Andrew Murray served in Vietnam for two years in combat infantry. "Up front where everything's going on," he said, "but I was never wounded." He was awarded a Silver Star for an act of heroism involving the ingenious use of two ball point pens, and though he saw many soldiers killed, at the time, he felt he was safe and successful because, "I thought I was just that good."
Decades later, he recalls many remarkable incidents in which he was kept from harm by something beyond himself.
"I could see where I was protected," he said. "At the time I wasn't seeing it, but now I realize it wasn't me. It's God. Through His power, all things are possible."
When he graduated in 1964 from Beaufort's all-black Robert Smalls High School, he knew, "I couldn't stay in Beaufort and be a success. ... You'd have to work on somebody's farm or in somebody's kitchen, and I didn't want to do either one."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
His senior year, he was inspired by a white recruiter, a paratrooper, who came to the school in uniform and dazzled Murray.
"It looked like someone had melted him and poured him into it," he recalled with a laugh. He told the recruiter he wanted to be just like him and signed up. But then he had to tell his parents.
His father, who owned a paint and body shop, refused permission; he wanted Murray to attend trade school and join him in his business. His mother, a cook, didn't approve of his decision, either.
But he vowed not to dishonor the family and to send half his earnings home to help support the four of his six siblings, who still lived at home. He kept his promise, even though, when he first enlisted, his base salary was $64 a month.
In November 1964, Murray entered jump school in Fort Benning, Ga. He had never even been on an airplane, much less jumped out of one.
But he said he was motivated to succeed.
"Being a paratrooper puts you a notch above the rest," he said. "It gives you a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, of doing things normal people can't do."
He received orders to go to Vietnam in January 1966. At the end of that tour, he had completed three years in the Army and came home on 90 days leave in July 1967. He found "withdrawal from being in Vietnam" difficult. He panicked when he drove his mother past Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and an F-4 Phantom flew in.
"Next thing I knew, I was on the floor of the car, hiding," he said. His mom grabbed the wheel and pulled the car off the road, but the incident lead to "some real soul-searching."
Nonetheless, he decided to return to the Army. By February 1968, he was back in Vietnam serving in the 3rd Brigade, though he thought he would be a clerk and not in combat again.
A year later, he was awarded the Silver Star for "gallantry in action" while serving as a squad leader in an assault on an enemy bunker complex in August 1968. On reconnaissance patrol, Murray's platoon drew heavy fire and withdrew to permit air strikes. When they approached the bunker, they again faced intense gun fire.
According to the citation, "Sgt. Murray moved from his position to bolster the confidence of his men as they prepared for the assault." When the platoon's machine gun malfunctioned twice, Murray quickly dislodged the rounds -- with a Skilcraft ball point pen.
"I knew I had troops, and I had to protect them," Murray said simply, admitting that he couldn't recall much detail. "In the heat of battle, things happen, and you just don't know how."
Murray ensured that his men received awards for their actions but told superiors he didn't want any commendations. His wife received the Silver Star commendation at the couple's Beaufort home and put it aside, unopened, for months.
"How I got it, I don't know," Murray said. "Someone who was in that operation with me did all this."
Murray gave the medal to a young private in his unit.
"He was a sharp kid, and he wanted to be military to the max. To inspire him, I gave it to him," he explained.
In 27 years of military service, Murray didn't put down roots anywhere but Beaufort.
"I didn't want any ties to keep me from coming back to Beaufort," he said. When he retired from the Army in 1991, he was back home one day later.
After taking jobs in security and corrections, he earned a position with the U.S. Postal Service. When asked to state the three places he might want to work, he put "Beaufort, Beaufort, Beaufort."
He went home one Friday in June 2009, and though he had never before considered retiring, he began calculating his various sources of income and realized he could afford not to work. The next day, he called his supervisor and announced that on Monday morning, he wanted to retire.
Retirement isn't the only recent change in his life. He and his ex-wife, Hazel, had been high school sweethearts and married throughout his military career but divorced. She told him she had prayed for years that he would come back to her.
Feeling he was led by God to do so, in April 2009, they reconciled, and Hazel proposed to him recently. They plan to remarry later this month.
Of his 64 years of life, Murray said, "I would not trade my military career for anything in this world. If I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing."