example for the men of his command.
He was recommended for the Medal of Honor shortly after the firefight and it was presented to him on Aug. 1, 1945, in Salzburg, Austria, with the entire 3rd Infantry Division present. He garnered dozens of other honors along the way, including three Silver Stars and the French Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre.
The film also details Murrays life after the war, his heros homecoming in Wilmington, N.C., and his return to his young wife, Anne King Murray and family. His service in World War II also changed his lifes direction: Instead of becoming an accountant, he became a career soldier, and returned to Salzburg, Austria, to spend four years as the head U.S. intelligence officer there. He served with the 82nd Airborne Division, participated in Korea and Vietnam, and commanded the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, a ceremonial unit that guards the Tomb of the Unknowns.
He transferred to Fort Jackson in Columbia and retired there in 1973, making his home in Columbia after retirement and remaining active in veterans affairs. He died Aug. 12, 2011, of congestive heart failure at age 89.
Murrays widow, who attended Wednesdays premiere and was hailed as central to his life, saw the documentary for the first time, including interviews conducted when Murray returned to Salzburg to be honored for his heroism in liberating Europe from Hitler.
As she was surrounded by friends and well-wishers, Anne Murray gave the documentary a thumbs-up.
It was just like he was right there, she said.