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Army Trombonist Traces Military Roots To The Civil War

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Brian Hill
Spc. Joseph Murrell is a trombonist with the 399th Army Band based in Fort Leonard Wood.

The thought of enlisting in the Army had been on Joseph Murrell’s mind ever since he was in high school. But an Army recruiter encouraged him to use the scholarships he’d been offered and wait it out. After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Louisville, Murrell went on to pursue a master’s at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.

His desire to serve in the military remained. He enlisted in the Army after he earned his doctorate. In 2018, he combined his musical skill set with his military service by joining the 399th Army Band at Fort Leonard Wood. Last month, the Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence named Murrell “Soldier of the Year” at the 2020 Best Warrior Competition.

“When I initially thought about joining the Army as a musician, I kind of conceived of it as joining the Army to play music for soldiers, because I always grew up really respecting soldiers and [about] the sacrifice they and their families make,” he said.

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According to Spc. Joseph Murrell's family research, his distant relative Pvt. William Murrell (pictured) escaped slavery and fled to Ohio around 1863. He joined the Union Army and served in the 109th United States Colored Troop.

For the trombonist, the military might just be destiny. Murrell said almost every man in his paternal blood line — except for his father — served the military in some way. The legacy started when Murrell’s long-ago ancestor, Pvt. William Murrell, joined the Union Army in 1863. A runaway slave, Pvt. Murrell had fled to Ohio and served in the 109th Colored Troop.

“Once I found out that basically all of our families served in the Army … it became apparent to me that it was really important that I kind of keep that tradition going. So it went from kind of a, ‘I'd like to serve soldiers’ to ‘I'd like to make this a career and continue this family legacy.’”

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Murrell talked with host Sarah Fenske about what he’s discovered about his family’s history and how it impacts his outlook on serving in the military today.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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