Harry E. Murphy Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
Harry E. Murphy

Member of Battery D (129th Field Artillery Regiment) commanded by Capt. Harry S. Truman in World War I, 1918-19.

Long Beach, California
March 23, 1970
by J. R. Fuchs

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Harry E. Murphy


Long Beach, California
March 23, 1970
by J. R. Fuchs


FUCHS: Mr. Murphy, I wonder if to start you would mind just giving me a brief sketch of your background; when and where you were born, and some of the different positions you held -- a little story of your life up until the time you went into the service?

MURPHY: Well, I was born in Steele, North Dakota, on a ranch, my father's ranch. He was a pioneer in that country. He spent the winter of 1881 and '82 in Bismarck, North Dakota when there was no bridge across the Missouri River. The Northern Pacific Railroad was -- that was the end of the line, Bismarck. I was born on July 22, 1890, and my life up until the time I left the ranch, when I was -- in 1913 -- I went to Kansas City and I never did return to the ranch, permanently. I made many visits there to my folks. I think I counted them up about thirteen times. Every time I had an opportunity I wanted to go back. I hunted a great deal and had bird dogs and I loved hunting whenever I had a chance;


ducks and all kinds of game.

FUCHS: Now you're talking! How did you happen to leave for Kansas City? Did you just go out to seek your fortune, so to speak?

MURPHY: There was a boy, a blacksmith's son -- automobiles were just coming into being, and there was a blacksmith's son who wanted to go to the Sweeney Automobile School in Kansas City. I was a little dissatisfied with confinement on the ranch and wanted to do something, so I followed him to Kansas City and we went to this school together. He returned to his father's blacksmith shop and set up an automobile business, and I stayed in Kansas City, worked for my uncle as a -- he was a contractor, the Hasom Pavement Company in Kansas City, Kansas. In the fall of 1913 I obtained a job with the Ford Motor Company and I have been an employee of that company, with the company, or with a dealer for all of my working life until retirement.

FUCHS: Was that first job with the dealership or did they have a plant there?

MURPHY: No, I worked for the Ford Motor Company. I worked for the Ford Motor Company from the fall of 1913 until the Long Beach plant was closed due to the World War II. At that time I went to work in the shipyards for two years with Consolidated Steel. At the end of the war I went to work for a dealer, a Ford dealer, in Long Beach, California.


FUCHS: Well, this job with them in Kansas City, was that with the Ford plant then? Did they have a Ford plant back in 1913?

MURPHY: Oh, yes.

FUCHS: Oh, they did?

MURPHY: But I went to work for this dealer until I retired. But, coming back to Kansas City, I worked in this Kansas City plant until 1930. I was a foreman, general foreman, a night superintendent, and had full charge of the place at night. It was a big and strenuous job. I think I still feel the effects of it.

FUCHS: So you worked there in the Kansas City plant until you went into the service?

MURPHY: I was working at the plant, and enlisted in the Battery D on Memorial Day.

FUCHS: 1917?


FUCHS: You hadn't been in the battery -- in the unit before.


FUCHS: In the National Guard or Missouri Guard?

MURPHY: Prior to that time I had served three years in the National Guard, which I am very thankful that I did, because it gave me Army experience. I knew how the officers thought, I knew how they think, what they expect, and what they expect of you; and I know how they think


about men and how it helped me to keep out of any extra duty or anything like that. And I always advised anyone that was going into the service to pay strict attention to all regulations and keep themselves out of trouble. Keep their uniforms clean, keep right up to snuff. And if a person is caught for extra duty and they keep on doing these things, they think they are imposed on, but it's their own fault. They allow themselves to get this extra duty due to the fact that they are not up to regulations. And I have talked to many men that were going into the service, and I have advised them this way, that, "If you are on any kind of traveling detail, anywhere, you have orders to go somewhere; I don't care if you are the only one that wants to stay and abide by those orders, do so. Don't be influenced. Sometimes you have to stand it all by yourself. You're the only man that won't go along with some deal that isn't right." And I made that quite plain to newly enlisted men that I talked to. And I contacted a good many that were going into the service during my life.

FUCHS: Do you recall who enlisted you in Battery D?

MURPHY: Well, Captain [Charles B.] Allen.

FUCHS: Oh, yes.

MURPHY: Captain Allen. I told him about my previous experience and he said, "Well, fine. I think we had ought to make


a corporal out of you." And in due time I did receive a corporal's stripes, and that was under Karl D. Klemm.

FUCHS: Did you have any recollection of things in this country before you went overseas?

MURPHY: My first recollection of Lieutenant Truman was when he took charge of the canteen.

FUCHS: Oh, you do remember that?

MURPHY: I remember him in the canteen and he had had no -- he was attached to F Battery, I believe. And the next time that I saw him, and remembered him particularly, was when he took the train leaving Ft. Sill for France. This was on a training detail of which I was a part. He was in the officer's group. I remember him and I remember the wives of these officers. I remember seeing Mrs. Truman at that time.

FUCHS: You mean you went overseas in advance?

MURPHY: I went in the advance detail that was a part of the officer's detail. Of course, we did not mingle together, and they went to a different place than we did. We were the noncommissioned officers and enlisted men that went over for special training.

FUCHS: Do you recall any thoughts you might have had about this officer at that time?

MURPHY: No, I just observed him. I just observed him. I had seen him in the canteen and I saw him -- I think I saw


him kissing his wife goodbye at the train at that time.

FUCHS: Your impression of the...

MURPHY: But not his wife, his sweetheart, I should say because he wasn't married at that time.


MURPHY: That's my mistake.

FUCHS: As you recall it, is your impression of the canteen being as well run as what the stories have said?

MURPHY: Well, yes. Yes, I think so. I think so. Of course, I just went there to buy candy bars and whatever I wanted to buy.

FUCHS: Do you recall seeing Eddie Jacobson around there?

MURPHY: Oh, yes, I saw him many times. I always saw him there. And I saw him after the war when Truman and Jacobson, Eddie Jacobson, had their shop. I used to go there every time I was downtown; it was sort of a headquarters. You went in there to find out what was going on. Somebody else had been in there, why, that was a news center.

FUCHS: Battery D men primarily?

MURPHY: Battery D men all went there to get the latest news.

FUCHS: Do you recall anything else about the haberdashery?

MURPHY: Well, I know it was right up to snuff. It was a sharp place. It was well run and it was a beautiful layout. Too bad that we had depression and caused different independent businesses to have to close up.


FUCHS: Yes. What is your next recollection of Mr. Truman?

MURPHY: When he took charge of Battery D, the next time I saw him.

FUCHS: And what do you recall of that?*

MURPHY: Mr. Truman must well remember the day he took charge of Battery D. No doubt but that he thought of the four captains who preceded him. As soon as the men were dismissed from formation, remarks were heard such as, "Well, I wonder how long he will last." To squelch any doubt that he intended to last a long time, his first move was to call a meeting of us noncommissioned officers saying, "I am sure you men know the rules and regulations. I will issue the orders and you are responsible for them being carried out."

As corporal of the guard the first night, I felt it my duty to try to enforce the 9 p.m. lights out regulations. There was a big crap game going on (and whoever heard of an army that was any good that didn't have a lot of crapshooters). A short time before taps I warned them to wind up the game on time. Among them some had been to a French canteen and had had too much to drink. After 9 o'clock, I found the game still going strong and said, "I thought I told you to have lights out."

Someone said, "Who said 'lights out?"'

Just then my lights went out. I hit the floor. As

*At this point in the interview Mr. Murphy read a prepared statement.


I picked myself up, I saw one fellow being hurriedly carried out -- presumably the one who hit me. Next day one of the fellows asked me what I was going to do about last night. I told him that I hadn't decided -- maybe nothing if they cooperated with me. Thought perhaps that best for the reputation of the Battery and why stir up a big stink on the first day that we have a new captain.

At the first aid tent, Major [Charles E.] Wilson (I believe he was a cousin of President [Woodrow] Wilson) gave me a medication for my cut mouth and asked how it happened. I told him that I had tripped and fallen down. He gave me that funny look as much as to say, "Don't expect me to believe that!" And he just said, "Uh huh, uh huh!" Well, such was life with old Dizzy D.

Captain Harry was very considerate of his men and very just. One of his officers once accused me of removing a guard from the kitchen allowing some meat to be stolen. One of the men reported to Captain Harry that the meat had been stolen the day before as he had seen someone take it. Captain Harry made it a point to have me report to his tent and he apologized for the action of one of his lieutenants.

Shortly after armistice a brigade full pack inspection was held. The brigadier general and all the high officers were present. It was a long, long tiresome day waiting


out our turn for inspection. The men were thoroughly disgusted. When through at last, someone in our group said in a low voice, "All together men, Battery D sound off." All the men sounded off with "Hurray'...! [a well-known dirty word]" and for that we had to unroll our packs for another full inspection.

One can well imagine the feeling and rejoicing of the men after armistice. All wanted to celebrate, mostly with drink. A group from our battery was in a small town whooping it up. One fellow insisted that he felt so good that he wanted to jump out the hotel window. He kept several of the more sober ones busy keeping him from doing just that.

FUCHS: Do you recall anything more specific about Captain Truman overseas in any particular engagements?

MURPHY: No. Of course, I had quite a lot of contacts with him. I remember one night that we were in Verdun and we were being shelled by mustard gas and I stayed up at Captain Truman's headquarters. In fact we stood out under the stars and discussed whether we should call a gas alarm or not. We stayed there for several hours and decided it wasn't a sufficient concentration to justify a gas alarm.

FUCHS: You mean they weren't putting the shells close enough to you?


MURPHY: No, the wind -- they weren't close enough. We were getting a -- just a faint smell of gas, but not enough to justify an alarm.

FUCHS: Did you ever come under gas attack where you had to don your mask?

MURPHY: No. One day I was out walking around and most of the men were in the dugout, the French dugout east of Verdun, and all of a sudden they came rushing out with their gas masks on. There had been a gas barrage forward of our position, but the gas that was used was chlorine gas and it lays very low on the ground. And due to the fact that I was walking around, I never smelled any of it, but it floated right down and went into the dugouts and the men all came out with their eyes watering, grabbing their masks and getting them on. That just shows how that gas lays right down on the ground, it's heavy.


MURPHY: That's the only time that -- we had gas alarms a good many times, but it just did not necessitate putting on masks.

FUCHS: I see. You know, of course, of the famous, or infamous, I don't know which, "Battle of Who Run?" Do you have your version of that?


MURPHY: No, I wish I did. I would say one thing. I want to say one thing in regard to this. I heard about it. I had traveling orders. I would have been there, but I had traveling orders to go to a school of instructions on gas; and I was later made the gas noncommissioned officer after I returned from this. That's how I come to not be there, and for many years I never could get anybody to talk about that Battle of Who Run. Finally Jim [James J.] Doherty came out here to see me, not many years ago, and he gave me the full story as he saw it. He said that he was so anxious to go up there and he should never have gone up there because he wasn't accustomed to riding, but he wanted to be up there. So he rode one of the teams for one of the sections. What I wanted to bring out was, there was a certain noncommissioned officer, Corporal Bill [William A.] O'Hare. I had always admired him and I had a feeling that I liked to be close to him. He was such a calm fellow under all conditions, and I don't know why it was, but I just liked to be around where Bill was.