A Faithful Sargeant’s Dilemma: Whom to Obey?

The third patient was seen in Dr. Rheinberger’s office. The patient McMurry was a great Southern California specimen, 22 years old, in the surgery scrub uniform, “helping out as an orderly.” I noticed a scar on his right temple. At lunch break I found that he was here in follow-up for a scar revision on his forehead and left forearm, and abdomen. He was wounded in the Gulf War in Iraq.

He was leader of a squadron of soldiers sent behind Iraqi lines to gather info on the

republican guard helmet and insignia
republican guard helmet and insignia

damage of American chemical warfare bombs. He had 4 notebooks of info for later debriefing. He had concluded his mission on the very day that victory have been declared! The war was over! (That is, according to the high levels of international political relationships) The Royal Guard [1] had gone into the process of disbanding.



Monaghan CaptionThese soldiers had changed into civilian clothes and were wandering back through the war area in small groups. The tech sergeant’s area of particular responsibility was a real No Man’s Land. The former enemy soldiers became more and more numerous, all during the time as McMurry called for extraction, time and again. The war had been called off but only a portion of combatants had actually received the order to lay down arms.

The US Army had called off hostilities, but the US Air Force was still fighting and could not honor his request for helicopter “extraction.” He soon became surrounded and felt he as leader must do reconnaissance in order to lead his troops out by the best route. A Royal Guardsman came over a hill 150 yards away and pointed his weapon at McMurry sighting it in with the Russian method, moving the barrel around and around rather than down and across (the US method). Based on the motion of the rifle McMurry deducted that it belonged to the enemy about to kill him, and not a friendly combatant. McMurry took aim back in an attempt to return fire but took hits first. He was hit in the left forearm, the arm which was exposed when taking an aim, as well as in the upper abdomen.

He was evacuated somehow to an offshore hospital ship and received expert surgery and great care. He was transfused 42 units of whole blood, all while undergoing the huge surgery on the pancreas. The pancreas is one of the most difficult organs upon which to operate because it is located and protected by nature.  Nature placed the pancreas not in the front of the abdomen but the back just in front of the vertebral bony column. Alas his pancreas was removed in many pieces. The left ulnar nerve was repaired as well.

As McMurry awoke, he took sight of his very experienced mustached surgeon. He was a crusty and experienced guy right in the process of saying, “God dammit, I can’t do anything more,” and the tag was put on him, “Triage Class 4,” which says to all of the next of McMurry’s caregivers, “Bring to morgue for morphine, not able to survive.”

McMurry’s survived.

He was diabetic of course with not much of a functioning pancreas. He was rehabbed in the hospital with experts who were experienced, were positive and also successful.

McMurry was not free, however, from the mandate, which was, “Get the notebooks, boys, or else.” Now the “enemies” were US Navy Seals. 

McMurry was only to be visited by several Navy Seals asking for his 4 notebooks taken in reconnaissance on that last week in Iraq. McMurry’s assignment was to assess the damage that American chemical warfare had caused, and therefore he had been sent behind enemy lines. He refused the request of the young Navy Seals. The response of the young Navy Seals was a quite severity one and indicated at that moment that “these tigers” had been sent with the mission to obtain notebooks, which McMurry again perceived to hold the ultra top secret data. The Seals were flat out thwarted. At that point he knew that he had highly critical observations in hand and  also important  leverage.He realized that he had something which could become an international incident.

Back in California, McMurry was treated to dinner by Navy SEAL’s who feigned drunkenness during dinner and had soaked their clothing with ETOH (ethyl alcohol), and attacked him post-prandial. Wow. The second team of strong, muscular Navy Seals lost the after dinner fight with McMurry who ” broke the leg of one Seal with a step over toe hold. Breaking the forearm of another Seal was less effort. Other threats were made on several occasions.

To this day, I have never been able to answer the question to myself – was the accidental death of Tom McMurry mother and sister [later that year] entirely coincidental? Tom’s mother was forced off the road on Highway I-5 by other vehicles and his mother and sister lost their lives in this “accident.” Or was there enough “circumstantial” evidence  to consider that the executive 1/3 of our government may have exceeded its actual constitutional intent of the balancing factor factor between the ⅓ legislative section and the ⅓ judicial section. Were these “desperate times requiring desperate measures” even to the point of putting people’s’ personal lives in second priority to the goals and objectives of our wars?

monaghan-caption-2-e1499615055741.jpgI say it was standard practice of executive branch of the government to lie (that is, to lie without any thought of moral guilt). This is a possibility and serves as my excuse for my personal friend’s transgressing higher orders, and to ignore the usual version of morality without thought of wrongdoing -and not doing the right thing. Can this story be a figment of McMurry’s imagination in order to show off? Possibly, but very unlikely; about 98% unlikely. This story is impossibly fictional, however stories can be fabricated by a member of an organization which lies and fabricates as needed in order to fit their needs and to carry out orders.

The possession of the notebooks which detailed McMurry’s finding when he went behind enemy lines at the conclusion of the Gulf War had become an important objective not only for him to retain as leverage, but also for the navy seals to obtain the notebooks from the person of Tech Sergeant Tom McMurry at all costs. Committing murder of your own comrades in your own army and ignoring all civil and moral mandates had become inconsequential to these navy seals. In other words, in their own minds they had permission to use any means to obtain those notebooks. It seemed as if these notebooks contained vital information and were at the level of an international incident. Two incidents, the suspicion of harming Tom’s mother and wife by running them off Highway 5 by those who now desired to discourage Tom (admittedly only a suspicion) was one indication of the importance of notebooks to the U.S Government. Another indication of the importance of notebooks was the after-dinner brawl where Tom broke the leg and arm of the “friendly” comrades, the Navy Seals.

Defeated twice, the Navy Seals upped the ante. This was the water-boarding incident. While on the beach at El Toro Marine Base near San Diego a group of unfriendly Seals came around a bend. They knew that Tom had buried the notebooks in the sand and had memorized the coordinates accurate to the accuracy of  one yard. They asked for the info please. When rebuffed they resorted again to beating him up physically with blows and bodily abuse. Next they used actual water-boarding in the surf of the ocean. They put Tom in the surf and pulled him in on a rope through the turbulence of the waves time and again. Water-boarding as you know mimics the actual act of drowning. At that point Tom made the decision that he would know nothing about any location of any notebooks and he acted according to his personal code of ethics. He had decided to die rather than go against his personal code. Failing with water-boarding, the nice Seals showed him a 25 caliber pistol and put it against his temple. Tom knew enough to move a little so the bullet entered a much thicker part of the temporal bone,  the petrous part. Just after this all night torture, the morning Marine patrol came around the corner and brought Tom to Balboa Naval Hospital. He gave me a photograph from his medical chart showing his body with a magenta hue everywhere.  I have a photograph taken from his hospital chart in Balboa Naval showing him with bruises over every place on his body

His uncle, a Marine General, threatened to give info for national headlines. If one more hair on the head of Tom McMurry is harmed, I’ll go public. The General always carried with him the phone numbers of journalists he can contact in a moment’s notice. I can attest to Tom McMurry having his phone number answered by his uncle (Tom would call me back; never I call him directly).

Was Tom’s dinner with the 4 Seals simply a contrived story of my friend? When I asked Tom “what are those scars on your temple?” and he explained “these are bullet wounds received at the time of the  left forearm bullet wounds and the bullet wound to the pancreas”. The three wounds are on a straight line of a bullet coming at him from 100 yards. After he told me to examine him I became a believer of his story just as St. Thomas became a believer of Jesus explaining the nail wounds in his hand and feet.

We were compatible persons under the bond of adventure, courage, and doing the right thing. Perhaps the whole thing, his story, was a lie, simply to be able   the ability to show off  to friends, without them ever knowing if you are telling the truth or making it up? However, I have gone hunting for wild boars with Tom and he showed me his ability as a combatant, he asked whether we should hunt by patrol or by ambush. He could hit a target from 440 yards and he never seemed to be anxious to show off his bravery. Something to serve as an example of the fact that governmental secret agencies have no morality except – if Communist, lie and kill is OK; if pro-US or pro “democracy,” anything is OK as well.



Tom had scars and scar revisions on his left temple and left forearm, and abdomen. I revised them, his second PRS (Plastic Reconstructive Surgery) surgery. He had a left ulnar nerve palsy. He was a muscular and very nice person; he loved firearms and hunting. Fast forward, I would later go boar hunting with him in the East Bay hills; he wanted to know whether we should “patrol” or “ambush” the wild boars.

This case illustrated the “the value of talking to strangers” (as mentioned in the Laub manifesto). Be a friend of even the janitor or the king.

McMurry contributed a larger lesson in this case to a larger a larger and favorite group of  axioms. This one is  that befriending even the down-and-out and the very disabled is the highest and most rewarding calling of a medical doctor.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Republican_Guard_(Iraq)


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