James W. Murray’s many accomplishments as president of Oakland City University were easily enough to make him legendary. When he came to Oakland City College in the fall of 1974, after retiring from the Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel, the school teetered on the verge of collapse, strapped with falling enrollment, a lack of essential academic accreditation, and a number of buildings that desperately needed repair or replacement. At the end of his tenure at Oakland City in 2007, the basic campus one sees today had miraculously been established under Dr. Murray’s leadership, including a healthy enrollment, full accreditation, and major expansions in educational programs, capital improvements, and financial stability. (The Murray Center, at the very heart of the campus, is named after Dr. Murray and his wife, Rae). Forgotten, however, is another miraculous story about Jim Murray, this one involving Murray’s experiences at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.
Murray was an eighteen-year-old marine at that time, dug in at the farthest point of the Marines Corps’ advancement before hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers unexpectedly came pouring into North Korea and surrounded the Marines in the brutal early winter of 1950. It was a stunning turn of events, looking now as if the encircled American troops at the Chosin Reservoir would all be killed and/or captured. The Marines, however, had other plans.
In the process of fighting their way out in the coldest environment American armed forces ever experienced, Murray, and a handful of other Marines, volunteered to traverse rugged snow-packed mountains to help rescue the members of Fox Company who were under siege defending a high elevation that loomed over the Marine Corps’ path of escape. The daring trek took two days and nights, and in the ensuing battle for the strategic hill, Murray was severely wounded in fierce hand-to-hand combat, a Chinese soldier stabbing him in a kidney with a bayonet. Jim told about what happened next in his memoir, In His Service: “About the time I was wounded, the Chinese abruptly left the field. A Corpsman came running up and gave me a shot of morphine. At the time, I did not know I was allergic to the drug. I went into deep morphine shock.” Murray could not move, speak, or blink his eyes. “Oddly, I was completely conscious during this time, aware of everything going on around me.” Unwounded Marines, and those slightly wounded and able to walk, quickly refocused to get the severely injured moved back to safety, although the dead would have to be left behind. Murray still had the bayonet sticking in him from the back. “They thought I’d died,” Jim recalled. “I was dragged through the snow to where they were lining up the dead, a so called dead pile.”
Jim’s situation turned into a nightmare. Unable to move, he was completely aware of everything going on around him. “I’m completely paralyzed but my mind was whirling. I’m frightened to death because I know this is the dead pile.” Then Murray “felt a force, an energy that brought a wonderful calm. It came into me and caused me to finally let go and cry about all the unmentionable things I had seen and endured. Tears were just cascading down my face, and a Marine saw the tears and said, ‘Murray’s not dead.’”
James Murray was one of the last Marines from that group to be placed in a helicopter, now on the first part of a long journey back to a hospital in Japan. “I was never so thrilled or thankful in all my life when they dragged me back from the dead pile. I knew at that moment I owed God everything.” Thus, was a course set that would bring a man with a powerful sense of service to eventually lead Oakland City University through one of its most difficult times.