Company B's own Tunnel Rat!
Cay Giep Mountains

By:Richard Guthrie
Company Commander of B Company,
1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry
Jan-Sep 1967-1968

© 2002

Courtesy of 1st Bn (Mech) 50th Infantry website

Dick Guthrie, company commander of B Company, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry from September 1967 to January 1968, writes a brief eulogy for Private First Class James John Murphy of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who on November 5, 1967 became the first soldier in B Company killed by enemy action after the battalion arrived in Vietnam.

Every unit seems to have at least one man who -- no matter how dark things might seem -- is able to coax a chuckle and find the light side of any situation with a well-timed, irreverent wisecrack. Such a man is a highly valued commodity. James John Murphy was ours. That short, wiry, two-fisted Irishman had joined Company B only after our arrival in country. So he had missed the bonding the rest of us had gotten from the intensive training at Fort Hood, and he had missed the shipboard togetherness as well. Nonetheless, the newcomer established himself in no time as the one most adept at diffusing tensions and dispelling the loneliness and fears we all felt.

But not only was he our jester, he was also the first to volunteer for the dangerous missions that nobody wanted to take on. In the loud and self-deprecating boasting we all loved, he'd refer to himself as "Company B's own Tunnel Rat".

On that overcast November afternoon we had been operating uneventfully in the southern part of the Cay Giep Mountains, and it was time to set up our night defensive position. Responding to my arm signal, the platoon leaders fanned the armored personnel carriers in a circle below the scrub-dotted crest of the low round foothill I had selected from a half-dozen just like it. Fine long-range observation and fields of fire compensated for the lack of vegetation I'd have preferred to have concealing our vehicles and men. We'd be digging dismounted fighting positions at any rate, despite the hardness of the packed, brittle clay soil. With no need for instructions from me, the platoon leaders had troops dismount to clear suspicious areas and check for booby traps.

The deafening roar in our midst silenced the routine chatter, and for a stunned split-second the low rumble of twenty diesel engines at idle was all you could hear. Toby, bag in tow, already had clambered through the door in the rear ramp of my command track, and I was completing the cryptic radio appeal for an immediate helicopter MEDEVAC when the first urgent cries rang out for "Medic".

Toby worked feverishly over Murphy's shredded, comatose form, breaking off only in time to step clear as the helicopter lurched airborne and sprinted, low-level, to the south. They got our Murphy to the operating table in Qui Nhon no more than 45 minutes after he had tugged on the unseen nylon monofilament fishing line with his boot activating the device. He never regained consciousness. He struggled the best he could for several days before drowning on his own fluids. His lungs had been perforated by literally hundreds of steel pellets. These had been hurled so efficiently by the exploding of the M-26 Fragmentation Grenade (Made in USA) that the doctors had given him little hope.

He was Company B's first soldier killed by enemy action.

None of us would ever be the same again.

"Ach, Johnny, we hardly knew ye."

James John Murphy, 29E25