Audie Murphy...American Hero
Audie Leon Murphy was a legend in his own time. A war hero, movie actor, writer of country and western songs, and poet. His biography reads more like fiction than fact. He lived only 46 years, but he made a lasting imprint on American history.
Audie was born on a sharecropper's farm in North Texas on June 20, 1924. As a boy, he chopped cotton for one dollar a day and was noted for his feats of derring-do and his accuracy with a gun. He had only 5 years of schooling and was orphaned at age 16.
After being refused enlistment during World War II in both the Marines and Paratroopers for being too small (5'5") and underweight (110 lbs), he enlisted in the U.S. Army a few days after his 18th birthday. After basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and advanced training at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, Audie was sent overseas.
He was assigned to the famous 15th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division where he fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. He earned a battlefields commission for his courage and leadership ability as well as citations and decorations including every medal for valor that America gives. He was also awarded three French and one Belgian medal. Lieutenant Audie Murphy was the highest decorated soldier in American history.
Murphy still had to "fight the system" to get overseas and into action. His persistence paid off, and in early 1943 he was shipped out to Casablanca, Morocco as a replacement in 3rd Platoon, Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. Murphy saw no action in Africa, but instead participated in extensive training maneuvers along with the rest of the 3rd Division. His combat initiation finally came when he took part in the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. Shortly after arriving, Murphy was promoted to corporal after killing two Italian officers as they tried to escape on horseback. He contracted malaria while in Sicily, an illness which put him in the hospital several times during his Army years.
After Sicily was secured from Axis forces, the 3rd Division invaded the Italian mainland, landing near Salerno in September 1943. While leading a night patrol, Murphy and his men ran into German soldiers but fought their way out of an ambush, taking cover in a quarry. The German command sent a squad of soldiers in, but they were stopped by intense machine-gun and rifle fire. Three German soldiers were killed and several others captured. As a result of his actions at Salerno, Murphy was promoted to sergeant.
He distinguished himself in action on many occasions while in Italy, fighting at the Volturno River, at the Anzio beachhead, and in the cold, wet Italian mountains. While in Italy, his skills as a combat infantryman earned him promotions and decorations for valor. Following its participation in the Italian campaign, the 3rd Division landed in Southern France on August 15, 1944 as part of Operation Dragoon. Shortly thereafter, Murphy's best friend, Lattie Tipton (referred to as "Brandon" in Murphy's book To Hell and Back), was killed by a German soldier in a machine gun nest who was feigning surrender. Murphy went into a rage and single-handedly wiped out the German machine gun crew which had just killed his friend. He then used the German machine gun and grenades to destroy several other nearby enemy positions. For this act, Murphy received the Distinguished Service Cross (second in precedence only to the Medal of Honor).
During seven weeks of fighting in that campaign in France, Murphy's division suffered 4,500 casualties. Just weeks later, he received two Silver Stars for further heroic actions. Murphy, by now a staff sergeant and holding the position of platoon sergeant, was eventually awarded a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, which elevated him to platoon leader. He was wounded in the hip by a sniper's ricocheting bullet 12 days after the promotion and spent ten weeks recuperating. Within days of returning to his unit, and still bandaged, he became company commander on January 25, 1945 and suffered further wounds from a mortar round which killed two others nearby.
Medal of Honor action
The next day, January 26 (the temperature was 14 °F (−10 °C) with 24 inches (61 cm) of snow on the ground), his unit participated in the battle at Holtzwihr, France. After fighting for some time, Murphy's unit was reduced to an effective strength of 19 out of 128. Murphy sent all of the remaining men to the rear while he shot at the Germans with his M1 carbine until he ran out of ammunition. He then climbed aboard an abandoned, burning M10 tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to cut down the German infantry, including one full squad of German infantry who crawled in a ditch to within 100 feet (30 m) of his position. He was able to call in artillery fire using a land-line telephone and, under heavy fire, was wounded in the leg. He nonetheless continued his nearly single-handed battle for almost an hour. He only stopped fighting when his telephone line to the artillery fire direction center was cut by enemy artillery. As his remaining men moved forward, he quickly organized them into a counter-attack which ultimately drove the enemy from Holtzwihr. For these actions, Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor.Awards
Audie Murphy on the cover of Life for July 16, 1945, got him seen in Hollywood.
Murphy was credited with destroying six tanks in addition to killing over 240 German soldiers and wounding and capturing many others. His principal U.S. decorations included the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars with Valor device, and three Purple Hearts. Murphy participated in campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany, as denoted by his European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver battle star (denoting five campaigns), four bronze battle stars, plus a bronze arrowhead representing his two amphibious assault landings at Sicily and southern France. During the French Campaign, Murphy was awarded two Presidential Citations, one from the 3rd Inf, Division, and one from the 15th Inf. Regiment during the Holtzwihr action.
Audie's award for the Légion d'honneur.
The French government awarded Murphy its Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He also received two Croix de guerre medals from France and the Croix de guerre 1940 Palm from Belgium. Murphy was also awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge. (A complete list of his awards and decorations appears later in this article.) He spent 29 months overseas and just under two years in combat with the 3rd Infantry Division, all before he turned 21.
In early June 1945, one month after Germany's surrender, he returned from Europe to a hero's welcome in his home state of Texas, where he was feted with parades, banquets, and speeches. Murphy was discharged from active duty with the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on August 17, 1945,and discharged from the U.S. Army on September 21, 1945.
He garnered nationwide recognition, appearing on the cover of Life magazine for July 16, 1945 as the "most decorated soldier". After the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Murphy joined the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard; however, that division was not called up for combat duty. By the time he left the Guard in 1966, he had attained the rank of Major.
His medals and awards are on display at the Dallas Scottish Rite Temple Museum and the China Room of the 15th Infantry Regiment (Kelley Hill, Fort Benning, Georgia).
When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied simply, "They were killing my friends."
Discharged from the Army on September 21, 1945, Audie went to Hollywood at the invitation of movie star James Cagney. He remained in California for the rest of his life and was closely associated with the movie industry, both as an actor and a producer. He acted in 44 films, starring in 39 of them. His best known film was "To Hell and Back," adopted from the best selling book of his war experiences by the same name.
He died in a plane crash in 1971, at age 46, and was interred, with full military honors, in Arlington National Cemetery.
Awards and decorations
Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver Star (with oak leaf cluster)
Legion of Merit
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star (with Valor device and oak leaf cluster)
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart (with two oak leaf clusters)
UArmy Outstanding Civilian Service Medal Ribbon.jpg Department of the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award
U.S. Army Good Conduct Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Presidential Unit Citation (with oak leaf cluster)
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one silver service star & four bronze service stars, representing nine campaigns, and one bronze arrowhead, representing assault landing at Sicily and Southern France)
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal (with Germany Clasp)
Armed Forces Reserve Medal
French Legion of Honor - Grade of Chevalier
French Croix de guerre (with Silver Star)
French Croix de guerre (with Palm)
Medal of Liberated France
Belgian Croix de guerre (with 1940 Palm)
French Fourragère in Colors of the Croix de guerre
Combat Infantryman Badge
Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar
Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar
After seeing the young hero's photo on the cover of the July 16 edition of Life Magazine and sensing star potential, actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood in September 1945. Despite Cagney's expectations, the next few years in California were difficult for Murphy. He became disillusioned by the lack of work, was frequently broke, and slept on the floor of a gymnasium owned by his friend Terry Hunt. He eventually received token acting parts in the 1948 films Beyond Glory and Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven. His third movie, Bad Boy, gave him his first leading role.
He also starred in the 1951 adaptation of Stephen Crane's Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, which earned critical success. Murphy expressed great discomfort in playing himself in To Hell and Back. In 1959, he starred in the western No Name on the Bullet, in which his performance was well-received despite being cast as the villain, a professional killer who managed to stay within the law.
Murphy's 1949 autobiography To Hell and Back became a national bestseller. The book was ghostwritten by his friend David "Spec" McClure, already a professional writer. Murphy modestly described some of his most heroic actions—without portraying himself as a hero. He did not mention any of the many decorations he received, but praised the skills, bravery, and dedication of the other members of his platoon. Murphy even attributed a song he had written to "Kerrigan".
Murphy portrayed himself in the 1955 film version of his book with the same title, To Hell and Back. Murphy was initially reluctant to star in To Hell and Back, fearing it would appear he was cashing in on his war experience. He suggested Tony Curtis for the role. In To Hell and Back, unlike most Hollywood films, where the same soldiers serve throughout the movie, Murphy's comrades are killed or wounded as they were in real life. At the film's end, Murphy is the only member of his original unit remaining. At the ceremony where Murphy is awarded the Medal of Honor, the ghostly images of his dead friends are depicted. This insistence on reality has been attributed to Murphy and his desire to honor his fallen friends.
The film grossed almost US$10 million during its initial theatrical release, and at the time became Universal Studios's biggest hit of the studio's 43-year history. The movie held the record as the company's highest-grossing motion picture until 1975, when it was surpassed by Steven Spielberg's Jaws.
In addition to acting, Murphy also became successful as a country music songwriter. He teamed up with musicians and composers including Guy Mitchell, Jimmy Bryant, Scott Turner, Coy Ziegler, Ray and Terri Eddlemon. Murphy's songs were recorded and released by well-known artists including Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Jimmy Bryant, Porter Waggoner, Jerry Wallace, Roy Clark, and Harry Nilsson. His two biggest hits were "Shutters and Boards" and "When the Wind Blows in Chicago".