In the Antelope Valley, the local chapter of the Marine Corps League is Detachment 930. It is a hub of Marine Corps life after life in the Marine Corps.
The Marines in this organization are often older and grayer, but there is little mistaking that they are in the “Once a Marine, always a Marine” category of veteran. These Marines perform honorable service at patriotic ceremonies, at candlelight vigils, at support for military fraternal groups and support for aged veterans. And when those Marine veterans pass on, they are remembered.
Sgt. Patricia Murray, 101 years of age, was one such of these Marines. She was one of the forever proud veterans who serve God, Country and Corps.
Of all the Marines in our Antelope Valley, Sgt. Pat Murray, veteran of World War II, along with Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey, was just about the most renowned.
As one of her two sons, Dan, put it, “Marine Corps League. Toys4Tots. Young Marines. Anything that said ‘Marine,’ she did it.
Pat was at least a 20-year presence in the Antelope Valley Press pages because she always called in when she had something going.
“The Antelope Valley Mall needs a flag pole,” she said, not long after 9/11. “You can’t have anything that is so public and not have a flag pole.”
The flag pole went up and now there is also a meaningful memorial to first responders, the memorial that followed the flag. She got the ball rolling on the flag pole.
So, hours of his youth were devoted to the fireworks stands and other Marine Corps and military charity fundraising efforts.
Pat Murray sold the red “Buddy” poppies in support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and she was selling American flags to raise funds for the American Legion. The Legion hosted her at a reception for her 100th birthday.
Her other son, Mike, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, recalls how his mother was always close to history as it happened.
She was making a living as a professional roller skater, when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened and the United States was plunged into World War II.
She was 27 at the time and told me one reason for enlisting was “all the men were gone.” For roller skating, she meant. Partners for dance routines dried up with the draft and enlistments. And she wanted a challenge, so she enlisted.
Pat went through boot camp with the other female Marines at Parris Island, the land of sand fleas and terrifying drill instructors.
During World War II, her Marine Corps detachment operated out of a parachute packing hangar in El Centro, Calif. If it was not the “sands of Iwo Jima,” the need for effectively packed parachutes meant the difference between life and death for Marine and Navy pilots flying Hellcats and Corsairs in the Pacific.
Like so many Valley military boosters, she always had her eyes on the sky. On Nov. 2, 1947, Mike Murray said his mother was in the environs of Long Beach Harbor.
“She saw the ‘Spruce Goose’ fly,” he said. “She saw it pick up, skim above the water and set down. But she was there. She saw it.”
Patricia Murray saw a lot.
She was born in Toledo, Ohio, on Dec. 1, 1917, to John and Ida Patke. When World War II ended, she was paid $310.10 accumulated pay. She never cashed the last 10 cents. Ever. But a couple of years later, her military records indicate she enlisted in 1947 for another four-year hitch in the Marines, so, officially, she was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. No, she wasn’t at Iwo Jima or Okinawa and she wasn’t at Inchon or Chosin, but she was, by golly, one good Marine.
Bob Alvis, an Air Force veteran of the Cold War, escorted Sgt. Murray to classrooms where she could share her experiences and what it means to be a Marine and a good citizen.
Another group she supported and was cheerleader for was the Young Marines, a youth scouting-style group, that often provides the next generation of Marines.
Dan recalled that she had a medical emergency in 1999, her neck fractured and the fire department paramedics responded.
“One of them, a young guy, was bent over her and he looked at me and said, ‘Is that Pat Murray?’” Her son answered that it certainly was Pat Murray. The firefighter looked at his comrades and said, “In the Young Marines, she was the one who inspired me to be who I am today!” She got first-class treatment, served up with a lot of professional respect.
In addition to the flag sales and the flag pole and the fireworks, she also advocated, passionately, for restoration of the pioneering Palmdale Cemetery at Avenue S and 20th Street East.
The cemetery, home to the pioneers of the original “Palmenthal,” had fallen into disrepair. Drunk drivers jumped the curb and crashed a low retaining wall periodically and grave markers, many the graves of military veterans, were vandalized.
Sgt. Murray spurred a civic drive and the Boy Scouts of America got involved and the cemetery got spruced up and secured. Oh and the flag pole was illuminated at night.
A service for Sgt. Murray will be held at 1 p.m., Friday, at Saint Serra Parish Our Lady’s Chapel, 6122 Azalea Drive.
You can bet that the Marines will be landing there. And a lot of other Americans.
Two other news bits about our elder veterans who contributed so much to the American experience. At the William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home, memorial services were held for “Andy” Andrews, a World War II Navy pilot who flew Corsair fighter missions in the Pacific War. Andy, well into his 90s, was loved by all and will be missed by many.
In an unrelated event, Brig. Gen. Ernest “Dragon” Teichert, who commands the 412th Test Wing and his top kick NCO Sr. Chief Master Sgt. Roosevelt Jones, shared an afternoon with World War II veteran Charles P. Rader, who was awarded the Silver Star for his role in saving his battle-damaged B-17 bomber after fighting off a Nazi Messerschmitt fighter attack. Rader, who is 98, was a top turret gunner, wounded during the gunfight, yet managed to help the pilot crash-land safely, then Rader organized the crew evacuation. Brig. Gen. Teichert, commanding at Edwards, shared some cake and conversation with one of our “Greatest Generation” vets.