Monday, March 29, 2010

New Murfee Family Images, Part Two

Here is the second installment of new Murfee Family images courtesy of Madelon Murfee David of Destin, Florida. Again, she is the great granddaughter of James T. Murfee, MMI’s founder and first president, and the granddaughter of Hopson O. Murfee, son of James T. and the second president of MMI. All images are credited to Mrs. David, and I thank her sincerely for sharing them with the MMI Archives.

Here is the James T. and Laura O. Murfee home in Tuscaloosa in 1998. Now located at 815 17th Avenue, it was on Queen City Avenue before the streets were replated and the original property became filled with housing. Built in 1838 by Marmaduke Williams, the Owen-Murfee-Caples home has been altered and cut up into apartments to provide student housing, etc. The Murfees were married in the parlor in 1861. They lived here until 1871, when J. T. became president of Howard College in Marion. Later, they retired here.

The Prattville, Alabama, retirement home of Hopson O. and Mary McQueen Smith Murfee (“Queenie”) and their children – “the Home Place.” The house was built in 1894, and this image is from 1911. Queenie grew up here.

“The Home Place” in Prattville in 1981, showing renovations and additions done by the Sanfords, who are related to the Murfees.

Hopson Owen Murfee as a cadet officer at MMI, c. 1890 (second from left, standing).

Formal portrait of H. O. Murfee while a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

And, finally –

H. O. and “Queenie” Murfee with some of their children and grandchildren at “the Home Place” in Prattville, Alabama, 1936.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Murfee Family Images, Part One

I have recently begun corresponding with Madelon Murfee David of Destin, Florida. She is the great granddaughter of James Thomas Murfee, founder and first president of MMI, and the granddaughter of Hopson Owen Murfee, son of James T. and Laura (Owen), and the second president of MMI. Madelon has provided some wonderful Murfee Family data to the MMI Archives - including images - and she is placing me in contact with Murfee-related folks in Prattville, Alabama, where she grew up and where the H. O. Murfee Family lived in retirement, and where H. O. and his wife, Queenie (Mary McQueen Smith), are buried along with other family members.

Madelon and I also agree that the uniformed officer in the back of our image, “Company B., Howard Cadet Corps,” is probably James T. Murfee, then president of Howard College (MMI’s predecessor) and former commandant of the Alabama Corps of Cadets at the University of Alabama during the Civil War. If correct, this would be the youngest-looking image of J. T. we have, plus the only one of him in uniform. J. T. Murfee began the military program at Howard College in the early 1870s (again, there was no cadet corps at the college during the Civil War), emulating his alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, and the Alabama Corps of Cadets at Alabama.

“Company B., Howard Cadet Corps,” c. late 1870s or early 1880s. (Credit: MMI Archives)

A detail of the officer who is probably James T. Murfee, president of Howard College and creator of its Corps of Cadets. (Credit: MMI Archives)

Mrs. David also sent a copy of a Murfee Family image taken on J. T. and Laura’s 50th Wedding Anniversary on the steps of their retirement home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They were married in the parlor of that house (the Judge Hopson Owen home, Laura’s father) on July 11, 1861. Thus, the date of this image is probably July 11, 1911, the year before J. T. died. A remarkable image, J. T. and Laura are sitting together at the top of the stairs, H. O. is in the immediate left foreground holding the boy, and Walter Lee (W. L.) Murfee, younger son of J. T. and Laura, and the third president of MMI, sits at the right holding another child.

The 50th Anniversary of James T. and Laura O. Murfee in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1911. They are surrounded by some of their children and grandchildren. This house is still standing in Tuscaloosa. (Credit: Madelon Murfee David, Destin, Florida)

J. T. and Laura Murfee are buried in the Marion City Cemetery along with several of their infant children who died in the 1860s and 1870s. Of their eight children, only four lived to maturity.

The graves of James T. and Laura O. Murfee in the Marion (AL) City Cemetery. (Credit: MMI Archives)

Finally, I am also indebted to LTC Walter (Lee) Murfee, II, MMI H ’63, USMA ’67, who teaches physics at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Monday, March 8, 2010

With The Old Breed: Dr. Eugene B. Sledge, MMI 1943

This month, beginning March 14th, HBO will air the 10-part miniseries, The Pacific, about the U. S. Marines fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Based in part on the book With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (1981), a memoir written by Dr. Eugene B. Sledge, MMI 1943, the series will present a first-hand account of the hell that was the Pacific Theater during World War II. Sledge’s book was highlighted earlier in Ken Burn’s PBS documentary on World War II. My own father, now 90 years-old, served in the Army in the Pacific during World War II, fighting in New Guinea and in the Philippines. His experiences in that horrific fighting and destruction have shaped his life as no other event.

Dr. Eugene B. Sledge of the University of Montevallo, Montevallo, Alabama. (Credit:

Eugene Bondurant Sledge was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1923. After graduating from Murphy High School in Mobile in May, 1942, he entered Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama, preparing to become an officer. Fearing that the war might end before he got the chance to experience it, Sledge enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in December, 1942, but he remained at MMI to complete the academic year. He was eventually assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Private First Class Eugene Sledge served as a mortarman in the Pacific Theater at Peleliu and Okinawa, where his unit sustained nearly 100% casualties. Incredibly, Sledge did not receive a scratch. When the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan ended the war in 1945, Sledge was posted to Peiping (Beijing), China. He was later discharged from the Marines in February, 1946, with the rank of Corporal. His book, China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life After World War II, was published posthumously in 2002. It records his China experience, his return home to Mobile, Alabama, and his eventual recovery from the psychological trauma of warfare.

E. B. Sledge of Alabama is listed on the roster of the 1942-1943 MMI Corps of Cadets. (Credit: 1942-1943 MMI Catalogue, MMI Archives)

Private First Class Sledge following 82 days of fighting in Okinawa. (Credit:

Corporal Sledge about the time of his discharge from the Marines in 1946. (Credit:

Returning home to Alabama, Eugene Sledge graduated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) with the B. S. degree in 1949. He later returned to Auburn as a research assistant from 1953-1955, completing his M.S. degree in botany in 1955. From 1955 to 1960, he attended the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he again served as a research assistant, and where he received his Ph.D. degree in biology in 1960. Dr. Sledge was employed by the Division of Plant Industries for the Florida State Department of Agriculture from 1959 to 1962.

Dr. Sledge was appointed an assistant professor of biology at Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo) in 1962. Becoming a full professor in 1970, Sledge taught at Montevallo until his retirement in 1990. He taught zoology, ornithology, and comparative vertebrate anatomy, among other courses, completing nearly 30 years in the classroom at Montevallo. Dr. Eugene B. Sledge died in Montevallo, Alabama, on March 3, 2001, at the age of 77.

Dr. Sledge’s best-selling book, With The Old Breed (1981). (Credit: Tower Books,

Dr. Eugene B. Sledge (1923-2001). (Credit:

Monday, March 1, 2010

MMI Archives: More Good Stuff!

Here are three images of Cadet Captain Paul J. Holsen, MMI Class of 1922, from Allendale, Illinois. They are courtesy of his son, Paul J. Holsen, II. Commander of “D” Company in 1921-22, Holsen was already a veteran of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) in World War I, having served for eleven months and having participated in five major battles. At MMI he was “an old man” who was reportedly very popular with the young ladies!

While president of Howard College prior to 1887, James T. Murfee, later founder and first president of Marion Military Institute, designed a distinctive button for the Howard College Cadet Corps featuring a cross and crown and a halo “irradiating... light and glory.” These images are from Sean Flynt’s 160 Years of Samford University: For God, For Learning, Forever (2001). We also have one of these buttons in the MMI Archives. COL John Gibler pointed out to me that the button design is similar to the emblem of the Knights Templar, a Masonic organization, and asked me if J. T. Murfee was a member? After exhaustive research – plus asking a knowledgeable Murfee Family member – I have only found evidence that Walter Lee Murfee, J. T.’s son and MMI’s third president, was a Knights Templar, a Mason, and a Shriner. Also, we have two Knights Templar swords on loan in the MMI Archives from Anita Johnson of Marion (my landlady), one of which bears a similar emblem to the Howard College button design.

Note also the elaborate uniform below of a Howard College cadet officer in 1893, after Howard moved to Birmingham, Alabama.

Finally, here is a newspaper image of our LTC David Bauer and West Point First Classman Greg Pearson standing in front of a painting of CPT Colin P. Kelly, Jr., MMI’33, USMA ’37, the first American hero of World War II and the first West Point graduate to die in the war. LTC Bauer, USMA ’60, and Cadet Pearson, USMA ’01, are also MMI alums. There is a move on to posthumously award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Colin Kelly for his actions in 1941, just days after Pearl Harbor, which saved his flight crew but which cost Kelly his life. Keep your fingers crossed that Colin Kelly gets the Medal of Honor. As far as I know, he would be the first MMI cadet to receive this top honor for heroism. By the way, Colin P. Kelly, Sr., was an honor graduate of the MMI Class of 1902.

A painting of Colin Kelly in the West Point Club at the USMA. (Credit: The Marion Times-Standard, July 11, 2001)

Colin Kelly from an advertisement.