By Joann M. Ringelstetter
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In October, 2015, on a very sunny and warm day, Ruth and I visited St. Mary’s Cemetery in Juneau County, Wisconsin. Often, when the lighting is harsh, as it was that day, we decide not to do cemetery photography. But we didn’t know when we would get back there, so I decided I would make an attempt to get a few photos.
And maybe this decision was divinely guided because, as I walked around the cemetery looking for interesting gravestones, a big tree on a knoll enticed me to see what was in the shade of the tree. There, I found the most interesting military plaque I’ve ever encountered.
The bronze plaque read, “In Memory of Richard R. Murray, Pvt, US Army, World War II, Apr 16, 1916, Jul 26, 1942.” Above the plaque was a concrete strip that read “Bataan Death March.” Below the plaque was a concrete strip that read, “Died at Cabanattuan Philippines, Japanese POW Camp.” To the upper left, a World War II military marker was stuck in the ground.
After doing some extensive Internet research on this young man, who died at the age of 26 during World War II, I learned that Richard was inducted from Montana and served the Army Air Forces as a member of the 409th Signal Company. During the war, he was located in the Southwest Pacific Theatre, Philippine Islands.
On April 9, 1942, the U.S. surrendered its forces on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines to the Imperial Japanese Army. Approximately 66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans were captured by the Japanese. Richard R. Murray was captured and sent to PW Camp #1, the largest POW camp in the Philippines.
Thousands that did reach the Prisoner of War camps died there from being starved and mistreated or from disease. Richard R. Murray died as a prisoner of war on July 26, 1942. His awards include the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, a Purple Heart, and a Prisoner of War Medal.
I hope to return to St. Mary’s Cemetery in the near future to capture Richard’s plaque in more suitable lighting conditions. He went above and beyond the call of duty to serve his country and secure our freedom. Please take a moment on this Memorial Day to honor Richard R. Murray and all the other men and women who died in service to our country.
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Happy Memorial Day and Happy Shunpiking!