After 74 Years, a World War II Marine Comes Home

It’s a remarkable and very American story. A family with a service member missing in action is haunted with the matter being unsettled or unfinished. Rarely does the family get the fallen soldier’s remains returned decades later. But that’s exactly what happened to Gerry Murphy, former CEO of WANADA, when his Uncle Richard’s remains were positively identified 74 years later.

Murphy’s uncle Richard, a Marine Corps war correspondent, went MIA at age 26 in 1944 at the Battle of Siapan in the Pacific during the U.S. conflict with Japan in World War II. Fellow Marine eye witnesses said StfSgt Richard J. Murphy, Jr. went missing, and presumably was killed, when the invasion force of which he was a part came under severe enemy fire as it approached the beach at Siapan. When the amphibious vehicle Richard was in became disabled and the troops abandoned ship, Richard stayed back to assist a wounded comrade; shortly thereafter, the craft, with Richard and the other man still on board, was shelled by the enemy and blown up. Neither man was ever seen again.

Gerry Murphy said he, his sister and five cousins all felt as if they knew their Uncle Richard, though none had ever met him since he went MIA in the war before any of them were born. “We were all very proud of our Uncle Richard for the heroism he displayed, being killed in action as he attempted to help a fellow Marine,” said Murphy. “We felt Richard was part of the many family occasions we enjoyed over the years from the rich stories our parents and grandparents shared about him,” he said.

What made it harder for the Murphy family when Richard was killed was that his remains were not recovered. But that all changed last year when the remains were recovered. With 21st Century technology and the dedicated collaboration of veteran advocacy groups from Japan and the U.S., Richard Murphy’s remains were positively identified, matching dental records with those of an unknown soldier interred in an MIA grave in the American Cemetery in Manilla, and later corroborated with DNA samples provided by Gerry Murphy and his cousins when the MIA remains were ultimately disinterred.

“So there we were, getting Uncle Richard back at long last,” said Murphy. “And we did what any good family named Murphy would do: We had an Irish wake and full-fledged Catholic funeral for him.” And, indeed, a full-fledged funeral it was earlier this month, from the U.S. Marine Honor Guard, 21gun salute, and Taps to the bagpiper playing Amazing Grace on the hill overlooking the Murphy plot at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Md.

“We buried Uncle Richard in the Murphy plot, next to his mother, my grandmother, Mollie, not far away from my folks, Mike and Marguerite,” said Gerry Murphy.

“I’m especially glad, too, that we got Dad’s ‘kid brother’ home after all these years,” said Murphy, reflecting on the strong bond he remembered his father, Mike, saying he had with brother Richard. And the final thought from Richard’s nephew, Gerry: “If I don’t go down in a plane crash or otherwise go missing, they’ll one day bury Jackie and me next to Uncle Richard, and that’s really cool.”

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