Marist alum featured in AppleTV’s ‘Masters of the Air’

Murphy, seated on Jeep at left. (Murphy Collection)

Frank Murphy walked across the stage during his graduation from Marist in the spring of 1939 and little did he know that in a few short years, he’d be 30,000 feet above Europe in a B-17 Flying Fortress, fighting for his life.

Murphy was inducted into Marist’s ‘Ivy Street Circle’ in 2005 for his contributions on the football field at Marist before becoming part of the greatest generation.

It was just a different time.

Adolf Hitler’s march across Europe began months after Murphy’s graduation and by September of 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany and it would become the duty of men like Murphy to save the world.

And they did.

Now – viewers can watch the chronicles of the Atlanta-native as they’re portrayed by the actor Jonas Moore in the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg-produced ‘Masters of the Air’, based on Donald Miller’s book of the same name. According to the Masters of the Air page on IMDB, Murphy is featured in six of nine episodes. It’s the next series in line with the 2001 HBO series ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’, which was released in 2010. ’Masters of the Air’ premiered last week on AppleTV+ and will release a new episode each Friday, through nine episodes.

After his time at Marist, Murphy was studying music at Emory University, but following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corps and was assigned as a navigator to the newly-formed 100th Bomb Group of the US Army Eighth Air Force based at Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk, England.

In England, the then-2nd Lieutenant Murphy flew 21 combat missions facing barrages of flak – an abbreviation of the German word ‘Fliegerabwehrkanone’, meaning air-defense gun. Typically 88 millimeters, the flak gunners would trace the flight path of the bomber formations, with their shells timed to explode amidst the fortresses, known as ‘forts’ by the men. Once the flak stopped, the Luftwaffe would attack the bomber formations, wreaking havoc on the men and planes in the blisteringly cold air, with temperatures dropped to 30 and 40 degrees below zero. Think of a gunfight on top of Mount Everest.

In October of 1943, Murphy was shot out of the sky over Munster, Germany while bombing factories to interrupt the German war machine. He spent 19 months as a prisoner of war at the notorious Stalag Luft III, the setting for the Steve McQueen epic war film ‘The Great Escape’.

Murphy was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, the U.S. Prisoner of War Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation and the European Campaign Ribbon.

Murphy passed away in 2007 at the age of 85 and in 2023, Murphy’s family released ‘The Luck of the Draw’, a first-hand account of his experiences in the war which he wrote from 2000-2005. The book is now complete with a foreword by his granddaughter Chloes Melas (CNN reporter) and his daughter Elizabeth Murphy.

“In the pursuit of authenticity, of accurate history and undeniable courage, no words matter more than, ‘I was there.’,” said Masters of the Air producer Tom Hanks about Murphy’s account. “Read Luck of the Draw and the life of Frank Murphy and ponder this: how did those boys do such things?”

The book chronicles Murphy’s time in Atlanta before the war and provides a nostalgic look at the pre-war city life and Marist athletics events from the perspective of someone who was there. You can watch Masters of the Air on AppleTV+ or buy The Luck of the Draw by following the link.

NOTE — This article was written by Seth Ellerbee, the grandson of Master Sergeant Howard Felton ‘Cotton’ Ellerbee, who was a grounds crew chief in the 21st Air Depot Group, of the 4th Strategic Air Depot, of the Eighth Air Force based at RAF Wattisham, 30 miles from Thorpe Abbotts. The fighter wings based at Wattisham and serviced by MSGT Ellerbee were support fighters for several of the 100th BG’s missions.

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