By John Pedler
Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 23, 2003
[Staff photo by Rich Beauchesne]
HAMPTON - As most of us gather together with family this time of year to celebrate the holidays, it is important to remember there are others whose loved ones are half a world away, in dangerous territory, serving in the U.S. military in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Murray, a Hampton native who will turn 25 on Jan. 5, is one such soldier. He is stationed in Baghdad and will not be coming home for Christmas. Many people in town, however, have decided to send home to him.
Murray is the son of David and Faith Murray, and one night the couple was at a party with their cousin, Skip Sullivan, a Hampton selectman. Sullivan told them he would take a card in to work and have the selectmen and other town officials sign it for Daniel and send it off to him overseas.
From there, the idea snowballed, and the selectmen announced they would sign cards for any family in the community with a relative serving in the Armed Services.
Jim Workman, another Hampton selectman, whose daughter attends Sacred Heart School, thought it would be a good idea to involve some young children, and his first-grade daughter, Nicole, took the idea to her class.
Beginning in January, Laura Ridzon's first-graders will adopt Staff Sgt. Murray and start sending him packages stocked with food, toiletries and any other gifts they choose, along with letters written by each child.
Murray enlisted under the Delayed Entry Program when he was a junior at Winnacunnet High, from which he graduated in 1997. He has been stationed in more than a half-dozen countries, including Italy, where he served with the 101st Airborne Division; Germany; Bulgaria; and Kosovo, where he took part in peacekeeping operations.
Currently, he is serving in A Company, 2nd Brigade, of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 82nd Airborne Division. It is conducting operations with the 1st Armored Division. Murray, a squad leader with nine men under his command, works in the southern and southeastern sections of the city.
Because of the sensitive nature of the operations, his parents haven't heard from him since around Thanksgiving. At that time, they received a letter from the commanding officer of his unit informing them that Murray and his fellow soldiers would not have access to telephones for a period of time.
"It's a little unnerving sometimes," said Daniel's father, David, adding, "This is the situation of a lot of parents. Sometimes over there, you can't call home as much as you'd like to. We just keep hoping, keep praying."
Daniel is scheduled to return to the United States in February to attend an advanced noncommissioned officer training school at Fort Bragg. After that, his plans are uncertain. David said his son is in the process of deciding whether to pursue a career in the military.
"He likes the camaraderie" of military life, said David, who served in the Air Force from 1956 to 1962.
Since joining the military, however, Daniel hasn't been home for Christmas more than twice.
"We encourage him and work with him," said David, adding, "Every time you hear a telephone ring or a car horn, you jump."
The separation is compounded by the fact that communication is always difficult even in the best of circumstances. Letters usually take a week to 10 days to arrive, and packages take two weeks.
Nonetheless, Murray will soon be receiving an avalanche of friendly mail from his concerned community, including dozens of letters penned by youngsters, to remind him of what he is fighting for.