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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
(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.