My name is Jerry Murray and I was a Major in the Army from 1972-1977 on active duty, followed by the National Guard until 2004. I was in high school during Vietnam when there were parties when someone got their draft notice. It didn’t seem like a bad choice for me to join and I went to a private military college in Vermont. After graduating, I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. It turns out I didn’t have a say in joining the military since my lottery number was 22. I did not have any interest in the Air Force, Navy, or Marines. I had an older uncle who was very interesting. He was in the infantry and prior to WWI, he was a part of the unit that fought against Pancho Villa and later fought in the trenches of WW1. The transition to military life wasn’t too bad. I am not a morning person and so I didn’t think the Army’s schedule was that much fun. The hardest part was having to have everything prepared and being on time for every event.
When I went in, I thought I was going to Vietnam, but that had worn down. I started in Texas learning how to operate missiles and then went to helicopter training for 9 months. Afterward, I was in Korea for a year and I did not see combat. There were a few aircraft that got shot down in Korea, but those were a few mishaps. In Korea, I was essentially an air taxi; I flew people all over the country. After Korea, I returned to the Army’s Flight School in Alabama and became a flight school instructor pilot.
SERE training was the most memorable part of military training for me. They created a prison camp and took us in as prisoners. The person that was running it had been released by North Vietnam as a POW. It was very intense; learning, training, interrogating, etc. They train you to survive past your breaking point. We had some of that type of training at military college, so I was pretty well prepared. I can remember seeing pictures of prisoners in Vietnam doing the exact same thing as me and I thought how lucky I was to only have to do it for a short period of time, yet they had to do it for real.
The army gave me a number of things. I formed extremely close-knit bonds. Many of my Facebook friends now are crew members I flew with. It certainly gave me a sense of duty and respect, but I also learned some other things. Aviation is quite different in the military in that how often pilots have been killed in training. When I came back from Korea, we had 9 dead in 14 weeks from fatal crashes. I have lost a lot of friends flying helicopters and it kind of makes you appreciate things more. One of the biggest life lessons I learned by being an instructor pilot was that not only do you have to have the right answer, you need the source of why it is the right answer. There were a lot of oral exams in Army aviation and every answer needs to be shown why it is correct. Every pilot sharp shoots each other in their logic to ensure everyone is highly proficient; I do not see enough of that in today’s society.
I have had experiences that are hard to explain to anybody else. I have met people that parachuted into Normandy, one who flew fighter escort on the Nagasaki raid who watched the Atomic Bomb go off in person. Because of my background, I met a man from a Japanese Internment camp who when he was released from the camp, joined the army and was put on duty in Japan! He later served in Korea and Vietnam. I have also got to do a lot of things unrelated to the military. For example, I called to state active duty to fly helicopters during floods and over the California wildfires in 2003. I still remember looking down and seeing people looking at us praying that we could save their homes.
Much of my service was very enjoyable. Flying medevac missions were always rewarding. I was able to “play laser tag” while flying as the OPFOR (Opposing Force) helicopter pilot in Germany. Night vision goggles were usually fun to fly (although not so much on low illumination nights). We used to do stable operation where you have a 100-foot below the helicopter that someone attaches it to and then you fly them around.
Needless to say, I am very proud to have served and even prouder of the people I have gotten to meet. I am more proud of the community I am a part of than myself. The military is feast or famine; some of us were just incredibly lucky to have the career we did; others not so much.