‘Great adventure,” said Mick McMurry, in an interview with author Ann Noble. “Wouldn’t want to do it twice.”
Like many Vietnam veterans, McMurry talked little of his experience in the war. His interview with Noble in December 2008 was one of the few times he spoke about his time in Vietnam.
“Mickey was very non-conversational about his time in Vietnam,” said McMurry’s widow, Susie. “I tried a couple times to get him to talk about it. But it was just something he chose not to talk about. I don’t think he had any horrible experience, except that if you were there you saw a lot of things you wished you hadn’t seen; if nothing else, just the poverty and desperation of the people in Vietnam.
“I respected that attitude of Mickey’s,” she added, noting that like other veterans, she guesses he had experiences in Vietnam that were difficult to articulate to those who had not been there, and he may have been affected by the hostile public sentiment some veterans received when they returned home. “But it had to have a tremendous effect on anyone who was there, no matter what they were doing or what their jobs were.”
McMurry had graduated from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Commerce and Industry, and in August 1968, he was inducted in to the U.S. Army after receiving a draft notice.
Sense of duty
“It wasn’t by choice, but he didn’t object to going,” said Susie. “I think Mickey knew that it was his duty as a citizen to do what they were asking of him.”
McMurry attended basic training at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, and then trained for seven weeks as a unit and organization supply specialist and armorer at quartermaster school in Fort Lee, Virginia. After just a few months in the military, he arrived in Vietnam in early February 1969. There, he served as an armorer for the 128th Aviation Company Assault Helicopter, 11th Aviation Battalion, stationed at Phu Loi north of Saigon.
The 128th, with the nickname and call sign of “Tomahawks,” primarily supported the 1st Infantry Division during 1969. McMurry worked preparing weapons and keeping helicopters supplied for various missions. According to written quarterly reports of the unit from 1969, the unit made numerous flights, from combat assaults and medevacs to troop insertions and administrative flights. Although McMurry’s primary job was supplying the aircraft, he also made frequent flights.
“He always said, ‘You know, I had it easy. I was on the supply side,’” McMurry’s brother Vic said. “But he would take helicopter flights every chance he got. He loved to fly.”
“Mick would do his supply work and go up to the flight line and help get the mission done any way he could,” added McMurry’s longtime friend and fellow Vietnam veteran George Bryce. “He would fly helicopter flights to get closer to the action.”
More than a soldier
One story McMurry did share with his wife was that of a woman who came to his camp and did laundry for the soldiers.
“He did talk about a mama-san who had a lot of babies, and it was her job to do laundry and whatever. And Mickie always felt very sorry for her,” she remembered. “It was an older woman, or she looked older than she was, and Mickey said she had a desperate, desolate life with not much hope.”
McMurry’s dedication to service was recognized in early 1970 when he was chosen as Soldier of the Month for the 11th Aviation Battalion, a military unit of approximately 1,500 soldiers.
“In these trying times full of turmoil and often times despair, in an age where to stand up and be counted as a soldier may sometimes bring harsh and unfounded criticism from fellow unit members, you have risen above the common-place and have brought credit upon yourself and your unit,” wrote the commanding officer, noting that many positive comments from his fellow Tomahawks contributed to his choosing. “It is not only your exceptional job performance, appearance, military knowledge and bearing, and moral conduct that make you deserving of this award, but also your personal devotion to duty, and compelling desire to excel. A man and soldier of your caliber is the substance and reason for our country’s greatness and the United States Army’s outstanding reputation.”
“(That) commendation says everything about Mick that could be said,” said Bryce. “It truly is how Mick lived his entire life.”
A generous life
The qualities that were singled out by his commanding officer in the military would also serve McMurry well for the remainder of his civilian life as he built himself into one of Wyoming’s most successful businessmen and generous philanthropists.
McMurry returned from Vietnam in March 1970. Just a few months later, using $3,000 he had saved from his time in Vietnam, he and his brother Vic started their own construction company. Two years later, McMurry met Susie, and they were married in December 1973.
“He came home, and he had that money, and he and Vic started McMurry Brothers Construction,” said Susie. “They were already in business when I met Mickey. But they were very poor and very desperate. They just worked all the time. Mickey had that work ethic from the time he was about 10 years old. Mickey, all of his life, got up and got going. We always got up at 5 a.m. and there was never any question about it. That is just the way life was. Like it or not, there was no sleeping in!”
In later years McMurry worked in the oil and gas industry, helping to pioneer natural gas production and founding Nerd Gas in 1996. His success in business allowed him and Susie to found the McMurry Foundation and give generously to many philanthropic causes around the state for many years.
In addition to financial donations made by the foundation, the McMurrys welcomed children in need into their home, serving as foster parents for dozens of children over 15 years, and adopting two daughters.
McMurry also agreed to serve as honorary chair for the Wyoming Vietnam Veterans “Welcome Home” Reunion in June 2015. Bryce remembered that even then, after agreeing to lead the veterans celebration, McMurry still remained quiet about his service.
“That didn’t even spark conversations,” Bryce said.
Months before the event, on March 10, 2015, McMurry unexpectedly took his own life.
“I found out about the (military) commendation after he died. There was lots of awareness amongst all of us afterward, but he was gone 90 days before,” Bryce said.
“He was a loyal, determined, very compassionate and passionate person about the things he believed in strongly,” said Susie. “He supported whatever causes were important to him and to other people. I think from the time he got out of the military, it was his desire to build a better Wyoming. And by building a better Wyoming, it was building a better United States. He helped anyone who needed help, almost without exception. He wanted to give everyone a chance.”