of Joe McMurdo by Phillipe Ritter (73)
I met Joe and his
brother Mike during the 7th grade at ISB. Mike was my age (73)
and Joe was in the class of 72. Mike
and I became best of friends and played in a band called the Midnight
Hours. The group originally formed in 68 with Mike and Mark Rosenfield.
The group grew and went through several personnel changes with one
being that Joe joined the group as the rhythm guitarist. He had learned
guitar quickly by playing along with us through the wall of his bedroom
while the band practiced in the other room. We
finally asked him if he wanted to join the group. I spent much of my time
at the McMurdo house since the band practiced there.
I soon learned that my father (Air America pilot) and Joe’s dad
(Col/USA) were connected by work.
Joe was indeed a
character. Smart, witty and
full of adventure. Joe got me
into the tea dances that use to be held at the Chophya Hotel on Sundays.
Mike and I would be his guests since we were not old enough.
It was there that Joe taught me how to “elevator surf.”
We would send the elevator to the top floor, then race to the roof
of the hotel and access the elevator room.
When the elevator got to the top floor, we would climb down onto
the coach roof and ride up and down, inside the elevator shaft.
We could look down into the elevator and see the people.
They couldn’t see us. Occasionally
we would see GI’s with some of the “local talent” alone in the
elevator. I saw things I
Another thing Joe was
into was chemistry. He would
buy nitro glycerin and we would play with it.
He learned to make gun powder and made bombs with it. Not big ones
though. We would set them off
in a vacant field near their house. He
also built and launched those Essex rockets that you made from kits. He
learned how to make this stuff we called “touch explosive.”
It was an ammonium/iodine complex that was unstable and would
pop/explode when touched. He
painted it on everything and for a while, you could not walk through the
McMurdo house without stepping on or touching some. Joe and I would paint
it on the hand rails of Thai buses and sit in the back to watch the Thais
jump as they set it off. It
was everything we could do to not laugh and get caught as they looked
around to see who did it. The
stuff never hurt. The pop your hand or fingers felt was more of a
surprise…..like getting a static electricity shock.
When the McMurdo’s
left Thailand (1969), they ended up in Hawaii.
On a summer trip (1970) back to the states, I stayed with the
McMurdo’s. Joe was driving
by then. He had bought an old British Hillman (barely running) out of a
nearby junk yard. Joe, Mike and I worked on the damn thing all summer,
rummaging through junk yards to get parts to keep it running and to fix it
up. We patched all the rust we could and had it painted fire engine red.
The car was our means to go bodysurfing at Makapu Beach on the
other side of the island. Something
we did almost every day. With
the windows down, the radio blaring and the Hillman straining and
backfiring, we would drive up and over the Poly-Highway, all the while
wondering if we would even make it. Life
was never better. We went to concerts. Even saw Jimi Hendrix!
Sometimes we all would go surfing before dawn to avoid the serious
surfers who didn’t like beginners on “their” waves and would let you
know it too. None of us could surf worth crap.
Terry Rodgers (72) and her brother Steve also spent some time
living at the house. Terry had been in the Midnight Hours as the organist.
Terry and Joe became attached.
It was the best summer I ever had.
It was about September
of 1972 that I learned of Joe’s death.
We had just moved back to the states in August and saw Joe’s mom
who had come in from Hawaii to visit family friends who lived near us in
Texas. Joe died in an auto
accident at about 3:30AM, August 8, 1972, on I-80 in Rawlins, Wyoming. He and Terry Rodgers were hitchhiking back to the West coast
on their way back to Hawaii. Joe
was killed along with the driver. Terry
had just earlier switched seats with Joe to get some sleep in the back
seat of the VW bug they were in. During
the late night drive, it is believed that the driver fell asleep and drove
off a rise and smashed down onto a concrete embankment. Terry barely
survived with serious injuries.
Years later, I saw
Terry at an ISB reunion (Clearwater 94) and she told me the story. Joe was
a good friend. I still miss