In From the Cold
(6/2013) I was born in Istanbul, Turkey on New Years Day 1961 of American parents based there while my father worked in a now defunct US facility as a Naval Intelligence officer keeping an eye on the Soviets to their North. The United States military demanded much of my parents and family, but in return provided a comfortable middle class life fraught
with intrigue and adventure, and eventual settlement in Washington, DC, then the capital of the free world.
My earliest memories of Dad and Mom were in Norfolk, Va. where my father was based after our four years in Turkey. I learned years later that he was involved in high level defense undertakings at the unlikely Va. beach base, The BBC recently did a documentary report which credited him, then Lieutenant John Murphy, with questioning the validity of an
order to invade Cuba during the missile crisis in 1962. The order would have been carried out without further questioning and per the TV show and expert accounts, would probably have led to a nuclear exchange. The BBC said he saved humanity when the invasion order was quickly determined a mistake. Credit seldom afforded a living human being because it might go to his head!
Not Dad, the Cold War was on and the intelligence world had of necessity to be "rolling stones" to compete with the Communist international.
I lived with my mother, an older sister born at Andrews Air Force base, and younger sister and brother born in Norfolk. Among my earliest memories were my mother telling me that Dad was going to Vietnam for a year and giving me a picture of him in uniform which she said I should keep safe. John Murphy was a Sovietologist, and Russian linguist, but
somehow got sent to that simmering backwater to serve with WESTPAC in 1964/65, and help thwart South East Asia dominoes. He was based on the Jamestown, a destroyer, and performed a still largely classified role. He spent extensive time ashore, witness by pictures of the era, but the war was in its infancy and the 1965 Tonkin Gulf impetus for action still looming.
Dad returned to Norfolk, where his older brother, Ralph Murphy, eventually Admiral Ralph Murphy, was also based. I recall visiting his destroyer docked in the harbor there, and taking a skiff along with my family and some sailors to another sight on the water, then returning to his ship. It was all quite placid for the family, and dad gave few
indications as to the real stresses he was facing in performing his intelligence duties. Family time was fun time for him, with birthday parties witness to party hats and laughter. He was in charge of the family and we knew it, but wasn't nasty like the parent's of some neighbors also Naval officers living near base.
In 1966 President Johnson was increasing the US presence in Vietnam, and John Murphy was sent to the Pentagon as a base of operations. I remember moving to Bethesda, Md. a dreary, rainy day from sunny Norfolk, and hating it. But I was five, and would adjust!
About a year after our move, Dad, then a Lt. Cdr. got a late night phone call, quickly dressed and went to work. The USS Pueblo had been seized by the North Koreans, and my father had assigned the crew and was integral to its attempt at repatriation. Dad swears to this day the ship was in international waters when seized, and I being six years old
thought it part of the Vietnam conflict and a natural extension of hostilities.
I told my first grade teacher of my father's involvement in the deployment and rescue efforts of the event, and she told my class as an item of interest, which led to a deluge of phone calls to my house from concerned parents who had somehow been given the impression my father was one of the POWs. My mother fielded them well, and denied any family
involvement in the event.
Sports were an infectious passion of my father, and he would take me, my brother, and friends to the playing fields of the Bethesda Naval Hospital each weekend to work out. That until we were old enough to play organized ball to include football, track, and soccer. About a year after the Pueblo incident Dad told me he was being sent back to Vietnam for
another year of duty this time on an air craft carrier, The USS Kitty Hawk. He was there just in time for the Tet Offensive, and directed much of the fighter bombing. He spent considerable time on Vietnamese turf, getting shot at and returning fire while successfully delivering and picking up mail, and was left at an undisclosed drop off point where he spent the night as the
US military in the area considered a pick up too dangerous in the VC controlled area.
Dad was vague about his Vietnam dealings, but did play a role in missions such as "Rolling Thunder" and "Linebacker Two" which were largely successful in instilling casualties on the enemy, but steeled the opposition who took the seven million dead and injured in stride. The smart money saw a populace willing to wait out the American military in
Vietnam and either fighting for, or tacitly approving a Northern win in that shattered nation.
John Murphy returned from the war in 1969 as affable as when he left, and judging by personal photos taken on the mainland had played a more extensive role in the event than he had let on to us at home. His drinking increased as the domestic counter culture springing from the conflict claimed its toll on morality and American values. He told me he even
considered moving to Ireland upon retirement in his disgust at the Hippies' win. I was right there with him, and grew up in a drug oriented and promiscuous culture which I hated, as did the CIA where I eventually found kindred souls.
The Navy paid for Dad's graduate degree in Russian studies, and my exposure to the Soviet exiles and others at book stores while visiting down town led me to believe at that very young age that Russian was the official language in Washington and English was spoken as a secondary one. During the early 1970's Dad would also take me to the Pentagon, where
I absorbed the military hardware on display eg, shoulder held anti aircraft weapons, military issue small arms, and other paraphernalia. I also met senior military leaders who appeared to enjoy my presence as a youngster in that otherwise austere setting.
I lived in the same Bethesda house for ten years, when in 1976 my father was offered a job in the private sector which would triple his income, for pretty much the same type of work duties. He accepted the job, and our "middle" middle-class family became an upper middle-class one with a new house in a loftier area of the suburb, and a wealth of
contacts ranging from the State Department, children of Congressmen and Senators, CIA, and many private sector workers.
We were officially out of the military, and living quite well, but never forgot from whence we'd come. In my later dealings with the government I was sent to the Pentagon on rare occasion, and would think back to my childhood relationship with the building and its personnel. The military had sustained and formed me and my family, looking back, provided
ideals and challenges no other organization likely could. It was a long life journey which for me never really left the area, and I wouldn't have it any other way! Ralph Murphy
Read past editions of Ralph Murphy's Common Cents