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  • Linnea Iannazzone

Meet Bill Murphy, CVI Graduate with an Extraordinary Story

After he retired, Bill Murphy realized he had a story to tell. He began taking writing workshops in his hometown of Boston, which led him to the Clemente Veterans’ Initiative (CVI) in 2019. There he found a connection to his own stories and the stories of fellow veterans. “You sit down in a Clemente class surrounded by vets,” he says. “There’s no one story, everyone’s got their own story, but Clemente just brings it together.”

Bill Murphy, a Clemente Veterans Initiative graduate, posing with two of his grandsons
Bill Murphy with two of his 10 grandchildren

Bill’s extraordinary story took him from Massachusetts to Viet Nam and back. Born and raised in Dorchester, Bill’s college years were rocked by the chaos of the late 1960s: classes were canceled his senior year following the shooting at Kent State University, and his career plans were thrown into uncertainty by the looming threat of the draft. Hoping to take his future into his own hands, Bill applied to be a linguist for the Army Security Agency and spent nearly a year studying Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute in El Paso, TX. He finished third in his class, going on to serve in Viet Nam from April 1972 to February 1973, one month before the last serviceman left after the Paris Peace Treaty.

“When I came back, I was floundering,” says Bill. He ended up getting a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University, embarking on a decades-long career in special law enforcement. Comparing the humanities-focused, seminar-style CVI to his earlier educational experiences, he says, “is like comparing apples and pears.”

“Clemente is the best class I ever had, bar none,” he says. “The stimulation, the attitude of the professors, the life experience of your fellow scholars is remarkable.”

Even after the pandemic moved everything online, Bill continued to stay involved, taking the opportunity to participate in CVI courses as far away as Seattle. The classes helped him discover a new appreciation for subjects he had previously disliked, such as art history, which he found helped him make connections across different areas of his life.

“Clemente has pulled a lot of my life together which would on the surface not be connected,” says Bill. “I took four years of Latin in high school and we read the Aeneid, but when you’re sixteen or seventeen you’re focusing on the language and the grammar. Reading it later on, after having the experience of living through the 60s, and then you sit down in a Clemente class surrounded by veterans, you get more out of it.”

Film poster for the documentary A Reckoning in Boston
Poster for A Reckoning in Boston

One of the best parts of his Clemente experience, says Bill, was bonding with his fellow students, including Carl Chandler, one of the stars and co-producers of

the documentary A Reckoning in Boston.

“He’s showing me pictures of his grandkids and his daughters,” Bill remembers. “He’s Native American, and at the end of class he gives me two books about Native Americans. I gave them to my grandchildren. It’s that personal touch that makes Clemente totally different from all other classes.”

This year, faculty from CVI Boston are currently collaborating with faculty from Virginia to offer an online version of the course, generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Meanwhile, Bill is still in touch with many of his classmates, several of whom are pursuing their own story-telling projects. Bill continues to work on his memoir, and one former classmate is interviewing him for a documentary on the Catholic Worker Movement’s anti-war efforts in the 60s. Bill says his experience in the course continues to enrich his daily life.

“Yesterday, in The Boston Globe, there was an article about Nietzsche. I would never have been exposed to that if not for Clemente. Often, I’ll open a newspaper, and there’s something we talked about in Clemente.”

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