80th Division Loses Its Beloved Editor
By Terry D. Janes
It is with great sadness that I report the death of my dear old friend Bob Murrell. During the war, Bob was a machine gunner in the 318th Infantry Regiment. After the war, Bob served the 80th Division as the Secretary and Editor of the Blue Ridge Magazine. Prior to Bob taking that job, his predecessors had made a complete mess of things. What I mean by that, is that they had a snobbish attitude that unless a veteran was an actual infantryman, and from a unit that was organic to the division before it entered the war, then it was not a part of the 80th Division. As a result, they totally snubbed the men from the units which were attached to the division when it entered the war, or which were attached to the division during the war.
When I first began researching my book, I personally encountered some of that attitude. Because my uncle was from the 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils, the powers that be in the 80th Division Association actually went out of their way to discourage men of the division from talking to me. At the time, I did not understand this, and quite frankly, it pissed me off. Until I came along, no real history on the 80th Division and its attached units had been done. I volunteered to write that history, and was taking my precious time from my family and my career to do what our government had failed to do, and I was paying for it out of my own pocket. My goal was to make sure that the 35,000-plus men of the division would be remembered, and honored for the great deeds they had done for our nation during the war. How could someone possibly want to discourage that?
I decided that these people wishing to stop my work were not worth wasting time on, so I persevered and continued my work. Since the only people who were willing to talk to me at the time were mostly tankers from the 702nd, my book's material consisted mainly from sources from the 702nd. Since the 702nd was attached to the 80th Division for almost its entire time in the war, it also served as a good picture of what the division itself was doing. It wasn't what I wanted, but I had to work with what I had. I continued to encourage infantrymen from the division, and men from the other attached units to contribute memories, stories and material for the history. It was like pulling teeth, because there was an organized effort being made to stymie my work.
There were some infantrymen, and attached units men, who did not fall for the efforts against me, and saw the good in what I was trying to accomplish, early on. I self-published Volume One of my book, and as more material flowed in, I followed up with Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four and Volume Five. Unless you can afford to print in huge quantities, publishing books in print is a losing proposition. I lost money hand-over-fist in printed book publishing. Since that money was coming from my own shallow pockets, it was not long before I went completely broke. I had to stop my work, and get whatever side-jobs I could find to pay the bills and help support my young family.
During this time, demand for my books continued. Many of the 80th Division men who had worked so hard to stop my work, had bragged that they were coming out with "their own history", which would be the "real history" of the 80th Division in WW2. This book, done by the Turner Publishing Company, commonly called the "Turner History", was a complete joke, and nothing more than a glorified high-school yearbook. The 80th Division Association had sunk some of its membership money into the Turner Book, and encouraged the members to buy it. What was promised, was far from what was actually delivered. I began getting requests for my books from 80th Infantrymen, who were quite angry about how the Turner book had been done, and what a poor excuse it was for a real history of the division in the war, and how they felt cheated out of their money. These same 80th men began to share their stories with me. They went to reunions, told their friends that they found me to be sincere in telling the story of the entire division, that they liked me, and began encouraging their friends to also share their stories with me.
I had long talks with my dear old friend and mentor, Col. William B. Miller about what was going on. Bill had started in the 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils as a shave-tail lieutenant fresh from Officers Candidate School. He later became the company commander of B Company, 702nd during the war, with a battlefield promotion. Bill had a very long and distinguished career in the US Army, and was one of the wisest men I have ever known. Bill had seen this sort of silly inter-arms rivalry countless times in his career. He told me to ignore my nay-sayers, and keep up my noble work. What these snobbish people thought did not matter. What mattered was that for the sake of those men who lost their lives on the battlefields of Europe, and the families they left behind, that I continue my work. He knew that print-book publishing had broken me financially. He asked me what I thought about this new thing called "the internet", and did I think it might be useful in continuing the history project. For a time, I went on with my life, working to support my family. I never forgot Colonel Bill's words, and as more demand for my books continued, the more I thought about Bill's suggestion.
In 2002, I launched the website. I knew nothing about HTML coding, making a good website, or how to manage one. But, I had a goal. My goal was to take the history project to the internet. I wanted to make the history project free for anyone to read, anywhere in the world, and tell the world the story of the brave men of the 80th Division and all of its attached units. I also converted my five-volume book from print, to digital format, and republished it as a single volume. Until this point, the "e-book" was not invented yet, and nobody else was offering a book in digital form. What I had was a wholly new concept.
Because of the snobbishness they had encountered from the 80th Division Association, most of the men from the attached units were very angry at the 80th Association. Some had been told they were not welcome to join the association. Some had attended 80th Reunions, only to be confronted by some of these same snobs, and told to leave, that they were not welcome. Even my old friend, Colonel Bill Miller, who had been a founding member of the Florida Chapter of the 80th Association had attended a National 80th Reunion, and was confronted by 80th men and told to leave, that he wasn't 80th Division, and he wasn't welcome at the reunion. Bill was royally pissed, and vowed to never attend another reunion for as long as he lived. And he didn't. He continued attending the Florida Chapter meetings, and loved the men there, and was loved by them; men like the late Virgil Myers, Edgar Bredbenner, etc. Naturally, friends tell friends about their experiences, and the grapevine is soon awash in stories about how veterans were mistreated. Bill had gone to his grave never attending another national reunion again.
During the war, men from the attached units were assigned to, attached to, and served the 80th Division. They took their orders from the same officers as the infantrymen. They fought the same battles as the infantrymen. They fought the same enemies as the infantry, side by side. They bled from wounds just like the infantrymen. They died, just like the infantrymen, on the same fields, in the same destroyed towns and villages, and back at home, their families suffered just like those of the infantrymen. Many, just like my own uncle, have 80th Division marked on their headstones. My uncle was a platoon sergeant in Company B, 702nd Tank Battalion, Red Devils. At Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, my own uncle's headstone is marked, Frank L. Ream Jr., Staff Sergeant, 80th Division, WW2. Frank fought as an 80th Man, and Frank died as an 80th Man, and Frank is forever buried as an 80th Man. Folks, the dead don't practice foolish and childish inter-arms snobbery. They are equal in the sight of God, and the US Army.
When I began building the website, one of the first men who contacted me was Bob Murrell. Right away, Bob recognized what I was doing. We had many long talks. During those talks, we discussed the problem we both faced in this utterly stupid rivalry. Bob freely acknowledged that the men who had run the 80th Division Association before him had acted badly, that they had openly encouraged and fostered this ugly situation. He agreed completely that the history of the division was a shared thing, between the infantry and the attached units men. Neither the infantry, nor the attached units could have come close to accomplishing what they accomplished without the team effort they used to win the war. They worked together, they fought side by side, and they won the war, together, as a team.
Bob and I began a joint effort. He began encouraging the infantrymen to support the history project, and I worked on the attached units men to reconsider how important they were as 80th Division men. I let them know that a new man was in charge of the 80th Association now, a man who welcomed them with open arms as brothers. The old days, and the old ways of doing things were no more. Those terribly misguided men who started this foolish problem were dead now, and Bob Murrell was a friend to one and all. Little by little, Bob and I began making headway. More and more infantrymen began contacting me, sharing their stories. Those men and I became very dear friends. Most of the attached units men who were still alive, learned to respect Bob Murrell, and became his friend as well. The old feelings of bitterness and anger began to go away. Men began seeing each other as brothers-in-arms, and appreciating how those men in other units had helped their unit succeed, and indeed, how those men helped keep them alive, and able to come home to their families. In the process, the website grew from three simple pages, to the nearly 5,000 pages it is today.
As time passed, most of those men went home to God and left us. As that process progressed, my work slowly shifted from helping veterans directly, to helping their children, grandchildren and educating the public as a whole. A day came when Bob announced that he would be leaving his job as Secretary/Editor of the 80th Association. I told him that I was deeply sad about that, that he had done more for the division than any one man ever had. And, sad to say, the 80th Association has never been the same since he retired from his work. The people who have run it cannot hold a candle to Bob Murrell. That is not to say there hasn't been good men at the top, there have been. Bob Burrows, Virgil Myers and Jeff Wignall come to mind right away. Some of the leaders, even to this very day have been very poor at their jobs, and divisive in their actions. I won't name names, they know who they are, and many other people know them as well. But, Bob Murrell was the glue that held things together. He had a vision and a way of making it happen that no one else has yet matched. Sadly, I doubt that we will ever see another like Bob Murrell. But, people could take lessons from Bob Murrell!
Now, I am informed that Bob Murrell has gone home to God and his dear wife and daughter, and left us. I knew that this day would come, that Bob's health was slowly getting worse. The last time I talked to Bob before he died, his mind was a sharp as ever. He was saddened to see how things had deteriorated since he left, but he remained hopeful for the future. I am deeply saddened at the loss of my old friend. I am glad that his suffering is over now, and he suffered a lot. I am glad that he gets to be with his late wife and daughter in the arms of God. But still, I am going to miss my old friend. Bob was a warrior. Bob was a family man. But, whenever I think of Bob Murrell, I am reminded of a verse from the Bible, Book of Matthew, Chapter Five, Verse 9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." That, my friends, describes Bob Murrell perfectly. Bob Murrell was a Peacemaker. May God hold him in his arms, and bring comfort to his family and friends. To Bob, I would say, "Thank you for your friendship, and for all you have done for the men and families of the 80th Division and its Attached Units. You made a difference in this world!" Rest In Peace my brother, your battles are done.
Terry D. Janes
February 1, 2016
Kansas City, Missouri
Bob's Obituary is as follows:
Robert T. Murrell, 99, of Lewistown was born May 19, 1916 in Louisville, KY. He died at 1:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.
He was preceded in death by: his daughter, Gayle C. Murrell, of Oakmont, his wife of 71 years, Doris E. Murrell, of Lewistown; his parents, Robert and Anne (Horn) Murrell; and his two sisters and a brother.
Bob was the National Secretary/Editor/Historian of the 80th Infantry Division Association for eighteen years. He was National Commander of the 80th Association in 1982-83. He published several books on the 80th Division and was an Honorary Colonel of the 318th and 319th Infantry as well as a Kentucky Colonel. He enjoyed helping the children of the 80th men whose fathers were killed in action.
He was a long-time member of Rolling Hills Baptist Church, Penn Hills, PA where he served as a trustee and led the singing for a number of years, and upon moving from Oakmont, PA to Lewistown became a member of the First Baptist Church, of Mifflintown.
He is survived by: his son, Robert J. Murrell, of Lewistown; his nieces, Barbara Norwood, of Louisville, KY, and Connie Murphy, of Fla., and Debora Murrell of Louisville, KY; granddaughter, Amy Cook, of Lewistown; and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.
A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3 at First Baptist Church Mifflintown with Rev. Ron Shupe officiating.
A viewing will be held from 7 – 9:00 p.m. Wed. Feb. 3 at Heller-Hoenstine Funeral Homes, Woodlawn, 200 N. Main St., Lewistown.
A funeral service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Friday, Feb. 5 at Rolling Hills Baptist Church, 120 Gernert Drive, Verona, with Rev. Greg Drayer officiating. Arrangements are under the care of English Funeral Home, 378 Maryland Ave., Oakmont.
Interment with military honors will take place in Verona Cemetery, Oakmont, PA.
Memorials in Robert’s name may be made to First Baptist Church of Juniata County, “Building Project,” 23964 PA 35, Mifflintown, PA 17059.
Charitable donations may be made to:
First Baptist Church of Juniata County
"Building Project" 23964 PA 35, Mifflintown PA 17059
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