William “Bill” Murray said he enlisted in the military at the age of 17 because everyone else his age was doing it in the 1940s. He also wanted to have a choice in what branch he served in, which was the U.S. Navy.
He was sent to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland, and he remembers that it was uncomfortably cold, even for a Pennsylvania boy. From there, he was shipped off to serve in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
Murray spent 13 months aboard an aircraft carrier in 1943-44. He said he saw his share of combat.
“But combat for me was not like combat for the troops that were there, the pilots that flew from there,” he said. “We watched them take off in the morning, and then after they went to their combat and whatever they were doing, then they came back. I was a gunner’s mate striker; that meant that I was trying to be a gunner’s mate. That would be like an apprentice.”
He would see Leyte Bay, in the Philippines; as well as Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japan, during his stint in the Navy.
He also would get his first and only tattoo while “on liberty” for one night. The ship’s cook talked him into getting one, and he settled on the name Margaret — for his mother and his fiancée back home.
Bill, now 92, wasn’t the only Murray to serve in the Navy. Three of his four brothers were seamen; the fourth joined the U.S. Maritime Service. None of his six sisters served.
When Murray’s service ended, he returned to Pennsylvania and then moved to Ohio. He and Margaret married, and their eight-year union produced two sons and a daughter.
His second marriage, to Alice, lasted 58 years before her cancer-related death in 2012. They had a son and a daughter, both of whom live in West Orange County.
Murray moved to Central Florida in 1983 and ultimately worked for Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) as a machine repairman.
Today, he lives in Winter Garden in the Sonata West community, where he is able to live independently.
Murray participated in an Honor Flight on June 15, flying with other military veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials to World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“It was like something I’ve never experienced before,” he said of his first visit to the nation’s capital. “I saw everything that I’ve never seen before, from the beginning of the day until the end.”
Every veteran was paired with a guardian, who served as an escort for the entire daylong trip. The experience included much fanfare everywhere the veterans went that day.
“What amazed me was, everywhere we went, they had a group of people they would gather up and they would clap for us,” he said.
Before departing Washington D.C., all of the veterans took part in a mail call similar to the ones during the service. Participants received a package of letters, cards and drawings from local schoolchildren addressed to “Our Honored Veteran.”
“To be the recipient (of) an award for that day, or for that time that I spent in the service, as far as I was concerned, the Lord just kept me out of trouble,” Murray said.
As humble as he is, though, he understands the importance of his service.
“The right to choose where we want to live, the right to choose where we want to work, the right to choose whether we want to work or not, as dumb as that seems, it was a freedom that we had and still do,” Murray said.
“When I see the way the Jews were treated … I’ll tell you, if there was anything that I didn’t want to happen to me, it was that,” Murray said. “I just had all kinds of freedom that I knew I wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t have won the war. I was just really happy to be free.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.