Murphy cut a presence on the battlefield as well as football field

Ed Murphy, always near a football, in the South Pacific.
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Next week marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Peleliu.

The Battle of Peleliu was fought from September to November 1944. While most in the Merrimack Valley know Ed Murphy as the legendary football coach of Dracut, he was one the thousands of Marines who fought at this deadly battle in the Pacific during World War II.

Ed Murphy was born on May 5, 1918 in Lowell. He was the son of Edmund Murphy, Sr, and Abbie (Finnegan) Murphy. As a young boy attended Sacred Heart then graduated from Lowell High School,  Seton Hall Prep, and College of the Holy Cross. After graduation, he enlisted in the Marines since the nation was entrenched in World War II.

Murphy, third from right, in the South Pacific in World War II

After enlistment, Murphy was sent to the Pacific Theatre. His first stop was a small island called Pavuvu When I first met Coach Murphy at his home in December 2012, we talked about his service. He described Pavuvu as “stinking to high hel”l from the disgusting land crabs and rats on the island. The island was used by the Americans as a staging ground for several campaigns due to its location in the Pacific and its airfield. Murphy and the 1st Marine Division were sent from Pavuvu to the island of Peleliu in September 1944.

The battle was code named Operation Stalemate.

The small island of Peleliu was made up of coral and numerous caves. The Americans wanted to take it from the Japanese because it 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 close to shore.

The Marines had to cut through the coral reefs and get onto the beach with all their gear as the Japanese fired upon them.

When Coach Murphy came to my class on Veterans’ Day 2013 to talk about his service with the students, I remember him describing the landing at Peleliu.

He said the gear weighed 25 pounds and the troops could not land on the beach — the coral reefs surrounding the island made it impossible. So, the first men to wade towards the island were responsible for cutting the coral so Murphy and the other Marines could get to the beach.

They were deluged with gunfire from the Japanese as they made their way through the water and onto the beach. Murphy recalled the man in front of him being killed in the water and himself going under water to avoid gunfire. Murphy, a first lieutenant, led a Marine Division platoon of 37 mm guns against the Japanese entrenched on the island.

Once on the island, Murphy took part in a 15 day siege in excruciating hot weather. During the siege, 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.

The Battle of Peleliu which was only suppose to last 3 days, finally ended on November 27, 1944.

Fortunately, I was able to convince Coach Murphy to speak to my students on Veterans’ Day about his experiences in World War II.

I do mean convince. He was always hesitant 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 hope those students remember that Veterans’ Day — it is now almost impossible to find World War II veterans to meet and hear about their experiences firsthand.

I think Tom Brokaw said it best, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”