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Audie

Audie Murphy

Also see: Audie Murphy legacy.

Audie Leon Murphy (June 20, 1926 – May 28, 1971) was an American soldier in World War II, who later became an actor, appearing in 44 American films. He also found success as a country music composer.

In 27 months of combat action in World War II, Murphy became one of the most decorated United States combat soldiers of World War II. He received the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest award for valor, along with 32 additional U.S. medals, five from France, and one from Belgium.

Murphy had a successful movie career, including the extremely popular To Hell and Back (1955), based on his memoir of the same name (1949), and starred in 33 Hollywood Westerns. He died in a plane crash in 1971 and was interred, with full military honors, in Arlington National Cemetery. His is the second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

Biography

Early life

He was born in Texas, to Emmett Berry and Josie Bell Murphy (née Killian) who was of Irish descent, poor sharecroppers, and grew up on farms between Farmersville and Greenville, as well as near Celeste, Texas (Hunt County). Murphy was the sixth of twelve children, nine of whom survived until the age of eighteen. His brothers and sisters included Corinne, Charles Emmett (Buck), Vernon, June, Oneta, J.W., Richard, Eugene, Nadine, Billie, and Joseph Murphy. He went to school in Celeste until the eighth grade, when he dropped out to help support his family (his father deserted them in 1936), working for a dollar a day, plowing and picking cotton on any farm that would hire him. He became very skilled with a rifle, hunting small game to help feed the family. One of his favorite hunting companions was neighbor Dial Henley who noticed that young Audie never missed when he shot at squirrels, rabbits, or birds. When that was pointed out to him, Murphy remarked, "Well, Dial, if I don't hit what I shoot at, my family won't eat today." During the 1930s Murphy worked at a combination general store/garage and filling station in Greenville, Texas. At sixteen he was working in a radio repair shop when his mother died on May 23, 1941. Later that year, in agreement with his older sister, Corrinne, Murphy was forced to place his three youngest siblings in an orphanage to ensure their care (he reclaimed them after World War II).

Enlistment

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Murphy (then just 15 years old) tried to enlist in the military, but the services rejected him for being underage. In June 1942, shortly after his 16th birthday (sister Corrine adjusted his birth date so he appeared to be 18 and legally allowed to enlist, and his war memoirs, To Hell and Back, maintained this misinformation, leading to later confusion and contradictory statements as to his year of birth), Murphy was accepted into the United States Army, at Greenville, after being turned down by the Marines and the paratroopers for being too short (5'5\"/1.65 m) and of slight build. He was sent to Camp Wolters, Texas, for basic training and during a session of close order drill, passed out. His company commander tried to have him transferred to a cook and bakers' school because of his baby-faced youthfulness, but Murphy insisted on becoming a combat soldier. His wish was granted: after 13 weeks of basic training, he was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for advanced infantry training.

Battles

Murphy still had to \"fight the system\" to get overseas and into combat. His persistence paid off, and in early 1943 he was shipped out to Casablanca, Morocco as a replacement in Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment (United States), 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 liberation 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 the Germans, 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 rock 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.

Murphy distinguished himself in combat 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 invaded Southern France on August 15, 1944 (Operation Anvil-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 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 the Platoon Leader position. 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 (January 25, 1945), and suffered further wounds from a mortar round which killed two others nearby.

The next day, January 26 (the temperature was with of snow on the ground), the battle at Holtzwihr, (France) began with Murphy's unit at an effective strength of 19 out of 128. Murphy sent all of his men to the rear while he took pot-shots at the Germans until out of ammunition. He then proceeded to use an abandoned, burning tank destroyer's .50 caliber machine gun to cut into the German infantry at a distance, including one full squad of German infantry that had crawled in a ditch to within 100 feet of his position. Wounded in the leg during heavy fire, he continued this nearly single-handed battle for almost an hour. His focus on the battle before him stopped only when his telephone line to the artillery fire direction center was cut by either U.S. or German artillery. As his remaining men came forward, he quickly organized them to conduct a counter attack, which ultimately drove the enemy away from Holtzwihr. These actions earned Murphy the Medal of Honor.

Murphy was then removed from the front lines and made a liaison officer; he was promoted to 1st lieutenant on February 22, 1945. On June 2, 1945, Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch, commander of the US Seventh Army, presented him with the Medal of Honor and Legion of Merit. The Legion of Merit was awarded for outstanding services with the 3rd Infantry Division during January 22, 1944 to February 18, 1945. On June 10, Murphy left Paris by plane, arriving in San Antonio, Texas four days later.

Audie Murphy received 33 US medals, plus five medals from France and one from Belgium. It has been said that he received every US medal available at the time; 5 of them awarded more than once.

His height and weight at his enlistment were 5 feet 5.5 inches and 110 pounds; after his three year enlistment, they were 5 ft 7 inches and 145 lbs.

Medal of Honor citation

The official U.S. Army citation for Audie Murphy's Medal of Honor reads:

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company B 15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division.
Place and date: Near Holtzwihr France, January 26, 1945.
''Entered service at: Dallas, Texas. Birth: Hunt County, near Kingston, Texas, G.O. No. 65, August 9, 1944.
Citation: Second Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire, which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad that was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued his single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way back to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack, which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective.

Lifted to "Living Legend" status

Audie Murphy was credited with destroying six tanks in addition to killing over 240 German soldiers and wounding and capturing many others. By the end of World War II he was a legend within the 3rd Infantry Division. 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 (all for genuine combat wounds). 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.

The French government awarded Murphy its highest award, the Legion of Honor (Grade of Chevalier). He also received two Croix de Guerre medals from France and the Croix de Guerre 1940 Palm from Belgium. In addition, Murphy was 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 showered 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, Texas on August 17, 1945, and discharged from the U.S. Army on September 21, 1945.

He gained nationwide recognition, appearing on the cover of Life magazine for July 16, 1945 (see image above).

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, Murphy had attained the rank of major.

List of Decorations

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star (with oak leaf cluster)
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star (with oak leaf cluster and V device)
Purple Heart (with two oak leaf clusters)

U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, U.S. Army Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation (with First Oak Leaf Cluster), American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with One Silver 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 Fourragere in Colors of the Croix de Guerre, 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).

Additionally, Murphy was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar, and Expert Badge with Bayonet Bar.

Post war illness

Murphy suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his return from the war. He was plagued by insomnia, bouts of depression, and nightmares related to his numerous battles. His first wife, Wanda Hendrix, often talked of his struggle with this condition, even claiming that he had at one time held her at gunpoint. For a time during the mid-1960s, he became dependent on doctor-prescribed sleeping pills called Placidyl. When he recognized that he had become addicted to the drug, he locked himself in a motel room where he took himself off the pills, going through withdrawal for a week.

Always an advocate of the needs of America's military veterans, Murphy eventually broke the taboo about publicly discussing war-related mental conditions. In an effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Murphy spoke out candidly about his own problems with PTSD, known then and during World War II as "battle fatigue" and also commonly known as "shell shock." He called on the United States government to give increased consideration and study to the emotional impact that combat experiences have on veterans, and to extend health care benefits to address PTSD and other mental-health problems suffered by returning war veterans.

Personal life

Murphy married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949; they were divorced in 1951. He then married former airline stewardess Pamela Archer who was an army nurse, by whom he had two children: Terrance Michael "Terry" Murphy (born 1952) and James Shannon "Skipper" Murphy (born 1954). They were named for two of his most respected friends, Terry Hunt and James "Skipper" Cherry, respectively. Audie became a successful actor, rancher, and businessman, breeding and raising quarter horses. He owned ranches in Texas, Tucson, Arizona and Perris, California.

In 1955, Murphy became interested in Freemasonry. He was encouraged by his close friend, Texas theater owner Skipper Cherry, to petition and join the Masonic Order in California. He returned to Texas to become a 32d degree Scottish Rite Mason and to join the Shriners. He was active in various Masonic events and was a member in good standing for the rest of his life.

Movie career

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 (1949 film), 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.

First starring role

After returning home from World War II, Murphy bought a house in Farmersville, Texas for his oldest sister Corinne, her husband Poland Burns, and their three children. The idea was that Audie's three youngest siblings, Nadine, Billie, and Joe, who had been living in an orphanage since Murphy's mother's death, would also be able to live with Corinne and Poland and would become part of a family again. Unfortunately, six children under one roof created too much stress on everyone, particularly Nadine and Joe, so Murphy picked them up.

Joe and Nadine wanted to stay with him, but despite a lot of post-war publicity, his acting career had gone nowhere and he was finding it difficult to survive financially. The oldest Murphy brother, Buck, and his wife agreed to take Nadine, but Murphy didn't know what to do with Joe. He approached James "Skipper" Cherry, a Dallas theater owner who was involved with the Variety Clubs International Boy's Ranch, a 4,800 acre (19 km²) ranch near Copperas Cove, Texas who arranged for the Boy's Ranch to take Joe in. He loved it there and Murphy was able to visit him, as well as Cherry, frequently. In a 1973 interview, Cherry recalled, "He was discouraged and somewhat despondent concerning his movie career."

Variety Clubs was financing a film to be called Bad Boy to help promote the organization's work with troubled children and Cherry called Texas theater executive Paul Short, who was producing the film, to suggest that they considered giving Murphy a significant role in the movie. He looked good in the screen test, but the president of Allied Artists did not want to cast someone with so little acting experience in a major role. However, by this time, Cherry, Short, and the other Texas theater owners had decided that Audie Murphy was going to play the lead or they weren't financing the film. Their money talked and he was cast, turning in such a fine performance that the Hollywood powers that be finally recognized his talent. As a direct result of the film, Universal Studios signed Murphy to his first seven year studio contract. After a few box-office hits there, the studio bosses gave Audie latitude in choosing his roles, as long as plenty of action was included in the scenarios.

Autobiography

Murphy's 1949 autobiography To Hell and Back became a national bestseller. In the book, actually 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. Not once does he mention any of the many decorations he received for his incredible combat exploits. Instead, he chose to praise the skills, bravery, and dedication of the other soldiers in his platoon. Murphy even attributed a song he had written to "Kerrigan".

Murphy played himself in the 1955 film version of his book with the same title, To Hell and Back. The film grossed almost ten million dollars during its initial theatrical release, and at the time became Universal's biggest hit of the studio's 43-year history. This movie held the record as the company's highest-grossing motion picture until 1975, when it was surpassed by Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Terry Murphy, who played younger brother Joe Preston Murphy (at age four), is in fact Murphy's older son.

Audie was reluctant to star in To Hell and Back, fearing it would appear he was cashing in on his war experience, so he suggested his role be played by Tony Curtis. The film was introduced by General Walter Bedell Smith, United States Army, Retired. During World War II, Smith had served as Chief of Staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Harold B. Simpson's 1975 comprehensive biography, Audie Murphy, American Soldier, covers the breadth of Murphy's life. The book emphasizes his military exploits, and includes photos, maps, and battle-maneuver diagrams. Murphy's post-war career is also well-documented.

Filmography

In the 25 years he spent in Hollywood, Audie Murphy made 44 feature films, 33 of them Westerns. His highest grossing film was the autobiographical To Hell and Back, which was the highest grossing film for Universal Pictures, until "Jaws" in 1975. His films earned him close to $3 million in his 23 years as an actor. He also appeared in several television shows. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Audie Murphy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street.

Music career

In addition to acting, Murphy also became successful as a country music songwriter. teaming up with such talented musicians and composers as Guy Mitchell, Jimmy Bryant, Scott Turner, Coy Ziegler, and Terri Eddleman. Murphy's songs were recorded and released by such performers as 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". Eddy Arnold recorded the latter for his 1983 RCA album, Last of the Love Song Singers.

Death

Just after noon on May 28, 1971, during Memorial Day weekend, Murphy was killed when his private plane crashed into Brush Mountain, (Virginia), near Catawba, Virginia, 20 miles west of Roanoke. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed. In 1974, a large granite memorial marker was erected near the crash site. A close friend, Captain Carl Swickerath (who is now buried directly in front of Murphy), represented the Murphy family at the dedication.

On June 7, 1971, Murphy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with a full-honors ceremony. The official U.S. representative at the ceremony was the decorated World War II veteran and future President George H. W. Bush. Murphy's gravesite is in Section 46, located across Memorial Drive from the Amphitheater. A special flagstone walkway was later constructed to accommodate the large number of people who visit to pay their respects. It is the second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy's.

The headstones of Arlington's Medal of Honor recipients are normally decorated in gold leaf, but Murphy had requested that his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, as would be the case with an ordinary soldier. An unknown person maintains a small American flag next to his engraved Government-issue headstone, which reads as follows:

Audie L. Murphy, Texas. Major, Infantry, World War II. June 20, 1924 to May 28, 1971. Medal of Honor, DSC, SS & OLC, LM, BSM & OLC, PH & two OLC.

(Key to abbreviations: DSC = Distinguished Service Cross; SS = Silver Star; LM = Legion of Merit; BSM = Bronze Star Medal; PH = Purple Heart; OLC = Oak Leaf Cluster.) An Oak Leaf Cluster signifies a subsequent award of the same decoration. First Lieutenant Audie Murphy was one of very few company-grade officers ever to be awarded the Legion of Merit. That decoration is usually awarded only to officers of the rank of lieutenant colonel and above.

Other honors

  • The Audie Murphy Patriotism Award is named in honor of Murphy The award is presented annually to an "outstanding American patriot" or "an outstanding group of individuals who most exemplify the true ‘Spirit of America.’"
  • On November 17, 1973, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio, Texas was dedicated. There is a one-ton bronze, eight-foot-tall statue of Murphy, created by sculptress Jimilu Mason. He is dressed in battle fatigues holding a rifle with bayonet; inside the hospital, a museum depicts his life and contains items including his uniform, other clothing, books and pictures.
  • In early 1986, the U.S. Army established the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club at Fort Hood, Texas. This elite membership group recognizes noncommissioned officers (sergeants) who have displayed the integrity, professionalism, commitment to mentoring subordinate soldiers, leadership abilities and personal ethics as exemplified by Audie L. Murphy. In 1994, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club spread Army-wide, to all commands with installations retaining the selection process for their own NCOs.
  • In 1996 the Texas Legislature officially declared his birthdate, June 20, as "Audie Murphy Day". U.S. Highway 69 North, from North Greenville city limits to Fannin County line was renamed "The Audie Murphy Memorial Highway". In 1996, he was inducted posthumously into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
  • In 1999, then-Governor George W. Bush also issued a proclamation declaring June 20 to officially be "Audie Murphy Day" in the State of Texas.
  • From the mid-1990s through the present, an annual celebration of Audie and other veterans in all branches of service has been held on the weekend closest to Murphy's birthday at the American Cotton Museum (recently renamed the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum) in Greenville and in Farmersville. The museum houses a large collection of Audie Murphy memorabilia and personal items.
  • In 2000, Audie Murphy was honored with his portrait on a thirty-three cent United States postage stamp. There is also an Audie Murphy Middle School in Fort Hood, Texas, named in his honor.
  • An Audie Murphy National Fan Club was established in the 1950s. Headed by various fans over the years, the club no longer exists today, but there are many fans in countries all over the world.

Most decorated?

Audie Murphy is often cited as America's most decorated war veteran. There are, however, several other candidates. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Lieutenant Colonel Matt Urban as "the Most Combat-Decorated Soldier in American History". It should be noted however that, while Urban may exceed Murphy by number of awards, he did not receive the Distinguished Service Cross, America's second-highest decoration for valor. It could be argued, however, that Murphy was equaled, if not surpassed, in combat awards (especially when they were awarded for separate actions) by Lieutenant Robert L. Howard, the U.S.'s most highly-decorated soldier of the Vietnam War.

See also

Notes

References

  • Gossett, Sue. The Films and Career of Audie Murphy, N.C., Empire Publishing, 1996.
  • Graham, Don. No Name on the Bullet, N.Y.: Viking, 1989.
  • Murphy, Audie. To Hell and Back, N.Y.: Holt, 1949.
  • Editors, Super GI, Life Magazine-World War II-Special Issue,Vol 8, number 6, Spring-Summer 1985, 28.

External links

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