Each day of the year in some way is a Memorial Day for me. Every time someone calls my name I remember my namesake, Tommy Murray.

In April 1945, my father and his classmates at St. John’s High School in Bancroft, Iowa, were startled by the sound of a church bell somberly ringing at the nearby Catholic church. The parish priest rang the bell at his first knowledge of the passing of one of his parishioners — one bell for every year of that person’s life. On that day the bell rang 20 times, and though he hadn’t been officially notified, my father and all of his classmates knew that his brother Tommy had been killed in the war.

Uncle Tommy, for whom I am named, wrote to my father in February 1945 not to drink, smoke or join the Army. “I’ve seen all the world I want to see and would settle for Iowa any old time,” he wrote that last time. The rest of the letter was filled with pleasantries of life at that time in the Philippines. Soldiers had been ordered not to share the grim reality of the war for fear of upsetting their families. Two months later, Tommy was shot to death in an ambush as he was following a tank unit through a narrow pass in Luzon en route to Baguio.

They called him a hero. But the reaction of Bancroft, the Garden Spot of Iowa, a town of 1,200, was actually described by Harold Clarke, editor of the Bancroft Register, who wrote a poem titled “Tommy”:


Don’t say a world moved, a nation rose on Tommy’s death.

Just say he smiles no more and he is cold as winter’s breath.

He is no more. Though he was youth, his story ends.

He did the things he must for home and friends.

And that is all.

Don’t say he gave his life, or sought the light of some ideal.

At twenty, men don’t wish to give a thing so real.

Just say his life was snatched before the start.

Because the world said, “Do your duty. Bare your heart.”

And that is all.

Don’t prate of mock heroics.

Only briefly say

He did the thing he had to do.

He fought that day.

To live.

He lost a game he’d hoped to win.

Because conventions say, “You fight or sin.”

And that is all.

Won’t say we’re proud he died for this, our cause.

Or that there’s compensation in applause

From fellow men.

Just say we love him now as then

And pray youth won’t be sacrificed again.


Tommy was exempt from the draft for severe juvenile arthritis, but he insisted on joining the Army. Upon enlistment, he chose one of the most dangerous positions in the war: operation of a man-portable flamethrower.

The famed and historic Bancroft Memorial Baseball Park, which opened for play in 1948 on land in part donated by my grandfather, Art Murray, is dedicated to Tommy Murray and all soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for this country.


Tom Murray lives in Shoreview. “Tommy” is reprinted with the permission of the Bancroft Register.