Bill Murphy is a Vietnam Era Veteran who discusses his Air Force training, veteran issues, and local veterans.
BILL MURPHY: So I was in the United States Air Force–
DAVID THORNBERRY: Oh, the Air Force.
BILL MURPHY: –from 1963 through ’68.
DAVID THORNBERRY: So about three years then?
BILL MURPHY: Five.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Oh, five.
BILL MURPHY: Close to five. It was like four years and eight months and 13 days, but who’s counting?
DAVID THORNBERRY: So if you don’t mind me asking, how long have you lived in Carroll County?
BILL MURPHY: In Carroll County– I’ve been in Carroll County for 26 years.
DAVID THORNBERRY: 26 years.
BILL MURPHY: Love it.
DAVID THORNBERRY: You love it here?
BILL MURPHY: Yeah, it’s great. I live up to Manchester, Maryland, which is just north of us here. I built my house myself back in 1988. I got four acres up there, and it’s God’s country.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Must be some pretty nice country up there.
BILL MURPHY: Yes, it is. It’s beautiful.
DAVID THORNBERRY: So were you born in Carroll County?
BILL MURPHY: No, I’m originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, David, and that’s outside of Philadelphia– about 50 miles north of Philadelphia.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Nice. What date were you born?
BILL MURPHY: It was February 22, 1945. Originally, they were going to call me George, because it was George Washington’s birthday. And they named me after my Uncle, Bill Ferrell, and he was a World War II veteran.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Really?
BILL MURPHY: Army veteran.
DAVID THORNBERRY: I’m glad to hear that.
BILL MURPHY: Yes, sir.
DAVID THORNBERRY: So what is your current occupation?
BILL MURPHY: I have a home improvement business, and I also have an equipment business. I buy and sell heavy equipment. My background for the last about 30 years has been selling heavy equipment. I’ve been a salesman most of my life.
DAVID THORNBERRY: What kind of heavy equipment?
BILL MURPHY: Bulldozers, loaders, anything. Backhoes.
DAVID THORNBERRY: So like farming and construction equipment?
BILL MURPHY: Farm and construction equipment, that’s correct.
DAVID THORNBERRY: All right.
BILL MURPHY: That’s what I do, and like I say, I’ve done very, very well over the years.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Sounds like a pretty interesting job.
BILL MURPHY: Yes, it is.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s nice.
BILL MURPHY: It’s enjoyable.
DAVID THORNBERRY: If you don’t mind me asking, what was the reason for you to join the Air Force?
BILL MURPHY: Why I joined the Air Force– that’s a very good question, David. At the time, back in 1963, I did sign up enlisted. I wasn’t drafted. I thought it was important for me at the time to really help our country, to serve in the military, and that’s what I did for all the time that I was in. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of the United States Air Force.
DAVID THORNBERRY: I’m glad to hear that. Did you enjoy your time in the Air Force?
BILL MURPHY: Very much so. I was an Air Force medic, and what I did is I volunteered to be what’s called a physiological training specialist. Most people don’t know what that is. But as a medic, it’s a special branch.
It was called the physiological training and what we did is we– before pilots would be allowed to fly in an aircraft, they would have to go through a pressure chamber. And what that is– it’s about the size of this room in here. It’s about 20 foot wide and 20 foot long. And we would put 20 students in there with their oxygen masks on, and we would pressurize this big unit and would take them up to 43,000 feet.
Then once they get up at 43,000 feet, we’d do a rapid decompression just like you would simulate what happens in an aircraft when they lose their cabin pressurization. So we’d go from 43,000 feet down to 25. So once they got to 25,000 feet, we’d say, OK, now we want you to take your mask off. They were all in oxygen at the time– positive pressure breathing apparatus.
So what we did, at that time, we’d say, we want you to just feel how you feel right now with the signs of hypoxia. And what hypoxia is, David, it’s a loss of oxygen. In other words, with hypoxia, you’re basically oxygen starvation.
So then once they feel these symptoms, they would normally put the mask on themselves at that time. But once in awhile, if they’d pass out, we’d go around and we’d be aware that they needed to have the oxygen to survive. So we’d put the mask back on and come around, and they’d give you just the thumbs-up that they were doing real, real well.
The purpose of this in the event of loss of oxygen or cabin pressurization in an aircraft– that they would remember what we taught them in this seminar as far as the different symptoms that they would have prior to their passing out. And it’s very, very instrumental. And the one thing about the Air Force, it’s the best training in the world.
The Air Force pilots, they’re second to none. And what we’d always do is before– I think the card that we’d give them– I think it was a 1280 or something like that. They had to have that card, and they’d have to renew the training every three years because we didn’t want to have any accidents happen because of lack of oxygen at flight.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s sounds like a– that’s a very specialized field there.
BILL MURPHY: Yes, it was. Then we got involved with another thing, and this was called the hyperbaric chamber. And a hyperbaric chamber is– basically, instead of going up to height, you know, pressure-wise up to 43,000 feet, we’d go down with a hyperbaric chamber down 165 feet. And what it was– it was to treat, for example, Navy divers that would have what is– I forget what they call it– the bends.
So this is nitrogen that would be coming out of their body too quick. So we would take Navy divers down to 165 feet, then we bring them up on a diver’s table, and they would have to come up at a certain period of time. So I learned how to be a hyperbaric technician as well. That was one of the first ones at that time. When I was in the service, like I say, ’63 to ’68, that’s what we did.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Did you enjoy your job?
BILL MURPHY: Enjoyed the job very much, and to be honest, I owe my success in my career to the United States Air Force. And why I say that– I wasn’t a very good student when I was in high school. I barely made it out of high school. I had a, I think, D plus average, something like that. And when I got into the military, there was a couple things that I was really, really interested in.
I learned several languages when I was in the Air Force. I was over in Germany, in one of my stations that I was at, and I had a German girlfriend that couldn’t speak English. So at the time, she would teach me, you know, the German, and I would learn the German from her. Because if you have to do that, it’s the best way to learn a language.
So I was three years over there, so I learned the German language. And also through the University of Maryland, I went to Torrejon, Spain, and I was over there for– I believe it was six months– learning Spanish. So both of those languages really helped me in my career. I worked for a number of German companies with my equipment business, and it was a long career– about 30 years that I’ve been working for these different companies.
It was great, and I used my time wisely because what I did, one, is in the Air Force, I got two years of college through the University of Maryland. And I was a recipient of the United States Air Force Education Achievement Award. And I was– I’m very proud of that. That’s one of the things that really helped me out, and I was very serious, and it turned my life around.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s nice to hear. Were you ever deployed at all? Like, I know you said you were in the Air Force for five years. Were ever deployed to another country? You said Germany and Spain. Was there anywhere else? Or was that just–?
BILL MURPHY: No, not really. As far as foreign countries, I visited foreign– about 17 different countries when I was in the Air Force, and I’d go around on flights with the military. You know, the air evac, they used to call them– so, medical evacuation.
So basically, as a medic, I would do that. But as far as any deployment anywhere else– at that time, they basically kept you one spot at the time. So what I did is– a lot of the pilots that would be deployed to, for example– at that time, it was Vietnam.
So I would deploy them through the pressure chamber. Before they went these pilots would go to Vietnam, they would want to make sure that their knowledge was up to date and satisfactory before they went to Vietnam. So I was the last point that they would– before they went to Vietnam.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s nice to hear. If you don’t mind, I’d like to sidetrack a bit away from the military.
BILL MURPHY: Yeah, no problem.
DAVID THORNBERRY: You say you lived in Carroll County 26 years. What is your favorite part about Carroll County?
BILL MURPHY: Oh, that’s a very good question, David. I love Carroll County because I like a rural element like what we have in here– the rolling hills, the beautiful scenery that we have here in Carroll County. I like the fact that we have farms all over. I live on four acres, and like I say, it’s a gift to me and to my family to just being a part of Carroll County.
I don’t like to live in the city-type environment. I am a rural type of person, and it’s just enjoyable when I can look and I don’t have another house five feet away from my house. I have four acres, and the closest, I think, is about a quarter of a mile away from my house is the closest house.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s nice. I’ve seen some of the country around here. It’s really nice out there.
BILL MURPHY: It’s great. It reminds me of, I think it was Daniel Boone. And he was living, I think, in Kentucky at the time. And he didn’t like to have people moving in on him, and he saw a chimney– chimney smoke was coming up, and he said, it was time for me to move when he saw the smoke.
So that’s what I feel. I love Carroll County. It’s a great, great place to be, and the opportunity that you have up here is just unbelievable. I work with a lot of nonprofit organizations, for example, here at the Community Center. I’m one of the producers, and I’ve really enjoyed that, because it’s a great opportunity. Because, not only for myself, but also to give back to my community.
So I’m also very heavily involved, and I have been for 16 years, with– it is called Toastmasters International. So I mentor a lot of the younger toastmasters that we have in the organization. And to see them achieve success– like one of my toastmasters that’s down at the University of Virginia Law School is Sean Welsh.
And we were very, very proud of Sean because what Sean did here in Carroll County helped to develop the Carroll County Debate Society, which we have never had at all in all the years that Carroll County’s been up there. And it was in, I think, every high school here in Carroll County at the time. So unfortunately, it’s no longer in existence, but we did it for about five years, and it gave a lot of our students the opportunity to express themselves in the debate form, and I enjoy that just being one of the coaches.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Well, I’m afraid I don’t live in Carroll County myself, but I’d like to thank you for everything you’ve done for this county. It sounds like you’ve done a whole lot for this.
BILL MURPHY: Well, I’m very blessed, and like I say, it’s important to me because if you don’t speak out for what you believe in, you’ll fall for anything. And like I say, I volunteer for a lot of different organizations. Habitat for Humanity, The Center for the Study of Aging over at McDaniel College– I’m involved with them. Community Media Center here, and I’m trying to think– I probably have another half a dozen things that I’m involved in, but it’s really good to be a part of this and especially here with the Community Media Center.
It’s great, and I’m very thankful to the veterans that have given so much of themselves to help the fellow Americans here, that we live in the freedom because of the veterans that sacrificed for us for so many years. And that’s something that we never should take for granted. We should basically go out there and say, thank you, veterans. And they do. Up here in Carroll County, they’re very grateful to the veterans.
DAVID THORNBERRY: I’m glad to hear that.
BILL MURPHY: Yes, sir.
DAVID THORNBERRY: So where did you go to school in Carroll County? Or did you go to school in Carroll County?
BILL MURPHY: No, like I say I’m originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and my school up there– I’m Catholic, and I went to St. Ursula’s Grade School. Then I went to a public school when I was in high school. I went to Fountain Hill High School, graduated there in 1963 right before I went in the military.
DAVID THORNBERRY: So you went into the military right after high school.
BILL MURPHY: Mhm. Yeah, and it was great because, like I say, at that time, things were a lot different than you look at today. We didn’t have a lot of the problems that we have with like for example here Carroll County, the drug problem. That’s another issue, because it’s a very, very serious issue that we have in our society today. So I think the most important thing that we could do is to educate, especially young people, about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
DAVID THORNBERRY: You mentioned you do a lot for the community, like you’re volunteering in a number of shelters. Do you have any hobbies, anything you enjoy doing aside from your volunteering?
BILL MURPHY: Yeah, I’ve been a member of the Four Seasons Sports Facility up in Hampstead, Maryland. I’ve been there for about 22 years. I’m active in– a member of the Carroll County Road Runners.
I’m one of the runners, although I am trying to lose weight right now, because that’s one of the important things in my life. And let’s see, what else? That’s what I’m– and like I say, with the Toastmasters, I’m very heavily involved with Toastmasters in developing the talent that we have in Toastmasters. And it’s anyone that’s from 18 years up, we help them to develop their public speaking skills.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s good to hear. Now, if don’t mind, I’d like to maybe ask a bit how you were growing up, because you said you were born in 1945. So you’re right at the end of World War II, and you’re going straight into the Vietnam War, the Korean War, all that. What was it like growing up in that time period?
BILL MURPHY: It was great. Like I say, where I grew up, up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it was a different time. For example, we were a steel community. Bethlehem Steel Corporation was still in existence at that time, and it was the largest employer of people. And what had happened from when I grew up until 1970, the steel industry was going very, very strong, and was an essential part of the United States because in World War II, in Korean War, we built all these different ships and planes and everything with American steel.
However, I was a graduate student at Penn State University, and I studied, at that time, was the air pollution control technology. That was what I studied at, because it goes back to 1971 when they had the Clean Air Act. And what had happened at that time is that many of the industries that were steel industries and steel related, they were basically shut down by the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency. And unfortunately, they didn’t really work with a lot of the companies, and a lot of those companies went out a business.
Like today, if you look at steel production in the United States, it’s probably down 5% of what it was. For example, you go over here in Baltimore. They had the Bethlehem Steel Corporation over there. At one time, Bethlehem Steel and Sparrows Point had like 70,000 people.
It’s hard to imagine that. Of 70,000 people in one area of Baltimore that produced all this steel, and today what is going on over there is that they’re basically dismantling these steel plants, and there’s nothing left as far as steel production in the United States. And the bad thing about that is, if you’re not making steel– like my father was a steelworker for 46 years. And my dad told me before he passed away– he says, Bill, once we lose steel– he said, things are going to start going downhill. And you look at what is made in the United States today, and there’s very little as far as– especially with every production.
My background, like I say, is in the construction industry. When I go across the 695 and the beltway in Baltimore, I see all these different excavators and everything coming in, and they’re all coming in from either Europe, Japan, China– anywhere but the United States because we no longer do that anymore. And I think it’s critical that the United States really get back to production so that we can improve our economy and not rely on foreign countries for these different problems that are out there.
For example, once they shut down the steel industry here in the United States, it all went to China. Now, they really don’t have the technology that we have here– had in the United States. And a lot of pollution that comes to the West Coast, like in California, that comes from China. And that’s a very, very serious issue especially with the climate warming throughout the world. So we have to really focus on that as well.
DAVID THORNBERRY: All right. I actually never knew that. That’s really interesting to hear.
BILL MURPHY: That’s pretty much the truth. If you look at a lot of cities like Beijing, you know, and these different cities over in China, it’s smog all over the place. You know, it’s terrible. Today, we don’t have the smog. You see what the difference is?
For example, when I grew up, and I would go out in the morning, on Saturday morning, and we’d have dust coming down from the steel mills, and we said, man, that’s great. You know, because the steel– we knew that when we saw that dust and its fly ash on top of our cars, we said, that’s great. Because we know that the steel is business, and we never complained about it or anything. But today, I work for one company, Gaithersburg Recycling, and they’re out business right now. But when they were in business, even over West Virginia, they were complaining.
We had tub grinders, recycling wood products, and even in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, they were complaining about the different by-products of dust that would come from our tub grinders. And it caused a problem for our company. We had to move out of West Virginia.
DAVID THORNBERRY: I’m sorry to hear that. So if you don’t mind me asking–
BILL MURPHY: No, problem. You can ask me anything you want, you know, David.
DAVID THORNBERRY: What was your favorite part of being in the military? I think you mentioned this earlier.
BILL MURPHY: Yeah, I think one of the things that is really important in the military– it’s your buddies that are in the military with you. It’s the camaraderie that develops. And this thing is, if we all work together as a team– for example, I was a member of the 18th PTF. That was our squadron with the pressure chamber.
So we had about 20 guys that would be working with us. We had no women at the time. It was an all-male force, and we worked very, very hard, and we believed in what we were doing, because it wasn’t only just the pressure chamber that they went through.
We had a week training with them that would be survival. It would have bailout. In other words, to teach these pilots of the event of an emergency that they could survive through that. And it was just a satisfaction that we got of training our pilots so they had the best opportunity for success if they ever had a disaster or an emergency in their aircraft.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Did you find it difficult to adjust after leaving the military at all?
BILL MURPHY: No, I adjusted pretty easy to outside life. At the time though, I might say when I was over in Europe– we were in the middle of the Vietnam War, and we didn’t get a very good reception. For example, people would look at you, and they’d say things in German, in different languages at you, and I spoke German. I knew what they were talking– saying to us, and it wasn’t very flattering, because it was a political war.
In other words, what had happened with all the politics that were going on at that time, and I didn’t really want to take sides, but you know, you’re in the military. You have a job to do. You’ve got to do it.
And unfortunately, too many times you know the politics get involved with this, and it goes downhill from there. But I was very proud of being in the military and being a part of the United States and supporting United States in that unfortunate thing. And the sad thing is I had some very, very close friends that were in the Vietnamese War that didn’t make it, that died as a result of that. And that hurts because these are close personal friends of mine up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
DAVID THORNBERRY: I’m sorry to hear that. I thank them for their service. Yeah. You said you had an uncle who fought in World War II.
BILL MURPHY: Yes.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Did you have any other family that served in the military?
BILL MURPHY: Oh, yeah. I have three brothers. My oldest brother, he was in the Marines. My second oldest brother, Bob, he was in the Army. My third oldest brother, Jerry– Gerald– he was in the Army as well.
So all four of us were all military, and it used to be in the United States that that was just part of dealing with survival at that time, or life in the United States that you have the whole family that was in it. And we were all very, very proud to be a part of the United States. It’s a great country.
Even today, you hear all the negativism, but you look at the people here in the United States. You know, and it’s the best country in the world, and that’s what I’m proud of just to be a part of this great country. On my car, I have a flag that I fly– you know, the United States, and that’s because I believe so much in the ability of what we have here in the United States. For all the beautiful people that we have and the opportunity, because you could do anything in life here in United States. If you put your mind to it and you work hard, you’ll be successful.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Let’s see. That’s nice to hear.
BILL MURPHY: Thank you.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Here’s an interesting question, if you don’t mind.
BILL MURPHY: Sure.
DAVID THORNBERRY: If you could go back into the military today, would you?
BILL MURPHY: I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. I don’t think at my age that they would take me, but if I’d go back in time like in a time machine or something– yeah, it was a wonderful opportunity. Because like I say, it taught me discipline, and one of the things that I didn’t tell you about is that, for example, when I was in the military, I was very, very heavy into weightlifting.
I was a powerlifter, and I worked hard, not only need to develop my mind, but also my body. And I’ve gone to the gym for over 50 years, and I got to lose some weight right now. But I’m very, very happy to work out and to train my mind, because life is an ongoing process, and I try to be a positive person in my life and the people I affect.
And I remember– this is back in the late ’80s– that I met Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and he had a tremendous impact. He was a father of positive thinking. And what I believe is that regardless of what problems that you might have in your life, as long as you remain positive that things will go a lot smoother for you. And I know in my life that I think I’ve tried to be positive as much as I can in life.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Were your parents supportive of you going into the military?
BILL MURPHY: Yes.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Oh, they were?
BILL MURPHY: My father, he was that he was a steelworker, like I say, for 47 years. And one of the things that dad did during World War II is that he made– he was the– I’m trying to think of what they call it– a forger. So all the large battleship guns they had in these battleships at those times, these huge guns– my father made them.
That was his part of– and I’m very proud of him to do that. And my mother, she was a homemaker, and she stayed at home, but fully supportive of all of my brothers that were in the military, and it was great. It was a great opportunity. They were great parents, and I’m very, very blessed to have them as my parents. They’re good people.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That’s good to hear. I know a lot of parents aren’t always supportive of their children going into the military. Now tell me a little bit about your family, like your personal family.
BILL MURPHY: Yeah. I have three children. Tony, he’s 37. Then I have James– he’s 33. Then I have my daughter. She’s still at home with us, and she’s 27. And they’re wonderful children, and so I’m very, very blessed to try to be the best dad that I can be. And I have one grandson. He’s up in Boston, Massachusetts, and my wife’s going up there to visit him, I think, next week, as a matter of fact. So we’re looking forward to that.
DAVID THORNBERRY: That sounds nice. How long have you been married?
BILL MURPHY: 38 years.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Congratulations.
BILL MURPHY: Thank you very much. It’s been a good run, and I love my wife very much. And I’m very, very blessed.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Were any of your children ever in the military?
BILL MURPHY: No.
DAVID THORNBERRY: They weren’t?
BILL MURPHY: No, because it’s a different time. And there wasn’t really that– no draft or anything like that, and they decided not to go in the military, and I don’t hold that against them. That’s an opportunity that they just didn’t want to pursue. But I think today it’s a great opportunity because we need volunteers out there to go in the military.
DAVID THORNBERRY: One more interesting question– as a child, did you ever see yourself going into the military at all?
BILL MURPHY: Yeah. I saw that, because I’ll tell you, I remember when I was young, we used to have a lot of these cowboy movies that were on at that time– Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and all them. It was a lot of guns and shooting at that time, and I used to play with these little lead soldiers.
You don’t see them anymore because of the lead stuff that gets into your brain or whatever. But we would always play with them, and the culture at that time was– you’d see a lot of war movies and everything like that. And yeah, I’ve figured that sooner or later I’d be in the military.
Because if you look at our society– not only our society, but society in general– what has been is for thousands of years, there’s conflicts throughout the world– wars that are going to keep on going on. And it’s a nice idea to have peace throughout the world, but in reality, I don’t think we’re going to see it, but hopefully someday you will.
DAVID THORNBERRY: All right. At any point in your service to the country, did you ever feel that we were fighting for the wrong reasons?
BILL MURPHY: Well, personally, yeah, I think so. Like I say, I got out of the military in 1968, and I was going to go back in as a pilot. I was enlisted when I was in the military, and I passed both the Air Force and the Navy flight test. But then I decided– that was in 1971 after I graduated from Penn State that I decided I didn’t want to do it.
One of the reasons was– and this is my own personal thing– is that we’ve lost over I think it was 50,000 or 55,000 deaths in Vietnam, and we just pulled out of there. And as a matter of fact, the latter part of ’71, I was up in Canada, and I was a protester against the war in Vietnam at that time, and got involved in it. And I think it was a mistake that we got involved in that protracted war, and we really didn’t get a whole lot out of it. Because once we left, all those people over there, they came under communist rule, and they were massacred by the hundreds of thousands.
The same thing if you look at history over in that area with Pol Pot regime that was over in Cambodia, and they basically did away with– massacred over a million-plus people. And you hope when you go into a war that there’s going to be a total outcome, and I don’t think that we really had our ideas of what we wanted to do if we did win the war. And the same thing if you look at today, like over in the Middle East.
We get these ten-year wars or whatever. This is just my own personal feeling on it is we could be doing different things with our money instead of keeping getting all these wars. But unfortunately, a lot of times this is just what would war is. If the United States doesn’t do it, who’s going to do it?
DAVID THORNBERRY: Well, we’re getting close to the end of our interview time. Is there you’d like to say before we head off?
BILL MURPHY: No, I’d just say I’m very grateful and thankful to the Community Media Center to have this opportunity to discuss issues that the veterans have, the good work that’s being done. It’s around Carroll County that we are supporting our veterans, and also for the commitment of our veterans that allowed us to have a better society here. And this freedom that we enjoy here in Carroll County is a result of the sacrifices of many of our veterans that gave their lives for support of this country, and I’m very, very grateful to them and also to all of our representatives here.
We might have our problems, but I think that we’re going to resolve a lot of them. Because the freedom that we enjoy is so important to all of us, and let’s keep it free.
DAVID THORNBERRY: Mr. Murphy, thank you so much for coming in to be interviewed.
BILL MURPHY: Thank you very much, David.