NEWBERRY — First Lieutenant D. Murray Price reflects on his military service in World War II with equal measures of pride and humility.
As the number of living WWII veterans continues to dwindle, the number of requests for interviews and speaking engagements continues to increase for the 95-year-old former Army aviator. He gladly accepts those requests, he said, to honor the memory of all those who served and sacrificed for their country.
“Every time I tell my story, it’s a tribute to them,” Price said.
When the United States was drawn into the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Price knew it wouldn’t be long before Uncle Sam would come calling. Rather than waiting to be drafted and assigned at the whims of the military, Price volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in August 1942.
Price sat for the aviation cadet exam at Fort Jackson and was one of only two test takers in that round accepted into flight school. A large percentage of cadets washed out during flight training, but Price persevered. Nine months later he sported his hard-earned pilot wings and the iconic leather flight jacket he treasures to this day.
Price was assigned as the co-pilot of a 10-man flight crew that began training on B-24 bombers. They represented 10 different states, three different religions and many diverse backgrounds, but they all came together as a crew during their training at bases in California, Arizona and Nevada.
In September 1945, they left Hawaii for the Pacific theater and the first of many combat missions in Saipan and later Guam.
They dubbed their plane, “Complete Miss,” as a nod to their hopes that the crew would always hit its targets and that enemy fire would always miss their plane. They got their wish – mostly.
“We were very fortunate,” Price said. “We flew 40 combat missions and not a single member of my crew ever got physically injured.”
However, they had plenty of closes calls.
“Of course, we were hit,” he said. “We were hit plenty of times. In fact, I recall we were hit on 15 consecutive missions.”
Paradoxically, one of the most harrowing missions burned into Price’s memory didn’t directly involve his plane. On a bombing mission over Iwo Jima, his squadron was attacked by a dozen Japanese Zeroes and the bomber flying off his right wing was shot down.
The two flight crews had spent the previous evening playing cards and telling stories of home. He watched in horror as their plane, billowing smoke, crashed into the water and exploded, instantly killing comrades he considered close friends.
“Ten men, gone like that,” Price said, snapping his fingers.
On the return flight from that terrible mission, rather than grieving or raging against fate, Price recalled feeling surrounded by a sensation of peace.
“It was the most beautiful feeling,” he said. “Everything was so quiet and pleasant and peaceful. I felt almost like I was in the presence of God and I remember thinking I just felt like God was with us.”
Price returned stateside in August 1945 with several commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. Like most WWII veterans, he came home, married his girlfriend, Frances Addy, and started a family and a career. He began as a salesman in the wholesale food distribution industry and worked his way up the ranks. He retired 39 years later as the executive vice president and CEO of PYA/Monarch.
Price graduated from Lexington High School in 1940, but never went to college. On-the-job experience served him well, but Price wanted more opportunities for his children. Two of his children are Newberry College alumni – Debbie, a 1974 graduate, and Jerry, who graduated in 1976.
Jerry was a founding member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity on the Newberry campus and Price supported his efforts. The fraternity honored Price’s support years later by inducting him as a member in 2010, possibly the oldest initiate ever inducted by a TKE chapter in the history of the national fraternity.
Like so many members of the Greatest Generation, Price had a heart for serving others and he did so tirelessly throughout his career and well into retirement. He served on the boards and foundations of numerous organizations, including YMCA of the Midlands, Lexington County Arts Association, Lexington County Health Education Foundation, Crime Stoppers, Franke Home and Midlands Technical College.
Price also served on the advisory boards of several banks and industry organizations. He was a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Columbia where he was a two-time recipient of the Paul Harris Award.
He has remained active in his church, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Lexington, well into retirement. In fact, it wasn’t until last year, at the age of 94, that he gave up handling lawn care for the church and handed it over to professional landscapers.
Price has been recognized repeatedly for his military service. In addition to his military awards, which include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with six bronze oak leaf clusters and two battle stars, he received the Sgt. William Jasper Freedom Award in 2015 from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the 2016 Annual Military Veterans Award from the Blue Star Mothers organization.
Newberry College honored Price on Nov. 11 on Veterans Day as part of its annual Founders Day convocation, conferring an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
“We are truly honored to recognize Mr. Price for his service to the country, to the Church and to the community,” said Dr. Maurice W. Scherrens, president of Newberry College. “He is a shining example how one person can make a difference in the lives of many.”
Price was both pleased and humbled by the award.
“It’s hard for me to encompass the thoughts of a high school kid that had his B.A. degree from the School of Hard Knocks and his master’s degree from the College of Experience, winding up with an honorary doctor’s degree,” he quipped. “I’m very honored.”
Price was one of the veterans who was instrumental in creating the Honor Flight program, which brings U.S. military veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials of the war(s) in which they fought at no cost to the veteran. He was on the first Honor Flight travelling to the nation’s capital.
“Those serving today will have similar stories – other people, other backgrounds,” Price said. “Men and women throughout the years have all accepted the call to serve, to protect and defend lives in the process. I hope all who hear my story will realized that there are thousands of others with similar stories and remember all those others who have served.”
Jill Johnson is the director of marketing for Newberry College.