World War II air force buddies

PATTY MILLER | THE EDMOND SUN World War II veterans Jesse Murray Jr., of Edmond, and William �ill�Walker, of Fresno, Calif., look at a photograph of Walker sitting in the pilot� seat of his C-47 airplane. Murray took the photograph 65 years ago and met Walker this week for the first time in as many years.

Two men separated by only a few feet flew together in 1945, but they never knew each other.

That all changed Wednesday when the pilot met the radioman face to face for the first time in more than 65 years.

They had flown numerous missions together during World War II. They could prove it by the flight log books each diligently kept. Eighty-seven-year-old William “Bill” Walker of Fresno, Calif., was the pilot, and Jesse Murray Jr., 83, of Edmond, was the radioman.

“Our pay depended on our flight log books,” Murray said, “so we made sure they were accurate.”

Because of the structure of the Navy, the commissioned officers seldom knew the names of the non-commissioned officers flying with them, much less shared a friendship.

“I am lucky he would even talk to me,” Murray said laughing.

In 2002, with the encouragement of his wife, Beverly, Murray logged onto a Web site showing flight squadrons, and he began his search for former veterans from his naval division.

“In April of 2007, I got an e-mail from Bill,” Murray said.

Walker’s wife had found Jesse’s contact information and had given it to her husband.

“My wife is the computer nerd, and she found Jesse’s information along with that of two other men who had also served in the same squadron,” Walker said. “I decided that I was going to find someone that had served when I did.”

Walker said he sent three e-mails.

“Jesse’s is the only one that bounced back,” he said.

Murray said he had corresponded with both of the other men, but in the past years they had both died. More than 1,000 men and women who served their country during World War II die each day.

As they shared war stories over the Internet and now face to face, the two grew a friendship that was 65 years overdue.

“Everybody had a story when they came back from the war,” Walker said, “and nobody wanted to talk.”

Murray joined in and said, “Now we like to share our stories.”

And for four days, that is what these two gentlemen, linked by a war that took place more than 65 years ago, have done.

“Radiomen are creative; they are a breed apart,” Walker said. “They all wanted to push the envelope, and Murray was no different.”

Walker told of Murray going into caves on islands in the Philippines with a lighter and without a second thought.

“We were told to stay out of the caves, they could be hiding places for the Japanese soldiers,” Murray said.

“I am amazed he made it,” Walker added.

Murray was an aviation radioman 2nd class, and he was one of the few men who took a camera with him when he went to war. Murray documented many places and events in photographs, some of which were censored until after the war when they were returned to him.

One of his photos is a picture of a pilot in the cockpit — Walker, then a lieutenant. Walker saw the photo for the first time when Murray sent it to him after they had started corresponding by way of the Internet.

“It is the only picture I have of me in a plane,” Walker said.

“Our job was to get supplies to the front,” Murray said. “We could put them on land in a hurry. We would also take Marines in and haul the wounded out.”

And Walker said on each plane there was always a mail pouch.

In addition to flying together in and out of islands like the Manus and Los Negros and Biak Island, northeast of New Guinea, Murray said they flew to Australia together at least once.

Murray said he also flew into Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, the same field Russell Dougherty flew out of before he was killed at the start of the war. Dougherty was the first Edmond High School graduate to die in World War II.

Thursday both men were sporting World War II veterans hats. Walker said Murray told him he had to have one so they would know who each other was when Walker disembarked from the plane.

Walker said he didn’t know if it is because Oklahoma is in the heartland or not but, “I am surprised at how many people have come up to me and thanked me for my service to the country. That is something that used to never happen.”

As the men continued looking through Murray’s scrapbook, memories were revived and stories were shared by the two friends sitting a few feet apart, this time at a kitchen table.

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