Monday, March 31, 2014

Audie Murphy: Soldier, Hero, Actor

Audie Murphy in uniform showing medals of valor from World War II. Photo taken by US Army soldier and is in public domain. 

In Hollywood films he played the Cimaron Kid, the Silver Kid, Jesse James--twice--and even himself in one of the greatest war films ever made, To Hell and Back, but few people know that Audie Murphy, star of many western films, was also the most decorated soldier in World War II.

Murphy was one of many children in a large Texas family and when his mother died he was desperate to find a way to help support his younger siblings. His older sister changed his birth date on his birth certificate and Murphy was finally accepted into the United States Army. He fought bravely in Italy and France, returned a hero, and became a Hollywood film star, successful country music songwriter. He also suffered terribly from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disease that nearly destroyed his life. He eventually became an advocate for better treatment for American soldiers returning from war.

We have many war veterans in my family, including my precious son-in-law, and for this reason I have chosen to start the A to Z challenge with Audie Murphy. Unfortunately, I lost track of the date and posted early. I hope you will forgive me fellow blog-hoppers. After all, it must be the first of the month in some part of the world! 

Murphy’s Early Years

Audie Leon Murphy was born on June 20, in either 1924 or 1925. His parents, Emmett and Josie Murphy, were sharecroppers in Texas. They would eventually have twelve children before his father deserted the family. Murphy dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his brothers and sisters by picking cotton. It was physically challenging, tedious work, but brought in little money. Murphy also used his hunting skills to provide food for the family. When he was fifteen he was hired at a radio repair shop. Shortly thereafter, his mother died, leaving Murphy and his older sister to raise their ten younger siblings.

Initial Rejection by the Military

Six months after the death of his mother, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese military. Murphy tried to enlist and was rejected due to his age. When he was seventeen, his sister adjusted his birth date so he appeared to be 18 and he tried to enlist with the United States Marines and paratroopers, but he was rejected due to his small physical stature.

What the American military failed to realize was Audie Murphy packed a big punch. He was stubborn and determined, and finally accepted by the United States Army for advanced infantry training. His early years hunting food for his family proved to be excellent military training--Murphy was a skilled marksman. He started training at Camp Wolters, Texas, then completed his training at Fort Meade, Maryland. When he completed basic training, he shipped out for Morocco with the 1st Battalion, 15th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division to prepare for the invasion of Sicily.

World War II Service and Military Hero

Murphy fought in the invasion of Italy where he was promoted to corporal after killing two escaping German officers. After the liberation of Sicily, while stationed near Salerno, Murphy and his fellow soldiers fought their way out of an ambush and Murphy was promoted to Sergeant.

Murphy was sent to Southern France where he witnessed the death of his friend, Lattie Tipton. Murphy spiraled into a traumatic rage and killed the entire German machine gun crew responsible then used their gun to destroy several enemy positions. For these actions, he received the Distinguished Service Cross.

At the Battle of Holtzwhir, France, when his unit was nearly wiped out by the Germans, Murphy climbed onto a burning tank and shot at the German infantry for nearly an hour, then organized a counter-attack. Murphy then received the Medal of Honor. He was ultimately credited with destroying six tanks, killing over 240 German soldiers and wounding and capturing many others.

Murphy's Military Awards

Among the 33 awards and medals he received for the 29 months he served overseas, Murphy was presented with the Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars with Valor, three Purple Hearts, two Presidential Citations, a Croix de Guerre 1940 Palm from Belgium, two Croix de Guerre medals from France and the Legion of Honor, which is the French governments highest award.

Hollywood Film Star and Country Song Writer

Murphy made his Hollywood debut when he was 22 and eventually starred in the film version of his bestselling autobiography To Hell and Back, (1955). The movie was Universal Studio’s bestselling film until Jaws.

Audie Murphy and Susan Kohner in trailer screenshot from To Hell and Back

Over a 25 year period, Murphy starred in 44 western and military films, including The Red Badge of Courage (1951), and one of my favorite films, Arizona Raiders (1965). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also wrote popular country songs for Dean Martin and Eddy Arnold.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Audie Murphy spoke openly about the fact that he suffered from nightmares and depression, the result of “battle fatigue,” which is now referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recurring nightmares from his war experiences haunted him his entire adult life and affected his personal life and professional career.

Murphy took great risks with his career by urging the American government to dedicate more study and consideration to the emotional effects of combat on veterans returning from Korea and Vietnam and provide assistance to soldiers suffering from Battle Fatigue.

I admire him tremendously for these actions. I wrote an article about Murphy before and a reader posted an angry comment claiming that the only reason I admire Murphy is because I am from Texas. (I am not from Texas, by the way, though I was living there at the time and believe it is a beautiful state with great people.)

The reader also claimed that Murphy was a coward because of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People who admit they have problems and seek help for them are always heroes in my mind. It is the people who blame their problems on others who are cowards. Audie Murphy not only admitted that he had a problem, he paved the way for other soldiers to come forward and ask for help.

Audie Murphy's tombstone. Photo taken on January 28, 2006 by D.B. King.

Murphy was on a business trip when he died in a plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia. Ironically, the crash occurred during the Memorial Day weekend on May 28, 1971. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia.

On June 9, 1999, former President George W. Bush proclaimed June 20th Audie Murphy Day in the State of Texas.


  • "Audie Murphy” biography. Dogface Soldiers: A Photographic Journey of the U.S. Third Division in WWII. Retrieved March 14, 2009.
  • "Audie Murphy." Historical Information. Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
  • “Biography.” Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website. Retrieved March 14, 2009.