100-year-old World War II veteran shares his memories
IDAHO FALLS — Thomas Verd Murdock did not talk to his children about his experiences during World War II until he was in his 80s. Before that when they would ask, he would occasionally talk about a jeep crash he survived. Beyond that he was uncomfortable sharing his experiences.
Murdock, now 100 years old, is one of less than 500,000 World War II United States veterans estimated to still be alive out of 16 million who served. With an estimated 348 World War II veterans dying each day, the war passes more out of memory and into history.
Murdock spoke with the Post Register at his home in Morningstar Senior Living in Idaho Falls to share some of his experiences. His first daughter had just been born when he was drafted into the United States Army in 1944, serving through to the end of the war. He spent another year and was stationed in Japan after the war ended.
“I went and tried to do the best I could with it,” Murdock said. “I didn’t really like it.”
Much of his time in the war was spent island hopping, fighting Japanese soldiers off the beaches and then digging them out of caves when they fled into the mountains.
Murdock also fought in the Battle of Manila in 1945, the conflict for control of the Philippines’ capital city. At one point he was bitten by a mosquito that gave him malaria. The military provided treatment for soldiers who were sick, but Murdock was still expected to serve, patrol and fight like any other soldier. The parasites would stay with him until he returned home to Heber City, Utah.
“I thought I was the biggest chicken in the United States Army,” Murdock said, referring to the fatigue he suffered from malaria.
Murdock was preparing with his fellow soldiers to be among the first troops to invade the Japanese mainland when the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Murdock was among the U.S. soldiers present when Japanese Emperor Hirohito formally surrendered. He felt Gen. Douglas MacArthur was unnecessarily rude and treated the emperor shallowly.
“I didn’t like it at all. He didn’t need to be that way,” Murdock said.
Murdock was stationed in Mobara along Tokyo Bay, across from the capital city. Much of his time with the Allied occupation of Japan was spent disposing of Japanese aircraft and disarming the military.
As a staff sergeant he worked closely with local law enforcement and developed a close relationship with the Mobara police chief. He showed the chief pictures of his family. When he left Japan, the chief gave him a kimono to take home as a present for his daughter.
Murdock and other soldiers would sometimes provide the Japanese police officers with candy, cigarettes, beer and soap. Many Japanese citizens had been living on the bare minimum of supplies, beleaguered by four years of bombings. U.S. soldiers often would play baseball with local citizens. Murdock remembers when the Japanese players scored a home run, they would begin chanting “Babe Ruth! Babe Ruth!” in celebration.
Relations with the Japanese were rarely more friendly. Murdock recalled seeing citizens turn their backs as Allied forces rolled into town, in defiance of the invaders. He also was aware that soldiers would sometimes abuse the Japanese citizens.
Murdock recalled one incident in which he was meeting with Japanese soldiers. One man, a veteran of the war who was particularly resentful about the occupation, told Murdock he could easily be tied up and taken hostage. Murdock said he was suddenly afraid, aware that he was alone in a room full of Japanese soldiers. All he had was a .45 pistol that he had taken off and hung on the back of his chair.
“I just reached around and patted that gun,” Murdock said. The Japanese soldiers began laughing at their friend’s expense.
Another experience that stuck out was when he had to arrest two U.S. soldiers who had abandoned their post to visit a geisha house. (Geishas are hostesses who entertain with art, dance and music.)
“It was bad for them,” he said. “I had to witness their court-martial. I almost wished I hadn’t done it.”
Murdock was allowed to return home to his family in 1946. He remembers his 2-year-old daughter treated him like a stranger.
“She didn’t like it and she let me know about it,” Murdock said.
He finally saw a doctor about his malaria, which was worsening now that he was out of Japan’s colder climate. The doctor didn’t believe he could have the parasites until his blood was tested, which by then was thick with parasites. The doctor feared he would die, but Murdock was eventually cured of the parasites.
Malaria was not the only part of the war Murdock brought home. One night, he dreamed he was back in the war, in a foxhole and that a Japanese soldier was coming in to attack him. He slammed his would-be attacker against a wall.
“I grabbed what I thought was (an enemy soldier), but was actually my wife,” Murdock said.
She had been at a meeting and was leaning over to kiss his cheek. Murdock said it was the first and last time something like that happened.
Murdock returned to his life before the war, becoming a semi-pro baseball player in Utah. They moved to Carey, where he would spend the next 67 years managing retail stores. He went on to have eight children, 37 grandchildren, 84 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren. He moved to Idaho Falls last year.
Some of the stories Murdock shared Thursday were well known among his kids. Others were new.
“My family is getting to know things here too,” Murdock said during the interview with two of his sons present.
It was difficult to share those experiences, especially stories focused on his time in combat.
“That was no good. That’s hard on a man,” Murdock said. “It was hard on me, anyway.”