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Obituary (NC): Thomas Eugene Murphree '48

Posted on 07/23/2018

Col Thomas Eugene Murphree (retired USMC)  (Sept. 9, 1923—July 10, 2018)

A veteran of three wars, Col. Thomas Eugene Murphree, 94, U.S. Marine Corps retired, of Newport, died Tuesday, July 10, 2018, at Carteret Health Care in Morehead City.

His funeral will be at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Beaufort, at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 21, with the Rev. Michael Singer, interim rector, presiding. Interment, with military honors, will follow immediately afterward in “the sanctuary” Mr. Murphree built on his farm in Stella.

Born Sept. 9, 1923, in Troy, Ala., Thomas “Gene” Murphree was graduated from Troy High School where he was the high school tennis champion, captain of the football team and president of the senior class.

At the start of World War II, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Promoted to private first class as the honor graduate of his boot camp platoon, he joined an amphibious Marine Corps battalion preparing to invade the Solomon Islands in 1942. But since he had requested to be sent to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., which his first sergeant had overlooked, he was pulled and sent back to the states. In a competitive exam, Pfc. Murphree came in 11th out of 3,250 applicants and was sent to an academy preparatory school, graduating from the Naval Academy in 1947 that began a 27-year Marine Corps career ending with his retirement Aug. 1, 1974.

At the academy, Midshipman Murphree met his future wife, Janet Sterling, the daughter of Cmdr. Theodore Weld Sterling, an academy professor. They were married on his graduation June 7, 1947.

Buying property and a small house on Bogue Sound in the early 1950s, Mr. Murphree and Janet, who celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in June, became full time county residents when they moved here so he could supervise construction of their home, “Shorewood Cottage,” which was completed in 1998.

Col. Murphree bought the working farm in Stella in the 1970s, and it has produced a variety of crops. After a Caribbean cruise in his early 80s, and wanting to invest overseas, he did an internet search for potentially good investments, discovering that Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras that he had visited, fit the bill. Then using the internet, he designed two homes on Roatan, one for himself and one as a rental. Subsequently, he supervised their construction.

His Marine Corps career began as a platoon commander with the 5th Marines in 1947, serving overseas in various assignments. Promoted to 1st lieutenant, he volunteered for flight school. Upon completion he was designated a Marine Corps aviator. In the Korean War, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three air medals and a Purple Heart.

From December 1954 to March 1957 as a captain, he was project officer for the Sidewinder air-to-air missile development project in China Lake, Calif., the most successful missile in the history of sophisticated air-to-air weaponry.

Other significant events in his life were serving in Marine Corps fighter squadrons from March 1957 to April 1962, then as a major in 1963-64 and comptroller directing the preparation and justification of the $15 million annual budget of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, N.C.; then as a lieutenant colonel

commanding the Marine Corps Reconnaissance Squadron of 36 aircraft in the 2nd Marine Air Wing designated “The Outstanding Squadron” from August 1964 to September 1966; then chief of the highly secret Sensor Development Section in the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara from September 1966 to May 1969 that developed a sensor system impeding infiltration of the North Vietnamese into South Vietnam, saving countless lives, for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit; then as a colonel, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 13 (four squadrons of F-4 Phantoms [72 aircraft] and two support squadrons, comprising 3,000 men) at Chu Lai Air Base, Vietnam, from May 1969 to July 1970; then chief of staff, Marine Corps Development Center, Quantico, Va., from July 1971 to May 1973; followed by special assignment to the Secretary of Defense as military adviser to the government of Kuwait May 1973 to August 1974.

When Col. Murphree was assigned to the Marine Corps Development Center, there were 28 full colonels also assigned, 26 of whom were senior to him, a potential source of friction. But at the end of his assignment, the director of the Development Center, a Marine Corps major general, placed the following in his officer record: “Despite his low seniority he has served magnificently as chief of staff — has avoided all rank inversion problems by tact, diplomacy and common sense. Works well under pressure and is never stampeded or overwhelmed — recommend he be considered for promotion ahead of contemporaries because of his professional competence and personal attributes.”

During his 27-year Marine Corps career, Col. Murphree and his wife made at least 30 moves.

Schools he attended during his Marine Corps career were the guided missile school from January to December 1954 studying electronics, propulsion and aerodynamics; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., April 1962 to July 1963 where he obtained a master of science and a business administration degree in industrial management; and the Army War College from July 1970 to July 1971 studying politics and national strategy. 

His commendations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, three air medals and a Purple Heart for service in the Korean War; Legion of Merit, six air medals for service in the Vietnam War and the Legion of Merit as chief of sensor development when he was with the Defense Communications Planning Group and met the development goal of one year which normally would have taken five years. The sensors remain in the U.S. armed forces inventory today and current doctrine includes their use in tactical operations.

Upon retirement from the Marine Corps, Mr. Murphree worked with the Xerox Corp. in Philadelphia, Pa., first as a service manager from 1974-74 where he was in charge of foreign military equipment sales with a $300 million sales objective and then as special assistant to the region service manager in Arlington, Va., until June 1977 when he joined Garden State Paper Co., Richmond, Va., as a vice president of planning and services. In March 1978, he became president of GSP Recycling Corp. and president of Great Eastern Packing & Paper Stock Corp., New York City, N.Y.

Mr. and Mrs. Murphree were involved in numerous civic activities in Richmond including the Virginia Opera Association of which he was president. They attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church for two years before transferring their membership to St. James Episcopal Church.

Surviving Mr. Murphree in addition to his wife Janet are three sons Theodore Sterling Murphree, Washington, D.C.; Thomas Eugene Murphree, Manassas, Va., and Dr. Timothy Michael Murphree and his wife, Brandy, of Tryon, N.C.; three grandchildren, Jay Sterling Murphree, Thomas Joel Murphree and Amy Murphree; three great-grandchildren, Kylie Jane Murphree, Karah Elizabeth Murphree and Thomas Jaxon Murphree.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials be made to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 215 Ann St., Beaufort, N.C. 28557.

Arrangements are by Brooks Funeral Home and Crematory of Morehead City.

Brooks Funeral Home & Crematory
201 Professional Circle
Morehead City, North Carolina 28557
Phone: 252 726-5580
Fax: 252 247-5580