Tuesday, September 28, 2004


A ship found, a heart healed: The USS Murphy


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The USS Murphy.

NEW JERSEY (27 Sep 2004) -- Just as the bow of the USS Murphy long ago settled into the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean, so too did Ruth Anderson's feelings for a curly-haired boy from Pelican Rapids, Minn., settle into the deep recesses of her memory.

The Murphy, a Navy destroyer, was split in two when it collided with an oil tanker off the coast of New Jersey in October 1943. The stern was towed back to port that night, but the bow -- or the front part of the boat --and the remains of 35 men sank into the chilly water.

Among the dead was Ruth Anderson's fiancé, Gilmor Weik. She mourned him intensely but eventually did fall in love with another man, Kermit Anderson. They married and had three sons, all now in middle age. Ruth Anderson never told them about what she lost the night the Murphy sank.

"I just kept it deep down in my heart," Anderson, 83, said on a recent visit to New Jersey from her home in Norman, Okla.

But two years ago, professional diver Dan Crowell of Brick discovered the long-lost bow of the Murphy in 265 feet of water about 80 miles off Long Beach Island.

The discovery, and the resurgent interest in the history of the Murphy that attended it, prompted Ruth Anderson to tell her sons about the man she loved before she met their dad.

"She was like a tea kettle on simmer for 60 years," her youngest son, Tom, of Oklahoma City, said during a reunion of Murphy veterans at a Holiday Inn in Vineland earlier this month.

The discovery of the bow brought her to a boil, he said. Her own little piece of the Murphy's history has been whistling forth ever since.

The Murphy, a Benson-class destroyer, was 348 feet long and 36 feet across. It carried 260 enlisted men and 15 officers.

On that night in October 1943, the ship was assigned to escort a supply convoy from New York to the United Kingdom. The convoy was not far from New York when an unidentified target showed up on the radar. The Murphy was sent ahead to determine whether it was a German U-boat.

The target turned out to be another American ship, the SS Bulkoil. The Bulkoil's captain mistook the Murphy for a torpedo and turned toward it, the standard evasive maneuver, said Fred Sheller, a Californian who was working below deck in the fire control room of the Murphy that night. Rather than avoiding a torpedo, though, the tanker crashed into the port side of the Murphy, between the bridge and forward stack, cutting the destroyer in two.

"It was like a bus crashing through pane after pane of glass," Sheller said at the Vineland reunion. "I don't remember a jerk, or a bump, just a loud shattering."

Harper Anderson Peacock, a 3rd-class torpedoman from Tennessee, was on watch on the top deck that night, standing near the sonar room where Gilmor Weik was stationed. The impact was so jarring, he said he was thrown overboard.

He was wearing a headset with a 35-foot cord. The drop to the ocean was 40 feet, he recalled. When he reached the end of his line, his head snapped back violently, and he was knocked unconscious. The water was so cold that he came to quickly.

Covered in diesel fuel and numb from the cold, Peacock, Sheller and several dozen other survivors eventually were plucked from the water and hoisted onto the deck of a rescue ship, the USS Glennon. There, they were scrubbed clean and given shots of brandy to warm their bones.

Peacock never found out what happened to Weik, but he has carried the memory of him and the others who died with him ever since.

"You realize that those boys that suffered and died that night were no worse or no better than you were, but you survived," said Peacock, 82, who settled in Mississippi after the war and went to work as a lineman for the power company. "You always carry a little guilt about being saved when the rest went down. It's kind of a hard token."

The stern of the Murphy stayed afloat that night and was towed to the New York Navy Boat Yard with many of the crew still aboard, Sheller said. The bow was replaced, and the Murphy returned to duty seven months later.

Because a war was on, the Navy and Coast Guard never made much of an effort to find the bow of the Murphy or recover the bodies of the men who were lost, many veterans of the ship believe. For six decades, they had only a vague idea of where their ship had gone down.

That began to change in 2000. Crowell, captain of a dive boat called the Seeker, had a conversation with a local fisherman that led him to believe he might find the remains of a World War II Liberty ship at a particular spot off the New Jersey coast. He made his first dive on that spot in August 2000.

Though the wreck Crowell and his team of divers found that day was shrouded in discarded fishing nets, they saw enough of it to doubt that it was a Liberty ship. Because of weather and equipment problems, it wasn't until they were able to make another dive on it, in September 2002, that they could say for sure that it was a destroyer. After that dive, they used Navy records to identify it as the Murphy.

A small memorial with the names of the men who died that night has been placed in a park in Surf City, on Long Beach Island. The memorial was dedicated Sept. 16.

Crowell, a videographer, is working on a documentary about the ship.

Ruth Anderson, whose husband died the year Crowell identified the Murphy, heard about the discovery from a relative who saw a television news report about it.

The experience has brought back memories of things she has not spoken of in six decades. Memories of taking the train from her home in Elizabeth, Minn., to meet Gil in New York during his shore leave, of taking along the gravy spoon from the silverware pattern she had selected for their wedding, of going to the opera and a party, of being stricken with a sense of foreboding when they said goodbye at the end of his leave.

When he was reported missing, she said, she clung to the hope that he was alive somewhere, possibly with amnesia, trying to find his way back to her. She moved to Washington, D.C., to stay with her sister and continued to write him letters after the Murphy sank. One day, the postman brought them all back to her.

She gave up hope and took the train back to Minnesota. She destroyed the letters and gave the engagement ring to her brother. The only thing she kept was an ivory necklace Gil had bought for her at the Rock of Gibraltar.

She put that necklace away many years ago and kept it away, thinking it improper to wear it around the man she married.

But earlier this month, when she arrived in New Jersey with her son Tom for the reunion of the Murphy crew, she wore Gil's necklace.

"Ever since they found the bow," her son said, "she's been healing a thorn that's been in her heart all these years."

SOURCE - The Star-Ledger

Check this link.

The USS Murphy after beeing rammed.

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