Up the River: A WWII “Coastie” in China

(By Norm Freeman)

Earl Murray (1944)

Post 41’s only World War II Coast Guard veteran was up the Wangpoo (now Huangpu) River in China in 1944, on the FS (Freight Supply) 314, a shallow-draft supply ship.  Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class, Earl Murray was aboard the Coast Guard-manned, Army vessel on a general aid-to-navigation (ATON) mission.  The Wangpoo is the primary commerce artery of Shanghai, entering from the East China Sea.

In 1942, Earl Murray was 22 years old in his native Springfield, Massachusetts, and eager to join the fray.  His occupation as a gunsmith with Smith & Wesson deferred him from service, and he had to persuade his boss to let him enlist.  Dental problems prevented him from enlisting in the Navy and Marines, but the Coast Guard solved his dental dilemma and inducted Earl in July, 1942.

After basic training at Manhattan Beach, New York, Earl was assigned to the Receiving Station on Ellis Island, working in the First Aide Office.  Earl’s first ship was the USS Alacrity, carrying supplies between Manhattan Beach, Florida, and Guantanamo, Cuba.  Earl next attended Gunner’s Mate School in St. Augustine, Florida, where he graduated first in his class.  The class and quarters were in a converted hotel, The Ponce De Leon.

Earl Murray

Upon completion of training, Earl was assigned to the FS-314 and sailed through the Panama Canal enroute to the South Pacific.  The ship ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Hollandia, New Guinea; Fiji; and Luzon on the trip to China.  Earl was at the helm as they journeyed up and down the Wangpoo River taking bearings.

He was next assigned to the USS Mesquite and was in Luzon, Philippines, when the war ended.  His last ship was the USS Admiral C. F. Hughes.  Earl returned to Alameda, California, and crossed the country by rail to be discharged in Boston, Massachusetts, in January, 1946.

Earl served on shallow-draft vessels, capable of entering shallow waters, but unstable in rough seas.  A heavy storm off the Carolina coast when Earl was in the Crow’s Nest gave him quite a ride.  As the ship swayed from side-to-side, Earl was yelling and singing as if it were an amusement park ride.

Earl was awarded the American Area Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Area Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

Earl met his wife, Doris Westerberg, in a Baptist Church mixer, and they were married in 1954 in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Earl retired from the US Postal Service in 1981.  They have two children, Glenn Murray and Joann Murray Ballard, and four grandchildren.  Glenn is an active duty Commander in the Naval Reserve.

Earl and Doris moved to Berryville from Florida to be closer to family.  He has been a member of Post 41 for two years.

Note: Earl O. Murray died on January 31, 2014.

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