Thursday, January 17, 2013

1319. George A. Murphy

Another veteran, yes, but this one with a twist. I really enjoy reading the information provided on our vets' tombstones. If they were combat veterans, the war in which they fought is always listed. But I think the most interesting fact each one gives us is the unit in which he or she served. And, almost 1500 tombstones in, I have not yet run across two people who served in the same unit.

So, that said, with as much pointless knowledge as I carry around in my head about military history, George Murphy surprised me. I guess he shouldn't have, as I've long known of balloons and their military usage. The word "balloon" was just not something I expected to see on a grave marker.

The French used balloons for observation during their revolutionary period, going all the way back to 1794, and they were used here in the United States during the Civil War. Think about it: more than a century before planes came along, men were soaring high above the ground, gaining views of the countryside below them, searching for enemy troops, calling out artillery fire coordinates.

It wasn't an easy task, and definitely not one without peril. Hydrogen is flammable, and was back then, too. If bullets started to fly and that ballon was struck, that was it: think Hindenburg. The men of the observation balloon companies - and there were 105 such companies serving with the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps in World War I - employed parachutes to escape their balloons once the battles started getting too close. In fact, "the balloon is going up!" for a long time stood as a colloquialism for the start of battle; it probably meant the big guns were going to start tossing their projectiles.

George Murphy, PFC Baloon [sic] Repl. Co. World War I was one of those brave men. Geez, you learn something new every day.


  1. John, an absolutely fascinating series... one of my favorites things to do out west -- how much better among the even more ancient in the East. Captivating project! I wish I would walk for a half hour alongside you.

  2. I'm sure we will someday, my friend.