Jun 9, 2008
Rambunctious child grew up to be Marine hero
By Jane Self Special to The Tuscaloosa News

On the morning of Sept. 30, 2007, Windy Murkerson and her three children saw Daddy on the Web cam for the first time. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Herman Jerome Murkerson Jr. had just gotten his system set up in Iraq, where he was stationed for his third deployment.

They were all teasing him about his mustache. He had shaved before he left his Jacksonville, N.C., home for Iraq in August, but it had grown back.

Windy Murkerson and the kids — Stephen, 15, Daniel, 12, and Kristina, 9 — were on their way out the door for a trip to Charlotte, N.C., to see the Carolina Panthers play football. Her husband, a big football fan, particularly University of Alabama football, wanted to be kept up to speed on the score while they watched. She used her cell phone to send him text messages throughout the game so he could “watch” with them.

It was nearly 4 a.m. the next morning when the family arrived back home, with just enough time for a quick nap before the kids had to catch the school bus at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning.

“Just as Stephen was getting on the bus, I saw a van pull into the cul-de-sac,” Windy Murkerson said. “It took my breath away, but then it pulled out, so Stephen went ahead and got on the bus. But then the van came back and pulled into my driveway. I knew once they got out, something was wrong.”

Her husband, a 17-year career Marine, had been killed by insurgent gunfire in Baghdad. His unit, part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Cherry Point, N.C., were securing a mosque when another group got pinned down in an alley. He held off the gunfire so they could get out of the alley, but was hit as he was leaving.

Windy received the Bronze Star for her husband’s heroism, which saved the lives of a captain and a first lieutenant. She said he is being considered for a Medal of Honor.

In Adger, near the Tuscaloosa-

Jefferson County line, Brenda and Jerome Murkerson Sr. were already at work that Monday morning when their daughter, Dee Musgrove, who lives next door, called them to come home.

“When she told me that there was military in the front yard, I knew what was going on,” Brenda Murkerson said.

Ever since her oldest son left for his third deployment, she had been worried. This time just seemed worse than any of the others.

“I told him I didn’t want him to go. I was scared. He said, ‘Well, I’d rather know the fighting is there than here, because as long as it’s there, it’s not near my family and friends. If it’s not there, it’s going to be here.’ ”

The weekend before he left in August, she and her husband went to Gatlinburg, Tenn., with her son and his family. He told his dad he probably wouldn’t make it back from that deployment. But his wife said after he got to Iraq, he ordered a truck to pick up when he returned. She had to cancel the truck order.

Growing up in Lipscomb, then Adger, Jerome Murkerson was a typical kid, Brenda Murkerson said.

“Jerome wasn’t perfect. He got into trouble — not major, major trouble, but he was a typical teenager. He gave his daddy and I fits,” she said. “You know how they can smart off sometimes when they think they know everything, and you try to tell them they don’t know anything.”

When she married Jerome Murkerson Sr. 30 years ago, he already had two boys, Jerome Jr. and Johnny. His daughter, Ellie, had gone to live with her mother. Brenda Murkerson already had Dee, and then they had two more boys together, Derrick and Darryl.

“But Jerome and Johnny were my kids in every sense of the word,” she said. “I raised them from the time Jerome was 4 or 5. People even thought he looked just like me and couldn’t believe I was his stepmother.”

Not only was he a typical boy, but she said he also loved to aggravate people, whether it was his siblings or her or somebody else.

“He was always doing something, always into something. He was a character from day one,” Brenda Murkerson said. “But he was loving, come up putting his arms around me, telling me he loved me, from the time I started dating his daddy. He was a good little boy. He just had his moments. But he was a good little boy.”

Musgrove, who became a tomboy to survive growing up with four brothers, said they were daredevils, too. One of her and Jerome’s favorite things to do when Mom sent them to the store was to wait on the side of the road until a car was close, then dash across the road in front of it.

“We scared a lot of people, but we had fun,” Musgrove said.

She said she got her brother back for tearing up her doll by breaking his trucks, some of those supposedly indestructible Tonka trucks.

“We were pretty rough on toys. We were rough on Mom and Dad, too.”

Brenda Murkerson said none of the children were happy about moving to Adger. But she and her husband thought Lipscomb had become too dangerous a community to raise their children. Jerome was about to enter the 11th grade, and the youngest was starting first grade. Not too long after the move, Jerome met his future wife on the school bus.

“As soon as he got on the bus, I told my best friend I was going to marry him some day,” Windy Murkerson said. “And I did. He was a year ahead of me in school, so he had already gone to boot camp when I was a senior.”

He proposed to her that Christmas, and they married in January 1991, while she was still in school. She said her parents were not upset about it because they really liked him.

“We wanted to go ahead and get married because he thought he was going to get deployed to Desert Storm,” she said. “But by the time he got to Okinawa, his unit had already left, so he just stayed there.”

She said she’s building a house in Tuscaloosa to be near her parents, the Murkersons and her husband. He’s buried about a mile down the road from his parents’ home.

“Windy put a beautiful headstone on Jerome’s grave. And because she knew my husband went out there every day, she put a really nice bench there for him to sit on,” Brenda Murkerson said. “I’ve heard him say more than once that a part of him died the day Jerome died.

“There’s not a day goes by that we don’t cry for him.”

Everyone in the family has loads of fond memories of their fallen hero, the avid hunter and fisherman, the diehard UA football fan, the NASCAR fan, the motorcycle enthusiast, the wonderful husband who loved children, even the aggravator who continued wrestling with his brothers well into adulthood.

“But he was the type of brother who always had your back,” Musgrove said. “When you really needed him, he was there.”

His wife and children knew that, as did his fellow Marines.

“I always told him he was my hero,” Brenda Murkerson said. “And he was one. I’m just amazed at all the people he impacted.”

Reach Jane Self at jane@janeself.com or 205-633-0932.