The Lufkin News earns the April 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service
By Emily E. Hyatt
The last Stories from Angelina detailed Angelina County native Caro Crawford Brown's Pulitzer Prize winning journalism, but she isn't the only County resident to be so honored. Lufkin's own newspaper and two of its writers earned their own Pulitzer Prize in pursuit of truth and excellence within Angelina County, on behalf of a local family.
In April 1977, The Lufkin News and Angelina County made headlines in newspapers across the country for their receipt of that year's Pulitzer Prize for public service, which honored the paper, editor Joe Murray, and reporter Ken Herman for their series of articles investigating the death of a local Marine recruit. Spurred on by the grief of recruit Lynn "Bubba" McClure's family, Murray and Herman pushed the Corps and Defense Department leaders to get to the bottom of the Marine's death. Their investigation caught the attention of Representative Charlie Wilson, who turned up the heat in Washington and led to a reform of Corps recruiting practices and training methods.
The story of Bubba McClure came to Herman and Murray's attention when a concerned family member approached them about the recruit's mysterious death following boot camp injuries. The family didn't understand how he died. They also didn't understand how he was accepted into the Corps in the first place. A young man with lower than average mental abilities and social skills, McClure had at one time requested to enter a state mental hospital, had a local criminal record, had not finished high school, had a demonstrably low IQ and had failed at least one military entrance exam. Leaving Lufkin, he had somehow passed an exam elsewhere (with coaching, it was speculated) and was shipped off to boot camp, eager to find direction for his life and make his family proud. His family had no idea he had joined the Marines until he wrote them from boot camp.
Bubba McClure suffered a head injury during training on December 6, 1975. He was transferred from San Diego to a Houston VA hospital on February 20 and died on March 13, 1976. His injuries occurred during mock bayonet drills using pugil sticks. Repeated blows to the head, in spite his helmet, knocked the recruit unconscious and permanently injured his brain.
Herman and Murray's investigation and Charlie Wilson's championing of the cause in Washington resulted in a Presidential inquiry and Congressional investigation that led to reforms in recruiting and training practices. The Corps also reprimanded and court-maritaled officers and non-commissioned officers involved in a drill that somehow got out of hand and the recruitment of a young man not qualified to join the Corps. The two newsmen were proud of the results, arguing that an excellent organization, The United State Marine Corps, was made better through the reforms and a family was able to rest assured that perhaps their son's death would prevent similar tragedies on the future.
According to the Pulitzer committee, "… a small newspaper with limited resources chose not to settle for the official explanation…" and "…what might have been a routine obituary became a search for better answers and, eventually the cause of fundamental reform in the recruiting and training practices of the United State Marine Corps." Joe Murray and Ken Herman received the highest prize of their profession, gave comfort to a grieving family, and ensured that one of the most storied and honorable organizations in the country was kept accountable and remained a group all Americans can be proud of. Not bad a bad day's work for a local paper.
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