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Remains of Marine lost off Saipan ID’d after 70 years

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia — Each Memorial Day, Ted Darcy announces on his website the identity of a fallen World War II service member long listed as unknown.

First, though, the Locust Grove-based researcher must be certain. After gleaning preliminary matches from a set of massive, self-built databases that compare the missing and dead against a detailed list of unknowns, Darcy pursues scientific evidence.

Marine Staff Sgt. Richard Murphy of Washington, D.C., performs his war correspondent duties during WWII.  Photo courtesy of Gerard Murphy/The Free Lance-StarMarine Staff Sgt. Richard Murphy of Washington, D.C., performs his war correspondent duties during WWII. Photo courtesy of Gerard Murphy/The Free Lance-Star

So it was in the case of Marine Staff Sgt. Richard Murphy Jr. of Washington, D.C., lost on the first day of the taking of the strategically significant Japanese island of Saipan.

He’d been among the 8,000 Marines tasked with storming the beaches early on the morning of June 15, 1944. Murphy would never make it.

When a comrade fell overboard from an amphibious craft en route to the beach, Murphy went in after him.

“They never saw either one again,” said nephew Gerard Murphy of Maryland.

Nearly a year went by before the military declared the 26-year-old Marine dead. “All routine search measures had been carried out without success,” his records state.

It took several more months for that official ruling to reach Murphy’s childhood home in Washington.

Murphy had been the youngest of four children, a likable, easy-going fellow with a fine sense of humor. He was also deeply patriotic. After earning a degree from Georgetown University and working for a time at the Washington Star, he tried to get a military commission to join the war effort.

Turned away for vision problems, Murphy enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942. Two years later, he was headed for the shores of Saipan, a battle that would claim nearly 3,500 Allies.

“There were so many people killed that they buried them in a trench on the beach and just had a mass grave,” Gerard Murphy said.

Six years later, in 1950, the trench was excavated, remains retrieved and either repatriated to the United States or reburied in the present-day Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.

Among those laid to rest in Manila in April 1950 was unknown X–15, a Marine with medium brown hair. “No identification tags, bottle burials, personal effects or other means of identification found with remains,” a note in the disinternment directive read.

His postmortem dental chart was filed away, perhaps to be compared to the records of missing Marines later on.

It would take 64 years — and a nonprofit group with which Darcy works — to make the ID.

The researcher had compiled both sets of dental records and sent them to Kuentai–USA, where two forensic dentists compared the record of each tooth, the porcelain crowns and gold bridges and silver fillings.

“We are of the opinion that the dentitions bear sufficient points of similarity to identify the decedent as: Richard Joseph Murphy Jr., S/Sgt.,” the group concluded.

The news came too late for Murphy’s parents and sisters and brother, all of whom have passed away.

It was Gerard Murphy, born six years after the Marine was lost, who got the call. Though they never met, Gerard Murphy grew up feeling like he knew the man he calls “Uncle Richard.”

He remembers the giant oil painting of the young Marine in uniform hanging next to a grandfather clock in his grandparents’ small apartment. The Marine’s ribbons and Purple Heart were displayed nearby.

Gerard Murphy now treasures them. He thinks about what such news would have meant to his grandparents and his own father, the Marine’s older brother.

“It would have been something that would have brought closure to them,” said Gerard Murphy, who is working with lawmakers to try to bring his uncle home.

He wants to bury the hero in the family cemetery plot in Maryland, where he belongs.