From two Neponset boys, a vote for ROTC and the value of a military life

Patrick Murray, right, offered his brother Michael Murray his first salute at his Commisioning Ceremony this May. It is a tradition for commissioning officers to receive their first salute from someone important to them. Tim Burke photo

Michael and Patrick Murray are cut from the same cloth: The brothers live in Neponset, they play hockey, they are Harvard men, and they both joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on the campus in Cambridge.

With full-tuition ROTC scholarships for Ivy League educations, and an upcoming four-year-minimum service commitment, both young men, the latest in a long line of military Murrays, are eager to carry on the family tradition.

“I’ve wanted to do it pretty much as long as I can remember,” Michael said. “I have a lot of family members who served in the Marine Corps in particular, but some Army as well. My dad was a Marine. He was active duty before I was born, but I just always had that influence around.”

Tim Murray, Michael and Patrick’s father, was a Marine corporal, then a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves until 1994. After working with the Massachusetts State Police, he now is employed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The elder Murray said his sons are just two Neponset residents who share close military ties. All individuals interviewed for this article by the Reporter spoke for themselves and not the US Armed Forces.

“I was enlisted in the Marine Corps, [and] my father was in the Marine Corps,” Tim said. “One thing that has always, to this day, sort of surprised me, is the number of kids in Dorchester, and Neponset in particular, who go into the military. … I think it’s sort of phenomenal.”

Michael, now 22, agreed that the neighborhood influence played an important role in his interest in service. “As I was growing up, a lot of people I looked up to, coaches in sports and whatnot, seemed to have a military background, so it was something I was interested in as well,” he said.
He entered Harvard University and joined ROTC in 2013.

Patrick’s experience has mostly mirrored his older brother’s, but the 20 year old’s focus is on the Army rather than the Marines. “I guess for me, kind of growing up in Dorchester and within my family specifically, we have a proud military history, a military tradition within our family,” Patrick said. “From a young age, there was always that exposure to it.”

Patrick saw Michael as a bit of a pioneer. Although he had long been interested in entering the military, having his older brother in the ROTC program allowed him to “see the path that he went down,” he said.

Even before Michael, there were other trailblazers in the family for Patrick: two cousins who were officers in the Marine Corps. They pointed Michael toward ROTC. The program, Michael figured, would afford him a mix of “normal” civilian life and military training. From there, ROTC “seemed kind of like a no-brainer — as long as you could get the scholarship.” The scholarships meant full rides to Harvard for the brothers.

“My freshman year of high school, 14 or 15 — probably 15 — was when I started seriously considering the military,” said Michael. “I was looking at the ways to go about it. My parents obviously wanted me to go to school, so that was a must.”

Michael and Patrick credit their family with emphasizing the importance of attending college. For his part, their father, while conceding his significant role in military influence in his family, said he always wanted his sons to chart their own paths.

“It’s not something I actively, for lack of a better term, encourage, because it’s a big decision,” Tim said. “I think a decision of that nature, as an individual, you have to make because you’ve got to own the good and the bad that comes with it. And a lot of times, there’s a lot of bad that comes with it. A lot of discomfort, lot of sacrifice that comes with that decision.”

Harvard itself has a storied past with ROTC. The university can boast of veterans going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. It was one of the first schools in the US to host an ROTC program, and it has graduated more Medal of Honor recipients than any other university with the exception of the service academies.

In 1969, one manifestation of on-campus protest against the Vietnam War was a strong opposition to Harvard’s ROTC program. That spring, as hundreds of students occupied University Hall, and a later confrontation with police left some 75 injured, students successfully demanded that the university abolish the program on campus.

While an ROTC program was available at nearby MIT, Harvard students could not enroll in courses there until 1976.

In the 1990s, Harvard students with the Anti-ROTC Action Committee were again protesting ROTC, this time in light of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” program barring openly gay service members. Harvard cut its financial ties with ROTC in 1995 and organized the Friends of Harvard ROTC to cover the administrative costs of hosting ROTC at MIT, where it is still based. Today’s Harvard students enrolled in ROTC have office spaces on Harvard’s campus, but training takes places at MIT. Harvard has provided transportation for early-morning physical training since 2011.

Outgoing Harvard president Drew Faust has been largely credited with turning the tide for the university’s ROTC program. In winter of 2010, Navy ROTC was officially recognized on campus, followed by Army ROTC in spring 2012 and Air Force ROTC just over a year ago, in April 2016.
Captain Paul Mawn (ret.) is chairman of the Advocates for ROTC, a network of individuals that supports ROTC programs on college campuses. Himself a graduate of Harvard, and a Navy ROTC alumnus, he works with the Advocates to encourage diversity of opinion at Harvard along with support for the military.

“Harvard has, with some people I think, a misunderstood reputation as a left-wing, exclusively liberal, elite university, anti-military, etc., and it certainly is some of that — maybe even the majority — but not all,” Mawn said. “It’s not all that extreme. Since 9/11, there’s been more apathy than antagonism toward the military, as was the case before that, particularly in the ‘90s and the ‘70s.”

Mawn’s organization focuses on awareness of the military as a public service and encourages participation in ROTC. Mawn said he hopes that Harvard will do more “proactive outreach” to increase the number of cadets on campus, which remains extremely small — less than one percent of the student body.

A year ago, Patrick Murray made Mawn’s point, but change seems to be in the air. “I believe [he] was the only Army incoming freshman for ROTC last year,” his father said. “For a student body that’s the size of Harvard’s, that’s shocking. But I also understand, and again, it’s infinitesimal, but I want to say this year the number jumped to like a dozen. So hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.”

The day before Michael graduated in May with a bachelor of arts in government, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps. Now stationed at Boston University, he will travel to Quantico, Virginia, for Officer Candidate School next month.

Patrick, a rising sophomore at Harvard pursuing a degree in economics, will be back on campus in a few weeks. “I’m excited to see that new crop of cadets, and with myself being a second-year, I’ll take on a little bit of leadership,” he said. “Showing the new incoming freshmen, showing them the ropes of it. Get back into the swing of things because it is a good routine to have. I’m just excited all around.”