DRACUT — Twenty-five years ago, a storied chapter in Dracut High School football came to an end with the retirement of Dracut High School football coach Edmund D. Murphy Jr.
Born in Lowell in 1919, Edmund Murphy attended Sacred Heart School in Lowell until he graduated from grade 8. He then attended Lowell High School, graduating in 1937. While at Lowell High, he earned second-team All-State Honors in 1936. He then went on to Seton Hall Prep, graduating in 1939, and College of the Holy Cross in 1943. He was captain of the Holy Cross football team in 1942.
After graduating from Holy Cross, Murphy enlisted in the Marines and saw fierce fighting with the Japanese on the South Pacific island of Peleliu. The Battle of Peleliu was fought from September to November 1944. The small island had an airstrip the U.S. thought may be valuable in an attack on Japan. The amphibious assault of the island was made especially treacherous due to a coral reef surrounding the island, which prevented the ships from landing as close as they would have preferred. The Marines had to cut through the coral reefs and get onto the beach with all their gear as the Japanese fired upon them.
Once on the island, 1st Lt. Murphy was part of a 15-day siege on the island, and he led a Marine Division platoon of 37mm guns against the Japanese, who were still entrenched in their position. During the Battle of Peleliu, he was the only one of eight Marines uninjured when a Japanese shell hit the group of soldiers as they were setting up nighttime defenses.
Eventually, the Americans secured the island after much brutal fighting and incurring high casualties. Before returning to the U.S., Murphy was stationed in China during repatriation.
After the war, on July 20, 1946, he married Justine Powers, with whom he shared 65 years of marriage, and had four sons — Edmund, Daniel, David and Brian. Though drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Murphy accepted the head-coaching position at Dracut High School in 1946 and remained head coach until 1992. He was known in the Merrimack Valley as the “Dean” of high-school football, and his 1988 team was undefeated and won the Massachusetts Super Bowl, defeating my alma mater, Beverly High School.
In addition, to coaching football, Murphy coached baseball, basketball and track. In addition, he served as Dracut’s athletic director.
Murphy was inducted into the Massachusetts State Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1982, the Lowell High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Holy Cross Hall of Fame in 2010.
Former Dracut High football standout Armand Sancartier said of Murphy, “Playing for Coach Murphy was like playing for a living legend. He always demanded the best from his players and treated everyone fairly. He taught us how to be good people as well as good football players and led by example.”
Now, more than 70 years after he fought at the Battle of Peleliu, Coach Murphy still inspires the young people of Dracut. In 2013 and 2014, I was able to convince — and I do mean convince — Coach Murphy to speak to my students on Veterans Day about his experiences in World War II. He was hesitant when I asked him to come in and not sure what he would tell the students because as he once told me, “I didn’t really do anything in the war.”
I think Tom Brokaw said it best of those Americans who fought in WWII: “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”