The Incredible Story of Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy was a remarkable American soldier who fought in World War II and became the most decorated U.S. combat soldier in history. He received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He also had a successful career as a Hollywood actor, starring in more than 40 films, mostly Westerns. However, his life was not without challenges and tragedies. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, financial problems, and died in a plane crash at the age of 45.
Early Life and Enlistment
Audie Leon Murphy was born on June 20, 1925, in Kingston, Texas. He was the seventh of twelve children born to poor sharecroppers of Irish descent. His father abandoned the family when Murphy was a young boy, and his mother died when he was 16. He had to drop out of school in fifth grade to help support his siblings by working on farms and doing odd jobs.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Murphy wanted to join the military, but he was too young and too small. He was only 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds. He tried to enlist in the Marines, the Navy, and the Army Air Corps, but he was rejected by all of them. Finally, in June 1942, he was accepted into the U.S. Army after falsifying his birth date.
World War II Service
Murphy received basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and advanced infantry training at Fort Meade, Maryland. He was assigned to Company B, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, and shipped out to North Africa in February 1943. He saw his first action in July 1943, during the Allied invasion of Sicily. He then participated in the campaigns in Italy, France, and Germany.
Murphy proved to be a fearless and skillful soldier who rose through the ranks from private to first lieutenant. He was wounded three times, but always returned to duty after recovering. He earned numerous medals for his bravery and leadership, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters, and the Legion of Merit.
However, his most famous act of heroism occurred on January 26, 1945, near Holtzwihr, France. His company was attacked by a large German force consisting of infantry and tanks. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a nearby forest while he stayed behind to cover their retreat. He climbed on top of a burning tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to fire at the advancing enemy. He single-handedly held off the German attack for more than an hour, killing or wounding about 50 enemy soldiers. He also called in artillery fire on his own position when he ran out of ammunition. He was wounded in the leg by a tank shell but refused to leave his post until his men were safe.
For this extraordinary feat of valor, Murphy received the Medal of Honor, the highest military award in the United States. He also received the French Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Post-War Life and Hollywood Career
After the war ended in May 1945, Murphy returned to the United States as a national hero. He was featured on the cover of Life magazine and received a parade in his hometown of Farmersville, Texas. He also received offers from Hollywood studios who wanted to make movies about his life.
Murphy accepted an offer from actor James Cagney who invited him to stay at his home in California and helped him get started in show business. Murphy made his film debut in Beyond Glory (1948), playing himself alongside Cagney’s brother William Cagney. He then starred in The Red Badge of Courage (1951), directed by John Huston and based on the novel by Stephen Crane.
Murphy became one of the most popular actors of the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in more than 40 films, mostly Westerns. Some of his notable films include To Hell and Back (1955), based on his autobiography of the same name; The Quiet American (1958), based on the novel by Graham Greene; and The Unforgiven (1960), directed by John Huston and co-starring Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn.
Murphy also had a successful career as a songwriter, composing more than 20 songs that were recorded by artists such as Dean Martin, Harry Nilsson, and Jerry Wallace. He also wrote poetry and short stories, some of which were published in magazines.
Murphy was well-liked and respected by his colleagues and fans. He was known for his modesty, generosity, and loyalty. He also supported various causes, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the American Cancer Society, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Personal Struggles and Tragic End
Despite his fame and fortune, Murphy was haunted by the horrors of war. He suffered from PTSD, which was then known as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock”. He had nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. He also became addicted to sleeping pills and alcohol to cope with his trauma.
Murphy’s personal life was also troubled. He married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949, but they divorced in 1951. He then married Pamela Archer in 1951, with whom he had two sons, Terry and James. However, their marriage was strained by his erratic behavior, infidelity, and gambling addiction. He also faced financial difficulties due to bad investments and tax problems. He declared bankruptcy in 1968.
Murphy’s life came to an abrupt end on May 28, 1971, when he died in a plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia. He was traveling with five other people on a private plane that crashed into a mountain during a storm. There were no survivors. He was 45 years old.
Murphy was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His grave is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery. He is remembered as a war hero, a movie star, and a legend.