By Courtney A.
Kjos, Barnard '99
Randy Murff '97 met and fell in love with Courtney A.
Kjos, Barnard '99, while both were serving in the military in South
Korea — halfway around the world from Morningside Heights.
Although Murff never formally proposed to Kjos, an engagement ring
was presented to her by one of his closest friends shortly after
Murff was killed in a flying accident on June 12. Murff had
purchased the ring three weeks earlier in the United States and was
going to propose to Kjos in Hawaii during a trip the couple had
planned to take in October.
I first met Randy Murff, it was in a bar in Seoul, South Korea. He
was sitting in a high-backed chair at a low table and I noticed
immediately how broad and muscular his shoulders were. I thought
that they would be so nice to curl up in. I was so
Randy was stationed at Kunsan Air Base, on the west side of the
South Korean peninsula. He was an F-16 fighter pilot with the 35th
Fighter Squadron — impressive, but he didn't try to charm me
with Top Gun stories. Instead, he let me know where he went to
college: Columbia. I was amazed. A First Lieutenant in the United
States Army myself, I realized that I had found possibly the only
other young military officer in Korea who had gone to school on
Morningside Heights. We spent the rest of the evening comparing
stories about our college years. We laughed because almost all of
our friends were doctors, lawyers, bankers and consultants from
Long Island. We mourned the loss of Ferris Booth and wondered about
the never-explored Lerner Hall. As the night closed, I took another
long stare into his large, round, star-studded blue eyes and fell
in love with him. Right there.
the evening of June 12, at 9:35 p.m., Randy Murff's F-16 crashed
into a rice paddy during a routine night training mission, and he
was killed instantly. He was 26 years old. Yet in that short time,
he accomplished more, dreamed more, and lived more than many people
do their entire lives. He followed a simple principle that is oft
forgotten in a world that places high value on money and prestige;
he simply did what he truly wanted to do.
his 26 years, Randy Murff had achieved success in almost everything
he tried. He was an outstanding student, athlete and
Randy is still remembered on the fields of Bellaire (Texas)
High School. His decision to play football was made his freshman
year, a late start for the average American player, who normally
begins in elementary school, especially in a football-crazy state
like Texas. However, when Randy, weighing over 200 pounds,
approached the coach to express his interest in taking up the
sport, he was not met with resistance. You can never have too many
big linemen, the coach probably thought to himself.
Randy Murff and Courtney Kjos pose in dress mess at the St.
Barbara's Day Ball while in Korea. St. Barbara is the patron saint
of air defense.
Randy had more than size on his side. He also had athletic talent
that quickly became apparent. He was voted first team All-District,
and to the Houston Independent School District All-Academic Team as
well. By his senior year, he was co-captain of the football team,
offensive MVP and Male Athlete of the Year. He also lettered in
baseball and track, all while posting grades that earned him a
place on the school's honor roll.
Numerous prestigious universities recruited Randy, and he chose
Columbia over Princeton and Cornell, among others. At Columbia, he
achieved the same success he had enjoyed in high school. Gracing
program covers with gritted teeth and menacing, outstretched arms,
No. 68 was a huge offensive lineman — literally. He grew to
6-2, 315 pounds, but despite the robust belly, Randy was a strong,
fit powerhouse on the field. "Big Randy," as he would later call
his football self, lettered all four years at Columbia, twice made
the All-Ivy Second Team and was named to Columbia's "Team of the
'90s." As co-captain his senior year, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder
with such as Marcellus Wiley '97, who now stars for the NFL's San
Diego Chargers, and helped the Lions to an 8-2 record, their best
mark since 1945.
Randy loved football; he felt a strong loyalty to the team. Yet
if he had been offered an NFL contract, he would have turned it
down because he wanted to fly. Every night he would force his
roommate to watch Wings on the Discovery channel. Although a Dean's
List student, he studied flying far more than he read history. He
followed his ambition right to the Air Force recruiter's office,
where he was shown a fighter plane. But the recruiter was brutally
honest with the would-be pilot; he told "Big Randy" that he simply
wouldn't fit in the cockpit.
people would give up, go home, reopen those history books and
change plans. Not Randy. He embarked on a weight-loss program that
consisted of running and eating one Mama Joy's deli sandwich a day.
He felt so drained from the toll on his body that he slept away
every afternoon. But it produced results — in nine months he
dropped 100 pounds.
weighed 210 when he graduated from Officer Training School in June
1998, a year after his college graduation, still in pursuit of his
dream. Randy had a true, heartfelt passion for flying F-16 fighter
jets, and he was not about to be denied. He displayed the kind of
ambition and drive that made even hard-working fellow Columbians
take notice. "He loved flying and he went after it hard," said Gary
Kahn '97, his roommate and teammate. "I have never seen that type
of determination from anyone in my life. He was the 5-year-old who
wanted to be an astronaut or a fighter pilot and refused to let his
childhood dream die. How many of us get herded into the jobs that
we figured we were supposed to take and didn't follow our
Randy. He was awarded his wings in July 1999 after graduating from
Undergraduate Pilots Training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas.
One year later, in July 2000, Lieutenant Murff graduated as a
mission-capable fighter pilot from follow-on fighter training at
Luke AFB in Arizona. He was then assigned to the 35th Fighter
Squadron at Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea.
Randy was an exceptional fighter pilot with a particular skill
for air-to-air missions. He was one of his squadron's best, logging
over 250 flying hours and being chosen for special schools and
missions. He transported jets from Korea to Moody AFB in Georgia.
He conducted over 10 sorties within certain strategic areas that
resulted in him being awarded the Aerial Achievement Award. He was
chosen to attend Fighter Electronic Combat Officer Course (FECOC)
at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and was chosen as Electronic Combat Pilot
for the 8th Fighter Wing, a position that normally is given to a
major. As Wing ECP, he would have been the Wing expert and trainer
on radar and radar warning gear.
loved going to work every day. He would call me every evening
between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m., and the wonder and excitement on the
other end of the phone was like a child's. "I flew today," he would
say. "I felt just like I was in Star Wars!"
words can recreate Randy Murff. He lived every moment of his life
exactly as he wanted. He flew with desire, energy and sheer
excitement; he loved with abandon, devotion and pure adoration. He
valued his friends and celebrated his friendships with bravado and
a wild spirit. He never missed a moment to tell someone close to
him what he or she meant to him. It didn't take me long to realize
that I hadn't been alone when I fell in love that night in Seoul.
He had fallen in love with me as well. Right there. And he never
let a breath slip through his lips without telling me.
Editor's note: Murff's obituary also appears in
the August 2001 issue.