By John B. SnyderNovember 1, 2010
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- It has been 18 years since Frank Murphy walked out the Arsenal gates, thus ending more than 40 years of service to our Army and to our nation. Now at 85, Frank's colorful and full life is entering a second spring, if you will, because he has a story to tell.
For those who knew Frank in the 1930s they may be surprised today by not only his longevity - after all he fought in three wars - but also by his uncanny knack to leverage life's challenges into success.
By his own claim, Frank said he was a tough and scrappy kid who left home at 16, albeit at a hefty 128 pounds. The year was 1941.
But something happened on the cold, dreary Sunday morning of Dec. 6, 1941. Something so terrible that it shook Frank, as well as our nation, into a stark reality that life as he knew it would never be the same.
Within days of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank was at a Marine Corps recruiting office in downtown Albany trying to enlist. Frank was sure that due to the gravity of the attack and the great need for Marines that he would be able to enlist despite his young age. He was wrong. Not only did the Marines turn Frank down, so did the other services.
The next two years were tough on Frank as he waited to turn 18 so that he could enlist. It was tough on our country, too, as the United States was now entrenched in the deadliest conflict in our nation's history. By the end of World War II, more than 400,000 U.S. servicemen and women had been killed supporting the war effort.
Finally, on June 16, 1943, Frank enlisted as an infantryman for the U.S. Army and shipped out to North Africa that December as part of the 85th Infantry Division, which was also known as the Custer Division after the famous cavalry commander George Armstrong Custer.
Frank trained for several months in Morocco before deploying with his division to Italy in March 1944. His division fought through the Anzio Beach invasion and moved quickly north taking Rome on June 5, 1944.
"If it wasn't for the Normandy Invasion on June 6th, we would have received more recognition for all the hard fighting that we did against the best trained divisions in the German army," Frank said.
He spent the next several minutes ticking off from memory all the German units that his division engaged during its advance through Italy. By the time the war had ended in 1945, his division had earned more than 8,900 Purple Heart Medals, 5,800 Bronze Star Medals, and three Medals of Honor. Frank was one of the Bronze Star recipients.
"I loved the army and my unit," Frank said of his World War II combat service. "The army was very good to me because it gave me an opportunity to make something of myself."
Frank had progressed from private to staff sergeant in 31 months.
The years between Frank's discharge in 1946 to 1951 were not as colorful or as eventful as they were when he wore a uniform. Frank said that he missed the Army, his buddies, and the feeling that you were something when you were a Soldier. But due to the significant downsizing of the military after World War II, Frank said there was no opportunity to rejoin the army.
"It just wasn't the same," Frank said. But when the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950, Frank saw an opportunity. He again tried to enlist but was rebuffed.
Anyone who has met Frank knows that he always has an alternative plan or a Plan B and sometimes those plans are pretty ingenious. Frank thought that if he went to California and joined the Army Reserves, which was accepting prior service Soldiers, he would have a better chance at getting on active duty. His plan worked and because it worked so well, he shipped out to Korean in 1952.
"I fought in Korean Summer Campaign in 1952, as well as the Third Korean Winter Campaign and the Korean Summer Campaign in 1953," Frank said. "The fighting in Korea took a lot out of me because it seemed like we fought every day."
Frank explained that unlike World War II, there were no rest and recuperation breaks such as he had in Rome. Frank was promoted to platoon sergeant during this conflict.
An armistice ended the Korea War in July 1953, and with it, Frank's military career. Upon redeploying back to the United States he was discharged.
Frank said he had enough of civilian life after just 88 days and resigned for the Army, but this time as an air defense artilleryman. He spent the next several years on Army installations in New York and New Jersey.
When the conflict in Vietnam broke out in the mid-1960s, Frank said he volunteered for combat duty, but to no avail. This is when his Plan B kicked in, again.
"I believed that if I volunteered to be assigned to Korea that I had a better chance of working my way to Vietnam," Frank explained. It worked. Frank was assigned to Korea and in August 1967, Frank deployed to Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive in January 1968.
In heavy fighting during the counteroffensive to dislodge North Vietnamese units from South Vietnam, Frank earned his second Bronze Star Medal in 1968.
After three tours of combat over the course of three decades, Frank retired from the Army in 1968 as a sergeant first class. He said, however, that he prefers people to remember him not by his rank but by his title, Platoon Sergeant.
From 1968 to 1974, Frank worked a variety of odd jobs but the old feeling, serving his country, was still in his blood. In 1974, Frank began his second Army career, but this time with the Watervliet Arsenal.
Frank said he loved his work at the Arsenal. After all, he was again serving his country and serving with an Army Civilian workforce who was like his Army buddies.
Frank worked his alternate plan several times while working at the arsenal. He started off working in security and then found his calling as a rigger.
"I loved moving gun barrels from machine to machine, because I felt part of the production team" Frank said.
Frank's love of the arsenal almost came to a screeching halt in the late 1980s as the arsenal was preparing for what would become the first of nine reductions of the arsenal workforce.
"The Persian Gulf War kept me in," Frank highlighted.
Frank proudly reflected on some of the arsenal personalities that he worked with from Fred Clas, to many known as the grandfather of arsenal production, to a young kid by the name of Ray Gaston, who is now in charge of the arsenal manufacturing support division, and who is no longer a young kid.
Frank also talks proudly of the warfighting spirit of the arsenal that he experienced when the Gulf War kicked off. "Everyone was excited to do everything we could do to get our products quickly to the Soldiers," Frank said.
"Probably my most proud moment came when I was part of the team that developed the Bunker Buster Bomb," Frank exclaimed. "There was a time when I didn't sleep for almost three days because I wanted to be the guy who moved that bomb."
Frank finally retired from the Army, yes again, in 1992. He is now resides about 20 minutes away from the arsenal in Delmar, N.Y.
His mind remains sharp as he can quickly rattle off the names of those who fought alongside him in Italy, as well as those who machined arsenal guns for combat. When this interview ended and he walked me to my car I had a feeling that Frank was working another Plan B. We should not be surprised if we saw Frank serving his country and his army again in the very near future.