Pfc. George Bernard Murray has finally returned home.
Seventy-four years after his death on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean — and decades of confusion surrounding his body’s whereabouts — Murray’s remains were brought home to Oceano this week to be laid to rest.
Hundreds of people flocked to South County on Friday to honor the fallen Marine’s memory in a massive funeral procession through Grover Beach and Oceano that ended at the Arroyo Grande Cemetery.
At the Oceano Train Depot, home to a World War II memorial bearing Murray’s name, people began lining up around 9:30 a.m. to await the procession, many of them waving flags and wearing hats or vests representing various branches of the military. Nearby, a sign read “You were never forgotten.”
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As a pale blue hearse slowly made its way past, many saluted.
Even more people gathered later in Arroyo Grande in a dizzying array of red, white and blue to watch Murray’s memorial, which featured military honors such as a gun salute and bugle-rendition of “taps.”
At the funeral, Bernard’s closest living relatives were presented with a flag and other gifts from members of the armed forces and different veterans groups.
“The outpouring of love, support and patriotism from all the residents and businesses in the county was overwhelming, and I’ve never been prouder of our communities and our country’s military,” family friend Linda Austin said after the ceremony. “All the support meant so much to the family.”
Austin said she was surprised at the huge response from the community.
“It was amazing all the people who wanted to be involved and got involved,” she said. “Everyone helped out; in all ways, it was truly a community event. Everyone wanted to honor and pay their respects to our brave Marine George Murray.”
Murray was one of the first people from South County to be killed in World War II (articles at the time identified him as the first killed in combat, though two sailors from South County were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, before the United States entered the war).
For decades after he was killed on the Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, his family was unaware of his body’s whereabouts. Then in 2010, the family caught a lucky break when Austin saw a TV special about the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s efforts to exhume bodies at Tarawa.
Official identification of Murray came June 6, thanks to a comparison of his nephew George Winslett’s DNA and the DNA in a recovered tooth.
To Winslett, the discovery fulfilled a long-held dream for his family — especially for his now-deceased grandmother (Murray’s mother).
“I think she would have been really excited about it because she was always looking for him to come home,” Winslett said.
Now, thanks to the agency, that tooth and his family and community’s perseverance, Murray has been laid to rest 74 years after his death, in a grave next to the mother who never stopped waiting for her son to return.