No. 5842. Class of 1918. “With rarer courage and conspicuous
gallantry he led a counter attack against the enemy five times his own numbers, July 15th 1918, east of Chateau Thierry, France, in which he was killed. Age 21.
First Lieutenant Kenneth Paul Murray, who was killed in action in the last Hun drive on the Marne, was the youngest son of Mary A. Murray and the late Philip J. Murray, of Mount Vernon, N. Y.- born April 21, 1897, and was thus but 21 years of age at the time of his death – he attended the public schools of Mount Vernon, N. Y., and while attending the High School took the competitive examination for entrance to West Point; he was then only sixteen years of age, nearly a score of other young men took the test also.
The studious Mount Vernonite headed the list and passed the West Point examination with honors. A few months subsequently he received notification of his appointment. Entering the Military Academy in June 1914, he worked hard and displayed admirable diligence. His objective was a graduation with honors and he let nothing stand in his way in an effort to attain this goal. Consequently, he was graduated from West Point on August 30, 1917, a number of months prior to the usual time, with the rank of Second Lieutenant.
After a limited furlough, he was assigned to Co. “G” 38th Infantry, which at that time was stationed at Syracuse, N. Y., and after a period of about two months his unit was sent to Camp Green, Charlotte, N. C. There the 38th Infantry received intensive training, and it is reported to have gone “over seas” at the same time Secretary of War Baker mar’e his journey – late in February, 1918. Before his departure for France he received his appointment of First Lieutenant. His last letter received by his mother was dated three days before he fell; in it he mentioned an expected attack by the Germans, as the artillery and the use of gas was quite active. Information in regard to the circumstances of his death is best explained by a communication received by his mother from the
Headquarters, Third Division, A. E. F., Major General J. T. Dickman Commanding, which reads as follows:
American Expeditionary Forces,
Headquarters Third Division.
France, August 23, 1918.
My Dear Mrs. Murray:
You have doubtless received notice that your son, First Lieutenant
Kenneth P. Murray, 38th Infantry, 3rd Division, was killed in action against the Germans on the morning of July 15th, 1918.
Major General J. T. Dickman, Commanding the Third Division wishes me to say to you that while he and the officers of your son’s command share in your sorrow in the loss of so brave and worthy a son, the General also wishes to express to you the pride he feels in the manner in which your son gave his life for his country and the righteous cause for which we are fighting.
It fell to the lot of this Division to defend the valley of the Surmelin River and the adjoining high ground along the south bank of the Marne River. It was the purpose of the German Army to cross the Marne and capture this high ground and the valley of the Surmelin, for this would give them easy access to the comparatively open country leading to Paris. If they had succeeded in their efforts, it would have made their position on the Marne very strong and ours correspondingly difficult. They did not succeed, but instead met with a repulse that threw them back in confusion, with some of their prize shock regiments practically wiped out and others demoralized and disheartened. The Germans launched their massed attack on this division by a furious artillery bombardment of all our positions, com- mencing at midnight on July 14-15, and which kept up all during the day of July 15. Just behind the bursting shells of this heavy artillery barrage came German Grenadiers and Guard Regiments, who had been especially drilled and trained for this attack and were known as shock troops.
They came down to the Marne River, carrying pontoon boats on their shoulders. Their attack was well and carefully planned, and their discipline was excellent. Our men on the south bank of the Marne opened fire, with rifles and machine guns, as soon as the enemy became visible in the darkness and mist of the early morning, mowing the Germans down on the opposite bank and in the boats they had launched. In spite, however, of our fire and their losses, they continued to come in masses, launching their boats as they reached the river, their crossing being protected by the artillery and by machine guns they set upon the north bank. In this manner, a considerable number of German troops succeeded in reaching the south bank, where “they quickly formed and set up their machine guns, and opened fire on our troops. Our men up to this time had been subjected to a constant and terrific artillery bombardment with high explosive shell and shrapnel followed by machine gun fire. What it means to undergo such bombardment only those who have gone through it can know. Our troops were young men, most of whom had never been under fire before, but in spite of all this our men stood their ground and met the Germans at the river bank, with the result that five German regiments were practically wiped out, and by nightfall all the enemy troops who crossed the Marne in our front had been either killed, wounded or captured, and not a living German remained in front of the Third Division.
The German wounded were cared for along with our own and sent to our hospitals without delay.
The German Army, stunned by this unexpected defeat, made no further serious effort; and three days later it was attacked by our troops to the west. In this attack the Third Division at once joined, with the result that the enemy was compelled to retreat and give up all the French territory he had won in his drive in May to Chateau-Thierry.
The part that your boy played in this defeat of the German Army is best explained in the following report by his immediate Commanding Officer, which is as follows:
“First Lieutenant Kenneth P Murray, 38th Infantry (killed in action), led repeated counter attacks on enemy machine gun positions and his fearlessness and ability contributed greatly to holding our lines.”
From this report you will see that your son, by his fearless and gallant conduct, contributed greatly to the success of our Division in its defeat of the German Army, as described above.
Your son has rendered a national service which must ever be a source of great pride and comfort to you. For this gallant conduct the Division Commander will recommend that the Distinguished Service Cross be awarded him.
If the recommendation is approved the Cross will be forwarded to you. With best wishes, I am,
Very sincerely yours, DAVID L. STONE,
Colonel Gen. Staff, A. C. S., G. I.
And also from his immediate Commanding Officer, who was Captain at the time of the battle, and was recently commended for gallantry under fire and received the distinguished service cross with the following citation: “With rarer courage and conspicuous
gallantry he led a counter attack against the enemy five times his own numbers, July 15th, east of Chateau Thierry. One hundred and eightynine men entered this attack and fifty-one emerged untouched. More than one thousand of the enemy were killed, wounded or taken prisoners.”
That citation gives an idea of the work that this Company must have done – one hundred and eighty nine opposed to thousands yet the point was won. Such is the prowess of the American and such was the spirit that carried Lieutenant Kenneth Paul Murray down.
The letter of Captain Wooldridge follows:
Headquarters 1st Battalion,
My Dear Mrs. Murray:
In writing you this letter, I am performing the saddest duty of a Company Commander. Your son, Lieutenant Kenneth P. Murray, died in action July 16th, 1918, while leading a desperate flank attack during the second battle of the Marne.
The United States Army has lost a brilliant soldier, the superior of whom it never had of his rank. He was consecrated to his duty, purposeful, loyal to his cause and a powerful agency for the upbuilding of morale and courage among the members of his Company.
You have lost a grand and noble son, a son who never had a selfish thought and whose sweet character will ever illuminate our memories and stand forth as an example of all that is honorable and clean.
His death was instantaneous. I was by his side when a machine gun bullet sent him to his Maker, sent him to his rest from whose bourn no traveler returns.
All personal effects were destroyed in bombardment.
His grave is where he fell, in an open field, some four hundred yards east by southeast of the church at Mezy, France. It is marked by a rifle and a small wooden cross bearing the inscription, “Lt. K. P. Murray. Died July 15, 1918, G Co. 38th Inf.” I feel that his spirit is with you, his loved ones at home.
In deepest sympathy, I remain,
J. W. WOOLDRIDGE, Captain 38th Inf.