Landmarks of Dekalb County, Alabama

World War II Veterans Book: The Murdock Brothers

An Excerpt

Charles Luther Murdock was born July 10, 1916.

Melvin Elijah Murdock was born October 19, 1918.

They died December 7, 1941 in service to their country.
Father: Charles (“C.W.”) Murdock.
Mother: Sletie (Rains) Murdock.
Brothers: DeWayne Murdock, Thomas Murdock, Verlon Murdock.
Sisters: Lysonia Ladd, Vera Slaton.

(Below » Left: Charles Luther Murdock, Right: Melvin Elijah Murdock)

Charles Luther Murdock / Melvin Elijah Murdock

Young 18-year-old Charles had enlisted in the US Navy in 1934. At the time of his death he had advanced from the rank of seaman recruit to the rank of water- tender first class petty officer.

Nineteen-year-old Melvin enlisted in the US Navy in 1937. At the time of his death he had advanced from the rank of seaman recruit to the rank of water- tender second class petty officer.

Times were hard in the mid-to-late thirties in the United States. The country was still in the throes of the Great Depression that began in the late 20s. Even the more affluent were limited by the economic conditions that existed. This created an environment that made the armed services a very attractive alternative for young men seeking employment. It offered added bonuses––education, travel beyond home to experience new adventures, and for many, a means of supporting themselves and sending money back home to help their families.

The two Murdock brothers decided to join their older brother, Thomas, and enlisted in the US Navy. They enjoyed the good fortune of being stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and especially being assigned to the USS Arizona (BB-39), Thomas’ ship. America was at peace when they underwent boot training. All of that changed on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The Arizona, a Pennsylvania class battleship, commissioned in 1918, was moored in Pearl Harbor’s “Battleship Row ” on the morning of December 7, 1941. It lay calmly among the 130 vessels of the US Pacific Fleet in the serene waters of Pearl Harbor. That calm was shattered about 7:55 a.m. when the first wave of Japanese aircraft arrived over their target.

At 8:10 a.m. the USS Arizona was hit by several bombs, one slamming into her deck and igniting her forward ammunition magazine. The explosion was so violent the battleship sank in less than nine minutes, carrying 1,177 of her crew to a watery grave. Charles Luther and Melvin Elijah Murdock were among them. The two young men born just two years apart had played together, laughed together and served their country together. Perhaps it was fitting that they died together. As water-tenders they were both on duty in the boiler room when it the explosion occurred.

Charles Luther had turned 25 on July 10, 1941, and during that month had spent about ten days with his parents. Melvin Elijah had turned 23 on October 19. Luther had been in the US Navy for seven years and Melvin would have been in service for four years in April 1942. Just before his death Melvin had sent his kid brother $25.00 to buy a bicycle. Charles had been sending $25.00 a month to his parents to purchase an electric-refrigerator. They had sent home gifts that the parents considered “expensive.” The last time all of the boys were home together was November 10, 1939. C.W. and Sletie Murdock had recently sent each of their sons a large photograph of themselves, pictures that went down on the ship with them.

The older brother, Thomas D. Murdock, was married and lived offshore. Luther had dinner with Thomas and his wife in their apartment on Saturday night, December 6. Ironically, they invited him to stay overnight, but Luther declined because he wanted to get back to his ship.

After the assault, navy divers swam into the submerged wreckage of the Arizona searching for any identifiable belongings of the sailors that they could pass on to their families. They reported that they found nothing for the Murdock family. However, Thomas did not give up. He also donned a diving suit and swam through the sunken battleship to find his brothers’ lockers. He retrieved a bowling ball, a pocketknife and a pair of scissors for his parents. It is also reported that he found a shaving mug belonging to one of his brothers.

A news article about the tragic deaths of these young sailors in the January 7, 1942 edition of the Fort Payne Journal stated: “This fine family is taking the tragedy most patriotically. Mr. C.W. Murdock, Henagar, Route 3, the father, says now is the time for everyone to help the Red Cross all they can and to buy defense stamps and bonds”.

The USS Arizona was the most heavily damaged of all the vessels in Battleship Row. She suffered three near-misses and four direct-hits from the Japanese assault. The last bomb to strike her penetrated her deck starboard of turret two and detonated within a Fourteen inch powder magazine. The explosion caused the ship to collapse her forecastle decks, and created such a cavity that her forward turrets and conning tower fell thirty feet into her hull. She became the final resting place for many of the ship’s crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona Memorial grew out of the need to establish some sort of memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who died in the attack.

Operated by the National Park Service, in the 1960s an appropriate memorial structure was constructed over her midships hull.

The Arizona was awarded one battle star for her service in World War II. In October 1966 she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the ship herself was designated a National Historic Landmark in May 1989. Now, in 2008, over 67 years have passed since the explosion, but oil leaks from the hull still rise to the surface of the water. Survivors say that the oil will continue to leak until the last survivor dies. Memorial services are regularly held at the shrine, as many of those that survived continue to arrange for their ashes to be placed in the ship among their fallen comrades.

Medals awarded to each: Purple Heart Medal, American Defense Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Battle Star (for Pearl Harbor), World War II Victory Medal.

Charles Luther Murdock and Melvin Elijah Murdock left their hometown of Henagar to serve their county. They are entombed at Pearl Harbor, along with their fellow crewman who lost their lives on the USS Arizona. They are memorialized at the Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii, on tablets of the missing.