Bill Murrin was 18 when he joined the Air Force in early 1966. The Vietnam War was being waged and he wanted to fly, just like his father, who was a pilot.
“I also thought it would keep me out of the rice paddies if I was drafted,” he said.
After enlisting, Murrin was sent to Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, Texas, for basic training. Once he was initiated into military life, Murrin went north, to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, where he attended tech school for airborne reconnaissance.
“My mission was photo imaging,” he said. “In Vietnam, I took images of the enemy, bomb damage and targets from a Phantom F-4.”
After tech school, Murrin was assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, with the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.
“The 12th reconnaissance is now a space squadron dealing with satellites,” Murrin added. “We used radar and infrared high-altitude cameras and flew in an unarmed plane.”
In early January 1968, Murrin arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon. Just weeks after his arrival, on Jan. 31, Murrin suddenly awoke in the middle of the night to chaos.
“We were in the barracks when all of a sudden we started hearing rockets and mortars coming in and blowing things up,” Murrin said.
Tan Son Nhut and Saigon were one of about 100 cities and posts hit during a coordinated attack by the North Vietnamese using rockets, mortars, small arms and heavy gunfire. It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive, a battle that, technically, was won by American military but public support back home was badly damaged.
The Tet Offensive failed to seriously diminish the South Vietnamese Army and insight rebellion, but it led to the United States pulling out of Vietnam in 1973.
“The VC were fighting outside our barracks,” Murrin said. “The armed Air Force was our only defense as we watched from our wood-and-screened hut. We were unarmed and had no information. We just sat back and watched the chaos. It was a punch in the gut, but it brought it home. We were in a war zone.”
The attack on Tan Son Nhut lasted almost three days, but the battle didn’t end until Sept. 23, 1968.
“I looked at film we had taken from the planes working with the Army, looked for malfunctions in equipment and got it fixed,” Murrin said of his year in Vietnam. “It was an interesting job. I loved being in the Air Force. If I wasn’t going to go back to Vietnam, I would have stayed.”
After his yearlong deployment, Murrin returned to Idaho and remained there until he was discharged.
“Being in the military changed my life,” he said. “Before, I was a kid from East Tennessee. The structure I had was helpful in life. (I learned) the rest of the world is a lot different than what we see.”
Murrin found a job with McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Atlanta before he left Mountain Home.
“I went from Idaho to Georgia, and when I got there I was laid off,” he said.
Undeterred, he found another job at Atlanta-based Diebold Security Solutions, installing burglar alarms in banks. He was there for seven years before moving on to Mosler Safe Co., doing the same kind of work.
“I was doing some work on an armored monitoring system for (the former Brentwood-based) Service Merchandise,” Murrin said.
Service Merchandise, a national catalog retailer, wanted direct protection services with monitors using a satellite system installed in each of its more than 300 stores. Murrin put the system together and installed it.
“I put alarms in all the stores,” he said.
The system was unique for the early 1980s. For his efforts, Service Merchandise made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Murrin managed security systems with the company until 2002, when it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“The military was good to me,” he said. “I enjoyed most of it. I liked having a job.”