WATERLOO – In war, one can’t slow down. Not even when it comes to taking casualties.
Lyle Murty, who spent 13 months in combat with a U.S. Army artillery unit in Korea, recounted how his 105mm howitzer crew kept shooting after losing the battalion commander to incoming fire.
“Nothing stopped. We just kept on going … People did their job. We got a fire mission. Everybody went to where they were supposed to be. You just did it,” Murty, now 87, told a Grout historian during a 2008 interview.
“You knew there was a chance something could happen, but you never thought about it,” Murty said. He said he had thought about the possibility of losing a limb but never dwelled on death.
Once, an enemy shell came close enough to hitting his gun pit that it blew off the camouflage netting. Another time, his howitzer’s recoil sliced open his thumb, and he had to be taken to a MASH hospital for treatment.
Murty was born in Waterloo, the oldest of nine children, and grew up on a small farm near Montour. There was no electricity, and the family picked corn by hand, plowed with horses and sold wood on the side. He played basketball and baseball at Montour High School.
After graduating in 1945, he worked different jobs for a few months before landing a spot at John Deere in Waterloo in that November.
He married in January 1951 and was drafted into the Army a short time later. Because his father had recently died, he was granted a brief deferment to help the family farm with planting.
After basic training and artillery school, Murty was sent over the Pacific Ocean on ship for 17 days before landing in Japan, where he was issued a rifle. From there, it was another boat to Korea and a train trip that took his unit to the mountains on the Korean peninsula’s east coast.
There, he stayed in a large tent with a small heater that would go out every time the howitzer was fired. He still remembers his first time in combat.
“The first time, it didn’t seem too bad, it seemed like it was kind of exciting. But about the second and third time, that was enough for me. I decided I wanted to go home,” Murty said.
In the summer, they moved to central Korea in an area known as the Iron Triangle, which saw heavy fighting, and set up in an abandoned rice paddy.
“We did a lot of shooting there,” Murty said.
During one battle after the enemy lost a counterattack, Murty’s unit fired for 36 hours straight, on average sending four to six rounds downrange every minute.
“As soon as the gun went off, you were right there to put another round in the chamber,” he said. “People were tired, and we were receiving fire. It was kind of hairy.”
After that, they spent to following 24 hours launching one round every three minutes.
Other times, the crew fired white phosphorous rounds that kicked up smoke and marked targets for the Air Force.
“That is one bad dude, because you not only have shrapnel, but you have got this white phosphorous, and if it settles on any part of your body, it burns right through. Those were wicked shells,” Murty said.
Amid the fire missions, where were rumors of pending enemy breakthroughs. But those never came, and Murty never used his rifle.
After his time was up, Murty said his colonel offered him a promotion if he stayed a little bit longer. But he turned it down, remembering how the battery officer had died two weeks after extending his tour in an effort of make captain.
“I’ve see guys stay a little longer, and they went home alright. But it wasn’t the way they wanted to go home.”
Back in the states, Murty returned to Deere but was laid off, and he eventually was hired by Waterloo Corrugated Box, where he worked for 38 years before retiring. He and his wife had two children, and Murty was active in the Boy Scouts for 50 years, eventually serving at the district level.