Weekly opinion column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
At the Manly St home, the document is displayed on the dining room wall in a simple unpretentious frame. It's a 10th November 2017 proclamation signed by United States President Donald Trump as part of The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act. The proclamation includes the pledge: "We vow to never again confuse personal disapproval of war with prejudice against those who honourably wear the uniform of our Armed Forces".
For 86-year-old Captain Murry Pinnell of Paraparaumu Beach, the words resonate deeply. He had given 30 years of his life in the service of his country and its allies. Interestingly, the sofa in the sitting room is dominated by a very large stuffed toy. A smiley orange brown Winnie-the-Pooh. A main character in A.A. Milne's famous children's story books. Milne, who fought in the bloody World War I Battle of the Somme, had returned to England injured and shell-shocked. His stories on Winnie were anti-war at their core.
Murry's active service was supported by his Kiwi wife June who, as a military spouse, spent long periods raising their children alone while he was on active duty. Murry himself came from a broken family. He followed his father as he chased construction jobs across Texas. He left home at 15.
One of four brothers, Murry did everything from being a paper boy, to pumping gas, and shoe shining. His father and uncle had served with the Marines in World War II. His journey with the military started at the age of just 17. And, by 19, he was shipped off from boot camp to the front lines of the Korean War as a rifleman and radio operator for the 7th Marines.
The war was a mixture of trench warfare on the main line of defence and a string of defensive outposts. He volunteered for extra duty and with just a week's training as a wireman he was responsible for keeping the communication lines open. The citation for his promotion to corporal captured his performance including his "extraordinary devotion to duty, ability and aggressiveness in actual combat operations against organised enemy...outstanding professional skill and understanding of communication...on several occasions he completely rebuilt the platoon's wire net while under heavy mortar fire...an inspiration".
Murry returned to the States where he was hospitalised for two weeks with concussion.
Given his outstanding work in communications he continued studies in cryptography. It was during this time, on the advice of his commanding officers, who had spent active duty in New Zealand during World War II, that he applied for duty in New Zealand. In 1954, he reported for duty at the US Embassy in Wellington as a Marine security guard. "We were dressed in suits and tie. Given the global ambitions of Russia and China there was a lot of strategic concern about communist infiltration within New Zealand. There was concern that uniforms could make us a target. Publications like The People's Voice was being sold on Cuba Street," observed Murry whose job included checking every office and desk at the Embassy to ensure all confidential documents were secured.
It was here that he met "nearly 19-year-old" Kiwi lass, June Brenton, who was a shorthand typist at the Embassy working for the Fulbright Foundation. A relationship blossomed. June had to go through top security clearance before they could marry.
They returned to the States where at the age of 22 Murry was promoted to sergeant and became a drill instructor training officers. He also went back to military school to increase his knowledge in communication and cryptology and in later years become its commanding officer. In October 1962, he was the cryptographer and duty officer who received and deciphered top secret instructions from Washington signed off by President JF Kennedy.
The Cuban Missile Crisis activation call saw the marshalling of 10,000 troops in 20 naval ships in San Diego with orders to land at a number of sites in the Caribbean. Murry was onboard the USS Eldorado, the communications nerve centre of the invasion fleet. "We understood at home base that if the operation went wrong there was a potential for our troops and everyone to be vaporised," said June.
The end of this crisis saw Murry receive orders in December to head to another US international crisis front, Vietnam, where he served twice. In 1963 when the US military was supporting local troops and in 1968 when US troops were in direct action. "In 1963 Danang Airbase was a dirt runway, by 1968 Danang was like an international airbase servicing two marine divisions."
In 1971, Murry decided to go back to Wellington, New Zealand, with June and their five children. He had given 30 years, 20 of these on active duty, to the US military and his country. In Wellington he worked for British Petroleum before moving on to the TAB. The grandparents of nine children, they retired to the Kāpiti Coast in 2003. On my way out, Winnie-the-Pooh was still comfortably ensconced on the sofa and the words of the 2017 proclamation were still fresh on my mind.