Patrick Murphy battling strong winds and a strong hangover made some serious errors during his stint as a mercenary in the Escobar Rebellion of Mexico.
In the springtime of 1929 the United States experienced its first aerial attack by a foreign agent when bombs were dropped on the border town of Naco, Arizona. The pilot who carried out the aerial bombing was Patrick Murphy, an Irishman who had an unquenchable thirst for whiskey and an appetite for destruction.
Very little is known of Patrick Murphy only that he was from Ireland but had spent some years rambling around the United States. He was also a pilot who found himself offering his services to Mexico during the Escobar Rebellion, in the late 1920s.
In 1929, Mexican rebels in the north of the country under the leadership of General Jose Gonzalo Escobar rose up against the right-wing government. The rebellion heated up in the months of March and April when it included air strikes carried out by both sides.
This air war was the first of its kind for that part of the world as the government forces dispatched their fleet to rout out the rebels but, the rebels hired pilots to counteract their enemy. One of those pilots was Murphy.
He gave his address as Ardmore, Oklahoma, yet he spoke with a soft southern Irish accent. Those who drank with him stated how Murphy would sing a song or two about his homeland and depending on the amount of whiskey consumed the songs varied from mournful laments to rebel rousing ballads.
A few years before he ended up in Arizona, Murphy had been charged with manslaughter in Alabama when a plane he was piloting crashed and killed his passenger, who happened to be the plane's mechanic. Murphy injured his leg and walked with a bad limp thereafter. The charges were dropped and Murphy left Alabama with a crippled leg.
Murphy had a small biplane with which he carried out air stunts at shows across the States. He also offered his services to farmers to dust their crops. In the spring of 1929 Murphy was sipping whiskey in a saloon in Bisbee, Arizona, when he got into a discussion with other patrons about the Escobar Rebellion which was happening only a few miles away across the border.
At the end of his drinking session Murphy declared his support for the rebels and went to offer his piloting services to them. The rebels accepted his help and when a fee was agreed, Murphy packed his biplane with homemade explosives and flew off to target government sites in Naco, Sonora.
Murphy's bombs, which were made with dynamite and scrap metal packed into small cylinders, proved to be duds on his first two attempts but on the third he successfully hit a Mexican customs house. His next mission would turn out to be a disaster.
At 7:45am on April 2, 1929, Murphy flew his biplane loaded with bombs in the direction of Naco but, as he battled strong winds and a strong hangover, he made a mess of his coordinates and dropped his deadly cargo on the town of Naco, in Arizona, rather than Naco, Mexico!
As the residents of the American border town ran for their lives, Murphy's bombs landed on the town's pharmacy, a car garage, a general store and the post office, which because it was a federal building it was considered a federal offense. Miraculously no lives were lost but Murphy did drop a bomb on a Dodge touring car which, ironically, had been parked in the American town for safety by its owner - a Mexican army officer.
Murphy's bombing came to an end when a federale took aim with his rifle and shot the plane down. Murphy crashed in the desert and somehow scrambled from the wreckage without a scratch. He made it back over the border to Mexico where he learned of his massive mistake.
The New York Times called Murphy’s actions “an incident that has created a tense international situation” but such a serious headline like that did not deter the Irishman from making a return to the United States. As the Escobar Rebellion was being crushed by the government forces, Murphy headed back across the border. Murphy feared if he stayed in Mexico he would be caught by the government and face a firing squad, so he took his chances by heading back to the country he had bombed!
Murphy arrived back over the border on April 30 where authorities picked him up and sent him to Tuscon jail for a week. Strangely he was never charged with the bombing of Naco and unsurprisingly he never got paid for it.
When he was released Murphy simply disappeared. Some suggestions indicate Murphy went north towards Canada but today his memory lives on in the song “The Bombing of Naco” which was specially composed by Arizona's official state balladeer Dolan Ellis.
"Now history doesn't know where Patrick Murphy is today,
When he finally sobered up he kinda quickly went away.
Yes he faded with his biplane to some other place and time
Because to bomb ol' Arizona was a heavy duty crime."
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