When Sam Murphey landed in Vietnam in March of 1967, the then-first lieutenant had been in the Army just 18 months. Back in those days, the Harker Heights resident said, you didn’t get there with a bunch of unit buddies by your side.
“I had nobody. I was an individual replacement. I got on the airplane, didn’t know anybody, got off, didn’t know anybody, went through the 121st Replacement Detachment, got my assignment. I’m not sure how I got up country, whether it was by maybe a little Air Force cargo jet, or helicopter,” Murphey recalls of his entry into the war.
After a weeklong orientation, he was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Artillery, and began his yearlong tour with the unit as an artillery forward observer, before later being promoted to captain and serving as a fire support officer for an infantry battalion.
Murphey, 70, described his year in Vietnam as “gruesome,” and said he kept the haunting memories locked away for years, even from his wife.
After retirement, Murphey began working for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards in 1991, a role that allowed him an invitation to a pre-screening at Fort Hood of the 2002 Mel Gibson movie, “We Were Soldiers.” The film depicts the first major battle in the American phase of the Vietnam War.
It was, as Murphey recalls, the first time he’d confronted his own memories from the war.
“I had not been in a battle quite like those guys were, but it’s just a matter of degree. All the stuff I’d spent all those years packing down, came up, and I’m not sure I’ve satisfactorily packed them back down again,” he said.
Despite the difficult realities of war Murphey experienced in Vietnam, he does not regret going.
“In the grand scheme of things, I’m glad I did it. I can always say my country called me to go, I went. I served, and I’m proud of that,” he said.
After 16 years working with Edwards, Murphey served as a Harker Heights councilman and now teaches government courses at Central Texas College.