“We were young and so far from home. In a place that we had never known. But we were happy and scared. So alone.”
That’s an excerpt from “The Promise,” a song written by Vietnam veteran Jack Murphy. He sings the solemn tune while playing his guitar. The music video on YouTube shows images of his unit, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, during the Vietnam War. The video has been viewed 19,000 times so far.
Murphy, who resides in Delran, New Jersey, wrote the song in 1995 as a tribute and sent cassettes to veterans he knew. He said he never wanted to sell the song, just express their feelings. Years later someone with his unit asked to use the song for a YouTube video. Murphy put the tune on CDs and sent hundreds across the country.
“It’s all for free,” he said. “It’s just to honor the guys who have fallen and for people who have served.”
Murphy, 71, has been writing songs since he was 15. He played in rock bands in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I’d always wanted to write something about Vietnam but just couldn’t,” he said. “I guess it’s just the same mindset of not wanting to talk about it back then. Nobody wanted to talk about it or hear about it. And I just couldn’t make it come out back then.
“Until one night (in 1995), I just picked up my guitar, sat on the bed and within 15 minutes I had this song. It just flowed right out.”
His song struck a chord in the veteran community. It has been used on various websites and on public television. In 1996 it was played at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Murphy would spend every Veterans Day and Memorial Day at The Wall for more than 15 years.
With the song, “I just wanted to touch as many veterans as possible,” he said. “I like to think it’s their voice, their feelings coming out. It’s everyone’s story, in other words.”
Murphy is originally from Croydon, Pennsylvania, which is 20 miles north of Philadelphia. He served in Vietnam with the Army’s 199th Light Infantry Brigade from March 1969 to March 1970. The 20-year-old private first class spent the first three months south of Saigon.
He was wounded to the face and leg by shrapnel from a booby trap. He spent two weeks in the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon and two weeks in a convalescence hospital in Cam Ranh Bay.
When he left the hospital, his unit was moving up north to the jungles in Xuan Loc. Murphy became an infantry radio/telephone operator.
“That was an experience going from fighting the Viet Cong down in the rice paddies (south of Saigon) to fighting the North Vietnamese in the jungles,” he said.
He was a specialist 4 when he left Vietnam after his yearlong tour. “Terrible,” he said of his war experience. “Frightening; 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, you’re scared to death.”
Except for his family, he received a “very cold” reception when he returned to the states.
“I remember walking through the airport (the Philadelphia International Airport on March 5, 1970),” he said. “And people wouldn’t look at me. Ignored me. Here I was proud with ribbons and stuff, and people wouldn’t even look at me.”
After his three-year enlistment, the awards he received from his war service included the Combat Infantry Badge, the Purple Heart, three Army Commendation Medals, and an Air Medal.
Murphy has lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. He worked in a steel mill for 13 years. Next he worked 11 years at the Naval Air Station at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and retired in 2002 as a driver for the medical clinic. He is 100 percent disabled with post-traumatic stress disorder and a history of heart disease.
His wife of 13 years, Eileen, is also an Army veteran. They moved to New Jersey from Palmerton, Pennsylvania, three years ago. Murphy has a son, John, of Levittown, Pennsylvania; a daughter, Lisa Kamaras, of Cinnaminson, New Jersey; and four grandchildren.
When he can, Murphy attends reunions of his platoon from the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He likes to write songs, play acoustic and electric guitars, and ride his motorcycle.
Murphy shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War. To him, it’s like the belated fulfillment of a promise to those who served in Vietnam.
“I think it’s terrific that they’re acknowledging the Soldiers and the people involved in the Vietnam War – the people at home, the parents, the brothers and sisters,” he said. “It affected everyone.”
Editor’s note: This is the 256th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.