Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Michael Murray, a Vietnam veteran and Son Tay raider who spent most of his 30-year Army career in Special Forces, will be laid to rest in a ceremony at the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake on Wednesday.
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray, who ended his military career as the senior enlisted leader of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in 1992, died Dec. 23, according to his family.
He is survived by his wife, Carolyn Diane Murray; daughters, Melissa Willard and Victoria Gill; four grandchildren and other family.
A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Jernigan-Warren Funeral Home Chapel. A burial with military honors will follow at 2 p.m. at the veterans cemetery near Fort Bragg.
The 73-year-old veteran was a 26-year-old sergeant first class when he volunteered for the famed Son Tay Raid into what was then North Korea on Nov. 21, 1970.
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray was one of 56 service members who participated in the raid, meant to rescue 70 American prisoners of war being held at a prison camp near Hanoi.
While the raiders seized the compound after a fierce firefight, the prisoners were nowhere to be found, having been moved months before the mission due to heavy flooding in the area.
While not a success in and of itself, the raid was a tactical victory and set the groundwork for increased cooperation between special operations forces and the creation of Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation’s most elite units from Fort Bragg.
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray earned a Silver Star for his role in the raid, during which he was shot in the leg.
While no prisoners were saved, the raid is credited with boosting the morale of prisoners and their families by showing that the U.S. was willing to send elite forces deep into North Vietnam.
“We scared the hell out of the Vietnamese and taught them we could get into the highest air-defended piece of real estate the world’s ever known and get out,” Command Sgt. Maj. Murray told The Fayetteville Observer in 1990.
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray said he participated in the raid despite stress fractures from running with heavy weights during training.
“I still remember the feelings I had as the aircraft started the final approach,” he said. “I glanced out the window and the lights of Hanoi looked like any major city at night. My stomach felt like I’d swallowed a basketball.”
In 2016, Command Sgt. Maj. Murray helped organize a reunion for Son Tay raiders at Fort Bragg. At that time, he told the Observer that the raid was a turning point for special operations.
“That’s what we trained for,” he said. “You have one time in your career you get a chance to do something that’s really important.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray said his responsibility during the mission was to secure the outside of the prison camp so troops would be able to make a smooth exit. He recalled that two guards had stealthily maneuvered behind him and shot him in the back of his right leg. He was in pain, but focused on completing the mission.
“I could feel the blood running down my leg and into my boot,” he said. “But we had a job to do.”
“I think we laid the groundwork for Joint Special Operations Command,” he added. “Our raid is the start of building Special Forces training today.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray enlisted in the Army in July 1962. The Cherokee, Iowa-native trained at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Polk, Louisiana, before his first assignment, with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Korea.
He served with the 3rd Armored Division in what was then West Germany until 1966, when then-Sgt. Murray completed training at Fort Bragg to become a Special Forces soldier.
Command Sgt. Murray served with the 5th Special Forces Group, then based at Fort Bragg, deploying to what was then South Vietnam.
In 1968, he joined the 6th Special Forces Group, serving on a mobile training team that taught partner forces in the Middle East, Far East and Europe.
Following the Son Tay Raid, Command Sgt. Maj. Murray returned to the 6th Special Forces Group as a team sergeant for a High Altitude, Low Opening parachute team and later served with the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa, Japan, participating in operations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Korea.
He returned to Fort Bragg in 1974, serving with what is now the Special Warfare Center and School, the 18th Airborne Corps and the 7th Special Forces Group.
Command Sgt. Maj. Murray retired on Aug. 1, 1992.
Years later, he spoke highly of his time with the Army’s Special Forces.
“When you join Special Forces, you join a family,” he told the Observer in 2016. “There’s not an organization like it. You got a family of your own, but you adopt the soldiers under you.”
The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Jernigan-Warren Funeral Home at 545 Ramsey St, In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation at P.O. Box 89367 Tampa, Florida 33689.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3567.
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