Dr. Stratton C. Murrell tells some of his stories at the 2010 Banks Party by the Onslow County Historical Society.
By Dr. Stratton C. Murrell
My Search began when I was looking through the Onslow County Heritage, which was published by the Onslow County Historical Society in 1983. This is a unique book in that it is a collection of genealogical information and stories written by various families in Onslow County. Although these stories often become embellished and distorted as time goes by they can become important tools for historical investigation.
I read two articles about the Hurst Family. They were written by Gerald Hurst (with the help of his Uncle K.B. Hurst). I knew about the Hurst family and that they owned, and were developing, approximately two miles of Onslow County beach front property in the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually became Hurst Beach. It was designated on the maps of North Carolina but this beautiful and successful development was lost when the property (and others) was seized by the U.S. government in 1940 by eminent domain. This is a law whereby the Federal and State governments can appropriate private property for the public good. Apparently the reason for this seizure was because of a national emergency in that our country would be involved in World War II and would possibly be invaded. Some say that the Hurst property was purchased by the government for only $1,000.00. It would be worth millions today. And then Gerald reported that his father, William Barry “Wilbarry” Hurst, was the first uniformed Chief Of Police of Jacksonville from 1931 to 1949. Concurrently, he was City Manager for twelve years. These were important achievements, but his most interesting adventure was concerned with a wild ride in an air plane.
It was in the 1920s and the movie, WINGS, was released in 1927 in the same year as Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight. It was the first movie to win the Oscar Award as the best picture of the year, starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers. Gary Cooper played a bit part. The heroes at that time were the pilots who barn stormed this country and performed daring stunts in their planes for appropriate, well paying audiences. Us boys thought it was the “cat’s meow” to wear leather aviator caps with ear flaps and real celluloid goggles just like Lindbergh. In fact, many people were interested in the new aviation technology at this time. One wealthy family, that had their summer home on the banks of New River, had their own amphibious air craft in 1920s. (2-12-2014: This information was actually the beginning of my search for the rest of the story concerning the article Gerald wrote in the Onslow Heritege. Part of the story was that Willbarry and his brother, K.B., were the first locals to fly a plane across New River. It was a good story but I never looked it up until years later and some of the questions were where did the plane come from and why did they fly the plane anyway.
Kim Kimball, one of my History Rangers, interviewed K.B. Hurst several years ago and recorded a unique story which has become a part of the Hurst family lore. K.B. said that the Hurst family lived on a farm at Paradise Point. It was across the river from the Coddington Place at Old Town Point. Mr. Coddington was a Buick dealer from Raleigh and he had purchased Mr. Tom McIntyre’s plantation (Onslow Hall) right there on the river. Tom McIntyre was a Wall Street entrepreneur from New York. He was the one who built the railroad (in 1891) from Wilmington to New Bern (with Jacksonville in the middle) for transportation concerning his lumber business. The entire operation was very much like what the Vanderbilt’s were doing at Asheville in developing the Biltmore Estate.. Since these developments resembled each other I referred to Tom McIntyre’s development as Onslow County’s Biltmore Estate in several stories that I wrote about Onslow County.
The Hurst brothers (Willbarry and K.B.) knew about the seaplane (a Flying Boat, often referred to as a Hydroplane) docked out front at the Cottington’s summer home. So, being good neighbors, and curious about this new fangled flying machine, they paid a visit to the Coddington family. While they were there the pilot probably showed the Hurst boys the plane and the basics of it’s operation. But apparently he did not take them for a ride.
The Hurst boys just happened to make another visit, a short time later, when no one was there. It was the right time for some serious mischief. Willbarry was curious and knowledgeable of things mechanical, and being the older he decided that they should play with the machine. They started the plane and they hopped and bumped over the river for a short distance with K. B. hanging on for dear life. He later reported that the flight took place early in the morning when the river was as smooth as a looking glass (I remember when New River looked just like that when I lived at Montford Point). After playing with the boat like feel of the craft they finally became air borne. Although they were probably no more than five feet above the surface of the water, they flew the thing. They ended their ride and tied the plane back to it’s original moorings and walked away. According to the Onslow Heritage book, this episode happened in 1924.
When K.B. told the story at a later date he said that maybe he and Willbarry should not have taken that plane ride, but it was fun. Actually it was more than that. Although the story is vague in places and maybe embellished here and there, it is basically true* that the Hurst boys were the first local people to fly a plane (part way) across New River. K.B. was an outstanding historian and at one time was a Justice Of The Peace of Onslow County so there must be some truth to the story. Although it would be difficult to prove otherwise, it was part of a family legacy in that years later, Gerald (Willbarry’s son) joined the U. S. Air Force in 1956. He went through some trials and tribulations to get his wings, but he got ‘em in 1958 and then flew 38 combat missions in Southeast Asia before he was shot down and was ejected
from his burning F-105 fighter. He was rescued by a helicopter crew and later went on to complete 91 combat missions. In relating this story he was quick to say that this series of events was minor compared to the sacrifices made by others in that unpopular war. Gerald later retired as a Colonel in 1982 and returned to Jacksonville.
In 1983 he became a licensed general contractor and began building custom homes and developing property. In 1984 he was approached and asked to run for public office, and was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives. The strength of the Republican Party in Onslow County was minimal at that time. And his winning a seat in the Legislature was amazing because he became the first Republican to be elected to any political position in Onslow County in many years. He later ran for the U.S. Congress, Third District, but was unsuccessful.
In recent times , Gerald has spoken several times about his family history, and on one occasion I was amazed that he recalled”---How Dr. Stratton Murrell saved me from a terrible fate----worse than death” This “terrible fate” was that Gerald’s application as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force was in jeopardy because of a slight visual defect in that he could not see 20/20 without glasses. I designed a visual therapy method which enabled Gerald to pass the test without glasses and to achieve his childhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot. I’ll explain this unusual episode in detail in my forthcoming book, but for now I wanted to share the story of the wild air plane ride made in the 1920s’ as told by K.B., just to illustrate that some interesting things were happening in Onslow County a long time ago (before Camp Lejeune was built in 1941) which continues to shape our future.
·Added notes as of 9-8-2008: Gerald and I checked out various versions of the Hurst boys and their air plane ride. We tied it all together with historical facts of that time plus filling in the blank spaces with what the Hurst brothers would probably have done. As the result of our investigation, this important historical story is basically true and only some of the minor details are questionable. (notes made 7-11-2013:
Added notes as of 9-8-2008: There are many theories as to why the government chose Onslow County as the location of Camp Lejeune. One theory is that Congressman Graham Barden of New Bern thought it built up the economy of this area with new jobs, etc. and it did this at a terrible price in that so many people lost their homes so that others could enjoy a better economy and help to win the war. As the old saying goes, PROGRESS IS PAINFUL.
Added notes as of 1-4-2010: When Gerald retired, one of the things he decided to do was to become a politician. His uncle, K.B. Hurst, was one of the few Republicans in Onslow County. With the help of K.B. and others, Gerald campaigned for a position in the North Carolina State Legislature in 1985 and won. According to the book, "Onslow County, A Brief History, By Alan D. Watson, Gerald not only won the election (in 1985) but he also broke the strangle hold that the Democratic Party held on North Carolina (see page 108). Some of his fellow Republicans felt that Gerald was a political hero. History develops in strange ways and in the 21st century the Republicans were a very strong party in North Carolina. Was this rapid advancement just a coincidence? Gerald joined the Air Force in 1956 and eventually became a combat pilot. He was shot down in 1970, but continued active duty and flew a total of 90 combat missions. His brother (Albert) was in the naval Air Force.
Added notes as of 3-10-2010: I met with Rev. Dr. Lawrence Cole at 10:30 A.M. at the First Baptist Church and I gave him a progress report on the History Committee. I told him about the DIGITAL WINGS edition of our book, IMAGES OF AMERICA-JACKSONVILLE AND CAMP LEJEUNE, which was on file at our church library. Any one who checks out this book will automatically have the address to the Wings Edition. As new stories are written, they will be instantly published in Digital Wings.
More notes: (a story in progress) I did some additional research on this story and I found that in addition to Gerald being a combat pilot iin the Air Force I found his brother, Albert was in the Naval Air Force Reserve. Both were sons of William Barry (Wilbarry) Hurst. I figured that since Wilbarry and his brother, K.B., flew across New River in 1920 that the sons should do the same thing but this time for a purpose. Gerald and Albert attend the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. N.C. I was a deacon of the church a long time ago as well as a Sunday School teacher, plus being the church historian. And then I started thinking of Rick Warren's book, A Purpose Driven Life. I then thumbed through the Bible and was inspired by the idea about beating swords into plowshares. I turned to Google and found that the quote came from Isaiah 2:4. What a great idea. These two retired military men would duplicate their father and his brother's flight accross New River for a peaceful purpose. Our book about Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune showed the First Baptist Church as an important part of the history of this area in that it was the first church building constructed (in 1890) here. Our book contained a sketch of this first church. A little over a hundred years ago and how the congregation moved to a new location on the Gum Branch Road in the year 2000. We had some pictures taken as the building was being constructed. But we had a deadline and our book was published before our church building was completed. And now we have an aerial picture (taken by the Hurst brothers) of the completed building. And then I was inspied by Isaiiah 2:4 "-----and they shall beat their swords into plowshares----". Gerald is retired from the USAF and Albert is retired from the US Naval Air Reserve. In taking aerial photos of our church they would be flying a different kind of mission. What a story. Rick Warren (author of, A PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE) would be pleased.
The ISAIAH CONNECTION was an adventure that began when Gerald and Albert drove to the Albert Ellis Airport. Albert's grand son, Josh, was with them. They got into Gerald's plane and took off and circled around New River several times. The air was turbulent as they approached the First Baptist Church on Gum Branch Road. Josh took a picture,and here it is---- Mission accomplished.It is another episode in the development of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.(see the story about the Isaiah Connection in the New River story).
First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, N.C. as of 4-3-2010.
Image Team: Colonel Gerald Barry Hurst, USAF (Ret.)-Pilot; Albert Hurst, US Naval Air Reserve (Ret.)-Navigator and Spotter; and Josh Booth-Photographer. 2-9-2014: See the following story for details.
10-6-2012: I recently found some information about Gerald Hurst that few people are aware of in that he had a tremendous impact upon the political structure of Onslow County. According to Alan D. Watson, pg. 108--in his book, Onslow County --A Brief History,
".... Republicans broke the stranglehold of the Democrats----in Onslow County----in the mid 1980s when Gerald B. Hurst (a Republican) won the election to the lower house of the General ASSEMBLY of North Carolina. Many years before this particular episode, his Uncle, K.B. Hurst was one of the few Republicans in Onslow County. One of his favorite stories was that there were so few Republicans in Onslow County at that time that they could have had their political meetings in a phone booth. More stories later.
The White Hat Connection
Introduction: Gerald Hurst was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1985. This was the time when Ronald Reagan was elected President. It is said that Gerald was the first Republican to be elected to the General Assembly since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. Politically, the Reconstruction ended in 1877.
For Gerald to be elected, as a Republican, was a super achievement, and I asked him what was the major component of his campaign that helped him win the election. He said that it was probably his white Stetson cowboy hat. But Gerald did more than just win the election See the story below for details
I was looking through my collection of news stories plus a series of notes and I found that I had mentioned some of Gerald's political episodes in a story I wrote for the Jacksonville Daily News in 2006 concerning his election to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1985. Later on I discovered another connection(when I designed the computerized extension of our book with the title of DIGITAL WINGS I described it as a work book of connections) in that he changed the history of politics in Onslow County ( see, Onslow County-A Brief History, page 108, By Alan D. Watson, University of North Carolina at Wilmington). Dr. Watson said that when Gerald , a Republican, was elected to the General Assembly, he broke the stranglehold that the Democratic party had on the politics in Onslow County for many years. In fact, Gerald was the first Republican to be elected to the Assembly since the reconstruction days which followed the Civil War. Since there didn't seem to be any more significant connections at the time, I left the story on file and prepared for other connections. And the next connection appeared years later. We were talking about how Jacksonville had changed and I remembered that Gerald wore that cowboy hat during his campaign. Why did he do that? I remember when I lived across the street from the Onslow Theater, which was the first movie theater in Jacksonville. I remember (as a boy in the 1930s) when me and my friends went to the Onslow Saturday matinee to watch the cowboys in action. All of our heroes, like the Lone Ranger, wore white hats. And now I began to perceive that white hat in a different way. In my generation and to some of those a little bit younger, the man who wore the white hat was a strong man who protected the people. This symbol worked for cowboys as well as politicians. Ronald Reagan wore a white hat when was a Hollywood Cowboy and when he campaigned to be the president of the United States he made sure that his fellow Republicans were supplied with white Stetson cowboy hats.
Gerald represented Onslow County at the Republican Convention in Dallas, Texas as an alternate delegate in 1984. While he was there he purchased a white cowboy hat (and one
for his uncle K.B. Hurst. The inside hat band (the sweat band) had the president's seal and was stamped STETSON. Gerald wore that hat as he campaigned for a position at the North Carolina General Assembly and he won in 1985. Ronald Reagan was re-elected for president at that same time. So,the White Hat helped a lot of people and it also made a great story.
I talked to Gerald about that election several times later as I gained new information and ideas.