Retired Army Col. Charles P. Murray Jr., 89, who received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly overcoming a force of 200 German soldiers during a World War II battle in France, died Aug. 12 at his home in Columbia, S.C. He had congestive heart failure.
Col. Murray was a 23-year-old lieutenant with just a few months of battle experience on Dec. 16, 1944, the day he displayed the “supreme courage and heroic initiative” that earned him the nation’s highest award for military valor.
He had joined the 3rd Infantry Division in France in 1944 after the Normandy invasion that June. Over the course of several brutal days in December, casualties thinned the ranks above him. He became the company commander.
On Dec. 16, he was leading a platoon of about 35 down a mountain path near the town of Kaysersberg, in northeastern France, when he eyed about 200 Germans attacking another battalion of U.S. troops. Rather than take his men into a position where they would be devastatingly outnumbered, he moved forward alone and radioed for an artillery attack. It missed, and before he could correct the coordinates, he lost the radio signal.
He then began launching grenades, revealing his own position and opening himself to a counterattack. Under heavy fire, he exhausted all the available grenades, according to a 2009 Army news release. He returned to his patrol, grabbed a rifle and returned to his position. He fired with such intensity — taking down 20 enemy soldiers and wounding numerous others — that the Germans began to withdraw, according to the Medal of Honor citation.
When reinforcements came, he directed the firing of a mortar and then began running down the hill with his men. He captured 10 Germans hiding in foxholes and was about to capture an eleventh when the man, pretending to surrender, launched a grenade that severely injured Col. Murphy’s leg and knocked him to the ground.
He refused to leave the battle until he could see that his men were in place and ready to continue on without him.
“By his single-handed attack on an overwhelming force and by his intrepid and heroic fighting,” reads the citation for his Medal of Honor, “1st Lt. Murray stopped a counterattack, established an advance position against formidable odds, and provided an inspiring example for the men of his command.”
Besides the Medal of Honor, his decorations included three awards of the Silver Star and two awards of the Bronze Star Medal.
Charles Patrick Murray was born in Baltimore on Sept. 26, 1921, the oldest of three boys. He was raised in Wilmington, N.C., where his father found work as a barber.
He was attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he enlisted in the Army and returned to college after the war to graduate in 1946 with a degree in accounting. In 1963, Col. Murray received a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University.
Col. Murray learned that he would receive the Medal of Honor not from the Army, but from his wife, the former Anne King, to whom he was married for 68 years. She mailed him a newspaper clipping from home announcing the news.
Besides his wife, survivors include two children, Brian Murray of Fort Payne, Ala., and Cynthia Anne Murray of Roswell, Ga.; four grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and one great-great-granddaughter. His son Charles P. Murray III died in 2004. Both sons served in Vietnam.
After World War II, Col. Murray reenlisted and became a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. After his retirement from the military in 1973, he worked for the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
In an interview last year with a South Carolina newspaper, Col. Murray downplayed his bravery at age 23. “I was old, compared to a lot of those 18- and 19-year-old kids in the division,” he said.