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Chloe Melas honors late grandpa by publishing memoir of WWII experiences

"Luck of the Draw," about Chloe Melas' grandfather's experience in the Air Force's Bloody Hundredth and a prisoner-of-war camp, informed a new Steven Spielberg series.
/ Source: TODAY

Growing up, CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas listened to her grandfather, Frank Murphy, recall his time serving in the U.S. Air Force during WWII.

“My grandfather was always telling stories about jumping out of his airplane that was on fire and being a prisoner of war, but I didn’t understand what any of that really meant. I just thought everybody had a grandfather who went through that,” Melas tells TODAY.com. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized how unique my grandfather’s experience was.”

For his service, Murphy received a Purple Heart, Air Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal.

Melas and her mother, children’s book author Elizabeth Murphy, are now sharing his “unique experience” with the world by editing the memoir he wrote for his family and publishing it through a major publisher under the name “Luck of the Draw.”

Chloe Melas' grandfather, Frank Murphy.
Chloe Melas' grandfather, Frank Murphy.Courtesy Murphy Family Collection

“The reason I’m doing this is because my grandfather was truly one of the great ones,” Melas says. “He never raised his voice. It didn’t matter what problem you came to him with — and the entire family came to him with problems. He was always a problem solver.”

And, as his memoir shows, he was a survivor.

Melas’ grandfather served in the 100th Bombardment Group, a division in the U.S. Air Force that flew over occupied Europe during WWII. Nicknamed the Bloody Hundredth, serving in this bombardment group was a dangerous prospect: One out of every three missions went down, the book’s introduction states. 

Murphy served in the Air Force during WWII.
Murphy served in the Air Force during WWII.Courtesy Murphy Family Collection

“Many believe, including myself, that we would not live the life and have the freedoms that we have today without those young boys who took to the skies for these daylight bombing missions that were so dangerous,” Melas says. 

On his 21st mission, Murphy had already defied the odds before his plane was shot down in Germany, killing two of his fellow soldiers. With shrapnel in his shoulder, Murphy parachuted out of the B-17, landing in a field. A German family fed him, then turned him into the police.

He spent the next year and a half in Stalag Luft III, a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland — specifically, the one depicted in the 1963 film “The Great Escape.”

In 1943, 76 Allied airmen escaped from the POW camp. Murphy was among the people trying to tunnel out, but never escaped. Seventy-three men were recaptured; 50 of them were executed.

Back in the United States, Murphy’s father called the White House every day to find out where his son had gone. When he returned, he was 50 pounds lighter, but was heavy with a story that he didn’t share with his wife and four children.

Eventually, Murphy began speaking about his time in the war to share his experiences with his family. “Luck of the Draw” was originally published as a memoir meant for his kids and grandkids to read.

“He worked on it all through the ‘90s," Melas says. "So I remember going to his house and he would be in the basement in Atlanta, retired, typing away on the typewriter for hours."

Chloe Melas and her grandpa Frank.
Chloe Melas and her grandpa Frank.Courtesy Murphy Family Collection

The research in Murphy’s memoir also also partially inspired “Masters of the Air,” a forthcoming Apple TV+ miniseries from Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Gary Goetzman, rounding out the trilogy about WWII that includes “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

Based mostly on Don Miller’s book of the same name, “Masters of the Air” will focus on U.S. airmen’s efforts to take on Nazi Germany and will star Austin Butler. Murphy is a character in the book and will be played by Jonas Moore, who also narrated Murphy's audiobook.

Murphy died eight years ago and never got to see his story make bookstore shelves or the screen.

But Melas says her grandma, Anne Murphy, now 93, is enjoying this moment. Much of Murphy’s experiences, Melas says, were foreign to her grandmother for much of their marriage.

“My grandmother says she didn’t know he was a prisoner of war when she met him. His mother had to tell her. I guess he thought what he had experienced was nothing special — nearly everyone served,” she says. 

With the book, Melas is looking forward to sharing his story with people beyond the family who loved him, as well as her two young sons who know all about Grandpa Frank.

“I’m just excited for people to learn about what these young boys did. Just like Tom Hanks says on the cover, how did those young boys do such things? They were so young and so inexperienced. It was so terrifying, what they went through,” she says.

As a reminder, she keeps a pair of his shoes in her office. He traded his leather shoes for wooden clogs, and walked with them during a three day-long march from one camp to another during one of Europe’s worst winters.

“It sits in my office because it symbolizes so many things: Resilience and the will to carry on,” she says.

Melas holding her grandfather's shoe.
Melas holding her grandfather's shoe.Courtesy Murphy Family Collection

“I hope that everyone stops and says thank you to those who served our country. And we thank our veterans, we listen to their stories,” she says.