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Quentin Murdock with David Cordero (photo by Julie Ann Cordero)

Featured Article

We Remember

A portrait of heroism from World War II

Article by David Cordero

Photography by Photos courtesy of David Cordero

Originally published in St George City Lifestyle

His life was altered that spring day in 1943, freedom snatched away on a Tunisian hillside amid a dizzying blur of mortar shells, bullets and German commands.

Quentin Murdock, a longtime St. George resident, was a lieutenant in A Company of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, helping lead the first ground assault against Axis forces in the Atlantic. For nearly six months, Allied forces fought to wrest North Africa from German control and push Gen. Erwin Rommel off the continent.

On April 29, 1943, Quentin and the men of the 1st Battalion of the 16th were charged with taking Hill 523. They were successful. Then came the inevitable German counterattack. It was catastrophic for the 16th as approximately 150 Americans were taken prisoner April 30, 1943, including Quentin. Though spared the penetration of German bullets, Quentin found himself subdued in captivity.

“Being a prisoner hadn’t been on my agenda,” he remembered in 2013 during the first of our many conversations over five-plus years. “I can’t begin to explain that dark, worthless and defeated feeling.”

Yet, it did not last long.

The prisoner of war boat he was aboard was bombed by Allied forces on Quentin’s ninth day as a prisoner. “You didn’t know if you were taking your last breath or not,” Quentin said. “We figured by the morning we’d be at the bottom of the Mediterranean.”

The ship suffered damage and might have sunk had it not hit a sandbar in the Mediterranean. French sailors brought the surviving POWs to shore. Quentin received a Silver Star for his actions on Hill 523, but it was the farthest thing from his mind in June 1944.

Having survived North Africa and then the brutal Sicilian campaign, Quentin was transferred to the Headquarters Company of the 16th—which seemed like a good thing. The D-Day invasion of France was approaching, and he figured he would not be in among the assault waves. To his surprise, he ended up in the second wave.

Quentin’s experience on Omaha Beach was similar to that conveyed in the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan.” Bullets snapping everywhere. Boats exploding off shore. Soldiers crying out for their mothers. Paralysis-inducing fear.

“There was so much enemy fire that you couldn’t do anything. You can’t imagine the confusion. It was demoralizing,” Quentin recalled. “Somehow, I stayed alive. It was a miracle.”

Seventy years later, Quentin flew to Washington D.C. as part of the Utah Honor Flight program. It changed his life. As he and dozens of World War II veterans toured the memorials, schoolchildren made a beeline toward them. They wanted to shake hands with real heroes.

They wanted to thank men like Quentin.

“This really restores my faith in the American people,” an emotional Quentin told me that evening. “Seeing how much they appreciated what we did … you can see their hearts are so big.”

In the ensuing years, Quentin spoke to high school students about his experiences. They hung on his every word. Quentin died in 2018 at age 99, optimistic about the rising generation.

  • Quentin Murdock in his dress uniform (courtesy of Quentin Murdock)
  • Quentin Murdock during World War II (courtesy of Quentin Murdock)
  • D-Day—approaching Omaha Beach (courtesy of U.S. Army)
  • Murdock Hill 523 Map (courtesy of U.S. Army)
  • World War II veteran, Quentin Murdock
  • Quentin Murdock with David Cordero (photo by Julie Ann Cordero)
  • Quentin Murdock honored for his valor