Loss seemed to be a universal condition for our boys in the early 50s.
In 1951, Murdock's mother passed away, the victim of cancer. From session notes (graciously provided by Dr. A.M. Richter), Murdock gave his view of events:
"I don't remember a lot of what happened. I know she was tired, really tired. I had to be quiet when I was in the house, or play outside so I wouldn't disturb her. And she and my dad would leave for days at a time, and then when they came back, she was even more tired. Some days she'd act like she was okay, but most of the time...And then one day she just didn't wake up from her nap. I do remember all these people coming to the house, bringing food and the women were crying. I don't remember if I cried or not. I don't think I did, actually. I mean, I hadn't really been around her a lot for, well, for a long time. I remember the funeral. I know it wasn't until years later I connected my mother with it. Weird, huh, Doc? But to me, it was just a big to-do about putting this box in the ground, y'know? The next thing I knew, I was living with my grandparents, and my dad had taken off with my older brother. Looking for a new start, I guess; kinda hard to do with a little kid tagging along. They'd come by now and then. He was real nice, but kinda...quiet. After I was, I don't know, maybe ten, I never saw either of them again."
I made an attempt to find out what happened to Murdock's father and brother, but unfortunately I wasn't able to determine that exactly. The most likely person to be his father that I found died in an oil rig accident when Murdock would have been fourteen. His brother seems to have just disappeared.
Details concerning Richard Bancroft are even harder to find. In 1952, he was turned over to the Angel Guardians Orphanage in Los Angeles, shortly after showing up alone and apparently abandoned. County records, supported by later notes from the orphanage, indicate that although he appeared to be of at least average intelligence, he had great difficulty in distinguishing between fact and fantasy. He gave various, and apparently rather imaginative, names and backgrounds when asked, and eventually the orphanage had his name legally registered as Alvin Brenner. As to Richard's own inability to recall his mother's name or what she looked like, orphanage staff felt he probably had not been living with her before ending up at Angel Guardians. Despite an exhaustive search he conducted in later years, and additional attempts by this author, no record could be found of Samantha Bancroft after her divorce.
Things were going in a different direction for John, as well. Still stationed in Japan in 1953, he was coming to the attention of some of the higher echelon. His commanding officer apparently saw something in the 25-year-old lieutenant, and with the Korean War coming to a close, the wheels began turning. Eisenhower had introduced his "Domino Theory" as a defense for the military funding of South Vietnam, and the military leadership didn't need tea leaves to see what was coming. John was offered a "unique" assignment, and in August, 1953, found himself at Camp Coëtquidan, Guer, France. Ostensibly there for an exchange program, he spent most of his time acting as an aide to the US military conferring with French officials.
John didn't completely side-step loss. Allowed a short leave before heading to France, John headed back to California, and a woman he hoped to take back to Guer with him. Unfortunately, the woman of his dreams wanted more than he could give her; at least, more than he was willing to give at that time of his life. He shipped out for France, and left the soon-to-be Mr and Mrs Jack Harmon in his past.
John was promoted to captain in 1954, and only a few short months later, the French were defeated decisively at Dien Bien Phu, South Vietnam. It was the end of the war for France, and John expected to be reassigned. Instead, he would remain in France for another year and a half. Though chafing at the bit, he knew, just from the kinds of people he was working with, that he was being groomed for something.
In February, 1956, John received his long-awaited reassignment. He had volunteered months before, and at last, his hard work, war record, and intelligence were recognized and rewarded. He returned stateside, and began a rigorous training program at Fort Bragg, N.C. He would be part of the 77th Special Forces Group.
By June of 1957, John had already visited South Vietnam on several occasions. Although limited by treaty as to the number of "permanent" advisors the US was allowed, there were no such limits on temporary duty personnel. John was very familiar with the country when, less than a year into his rank of major, the First Special Forces Group was activated on Okinawa and his real job began. He soon found himself in Nha Trang, training the first group of what would become South Vietnamese Special Forces soldiers. Over the next few years, John would find himself traveling the length and breadth of South Vietnam, training, gathering information, flying back to the States for a few months before returning yet again. He received his promotion to lieutenant colonel while in Vietnam, and wasn't even aware of it until called into headquarters for the ceremony.
In January, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. The following month, MACV (US Military Assistance Command for Vietnam) was formed, to assist with the control of the ever increasing US military presence in Vietnam. Eventually it would take over all command control. John was now reporting to what was referred to as "Pentagon East". In September, 1961, the Fifth Special Forces Group was activated to take command of all Special Forces activities in Southeast Asia. John had been a colonel for just over six months. When he received his orders to return stateside, reporting to the Pentagon, he couldn't decide if it was a good thing or bad. He did know he was ready to go home.
At least, for a while.