John W. Murphy never did anything that made him famous. He wasn’t rich. As a kid he entered World War II with the assurance that it was the right thing to do for his country. He was unassuming and most times quiet, but in 1946 he left the military a changed man. He found a passion, and it was flying.
Murphy learned to fly at Southern Air Service on a very interesting field that was known at the time as Candler Field. Today we know that little strip as Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. He loved to reminisce about his solo and his $5 checkride, but nothing could light up Murphy’s eyes like his “”Enola Gay,”" his 1946 Piper J-3 Cub, an airplane that became his in 1951 at the cost of one surplus Army Jeep.
In 1978 Murphy retired from his job and took the position of airport manager at Pickens County Airport in his hometown of Jasper, Ga. It wasn’t a stressful job, since most rural airports in north Georgia, at that time, were rather sleepy destinations that were home to airport bums and weekend flyers.
In the years that he managed JZP with little or no funding, Murphy didn’t do great things. Instead, he did the little things that mattered. For 30 years he made a 3,600-foot piece of asphalt home.
In celebrating his years of service, I finally settled on the noun “”symbol”" to describe best what Murphy has meant to JZP and the Front Porch Gang. He has been the symbol of all that JZP has ever been and all that she hopes to be. He represents her heart.
On Feb. 5, 2008, the heart of JZP stopped beating. I’m not sure what my feelings were when I heard the news, but there was a profound sense that something fine and good had slipped away. There was a loss that cut deeply, and yet there was a feeling that the time had come. Old men who fly Cubs are not particularly appreciated any more. Cubs don’t burn a lot of gas. They like to land on the grass and they fly too slowly.
But you know what? Murphy doesn’t have to worry about that now. He’s gone to a place where the grass is thick and green, the air smooth and clear. When he closed his eyes in that final sleep, the “”Enola Gay”" was still his, but now her dope and fabric is fresh and new. Her sunny yellow color shines against a vivid blue sky. The only authority there is the Lord, and I am pretty positive that He doesn’t mind that Murphy’s Cub is NORDO.
Murphy wasn’t a famous pilot. He was just an aviator. He didn’t fly races or blast off to the moon, but he did launch occasionally from a little grass field in Ludville, Ga.
What he did do was stay true to himself and his passion. He fought a good fight, he finished his course, and he kept the faith.
As a fellow aviator, all I can say to that is amen.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of a 1948 Luscombe 8E and part of the “”Front Porch Gang”" at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.