1924 - 1971
Audie Leon Murphy, son of poor Texas sharecroppers, was born on June 20, 1924 near Kingston, Texas. Audie was one of 12 children, only 9 of whom survived to adulthood. Life in the Murphy household was poor and very hard. Growing up, Audie picked cotton and became very skilled with a rifle to hunt small game to help feed the family. By age 16, both of Audie's parents were dead, leaving him orphaned and needing to take care of his younger siblings. When the United States declared war in December of 1941, Audie rushed to enlist. He first attempted to join the Marines. He was turned away for being too small. Audie in 1941 was 5' 5" tall and weighed only 110 lbs. Undeterred, he attempted to join the Army Paratroopers and was again turned away. Finally, Audie enlisted in the Regular Army as an infantryman. He signed the papers a few days after his 18th birthday. This is significant since it is highly possible that Audie was only 17 at the time and had somehow altered his birth certificate in order to serve.
Audie went through recruit training at Camp Wolters, Texas. Upon completion of Basic, he went through Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Meade, Maryland. Finally, Audie was shipped overseas where he joined B Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division which was operating in North Africa. He arrived in February of 1943. Audie saw little action in N. Africa as the war there was in the mopping uo phase. 5 months later, Audie received his baptism of fire as he landed in Sicily on July 10, 1943. Audie's captain did his best to keep the small soldier from fighting by making him a runner. Audie however had other plans and he slipped off to join any patrol he could. Audie soon distinguished himself under fire as a resourceful and effective soldier. Finally the Captain gave up and promoted Audie to Corporal.
Audie's next action was in the invasion of Salerno on the Italian mainland. Here Audie again excelled as a soldier. While leading a night patrol, Audie and his men ran into a group of German soldiers. After fighting their way out of an ambush, they took cover in a rock quarry. The German sent a squad of soldiers in to get them out but were stopped by intense machine gun and rifle fire. Three of the Germans were killed and several mor captured. For his actions at Salerno, Audie was promoted to Sergeant.
Audie missed the next invasion at Anzio due to a serious attack of malaria. Audie soon recovered and rejoined his unit just in time for some of the fiercest fighting of the war. For three days the Americans fought to escape their beachhead but were unsuccessful. The situation deteriorated to a stalemate with neither side gaining. This went on for months and the soldiers dug in for the long haul. Audie volunteered for numerous patrols and his unit came under artillery fire almost every night. Audie was soon evacuated from the front with another severe attack of malaria. Within 10 days he was back at the front. Soon after the unit was pulled out for a short rest. Audie was offered a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant. Audie, not wanting to leave his unit, refused the promotion.
Once back at the front, Audie quickly surveyed his area and discovered that there was only one route the enemy armor could pass through. Audie heavily mined the area. When the Germans attacked, the lead tank hit a mine and blocked the road competely. The Germans withdrew but Audie wanted to ensure that they could not move the damaged tank. Taking a small patrol forward, Audie ordered them to cover him while he approached the tank. He first threw two Molotov cocktails at the tank. Neither ignited. A grenade he tossed inside was ineffective. The Germans guarding the tank began firing at him. Audie next used rifle grenades and finally managed to knock the tank treads off one side. For this action, Audie was awarded the Bronze Star.
On May 23, the 3rd Division finally broke out of the Anzio beachhead. After fighting their way to Rome, the Division was then ordered to a rear area for amphibious training. On august 15, 1944, the Division made yet another landing, this time in Southern France. Three hours after landing, Audie's battalion was tasked with capturing an enemy artillery position high up on a ridge. The men of 1st Battalion slowly advanced up the slope, struggling all the way. As they reached the top, the Germans opened fire with deadly results. Every avenue of approach was covered by machine guns. Audie, whose platoon had been in the rear of the lines, moved forward, out of the line of amnush, and took stock of the situation. Half the unit was pinned down, the other half was being decimated by enemy fire. Audie could not reach the enemy positions with grenades and his carbine was ineffective, Slowly, he crawled down the slop and reached the heavy weapons platoon.
Commandeering a .30 cal machine gun, Audie crawled back up the slope. Setting up the gun, Audie opened fire and quickly killed two Germans. With only one belt of ammunition, Audie used short bursts and forced the German gunners to cease firing and duck down. Once out of ammunition, Audie and another soldier, Private Lattie Tipton, charged the first enemy position and quickly silenced it. As they prepared to charge the next position, Tipton noticed a German soldier waving a white flag. Standing up to take the soldier prisoner, Tipton was killed by a single rifle bullet. Audie was enraged by this act and picked up the German machine gun. He first charged one enemy position with grenaes an the gun and killed both enemy soldiers in it. He charged several more positions and killed all of the soldiers within them. When it was over, they discovered that the artillery they had been sent to silence was a fake. They had been suckered into an ambush. For his actions, Audie was awarded the Distibuished Service Cross.
As the 3rd Divsion continued their advance, Audie was wounded in the heel by a shell fragment. He received the Purple Heart and spent two weeks in an Evac hospital. After returning to his unit, they were ambushed while on patrol. Audie, who crawled out of the ambush zone, charged the enemy position and using two hand grenades, silenced it. For this action, which saved the lives of this patrol, Audie was awarded the Silver Star. Several days later, his platoon was ambushed again and several more soldiers were killed. Audie grabbed a radio and crawled forward to where he could see the enemy position. While under intense fire, Audie called in mortar and artillery fire on the Germans. Official Army records indicate the indirect fire killed 15 and wounded 35 enemy soldiers. For this, Audie received his second Silver Star, three days after earning his first.
Several days later, Audie was ordered to the 15th Regiment's headquarters. Once there he was discharged from the Army as a Sergeant and then commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. With his new rank, Audie returned to his platoon, this time to command it. On October 26, 1944 Audie was wonded again, this time in the hip by a sniper's bullet. He was evacuated to a hospital and spent the next 3 months recuperating. Rejoining his unit in January, 1945, Audie led his men against the German stronghold at Holtzwihr. For three days they attacked the fortress with no success. Soon, Audie was the only officer left alive. He took command of the company and organized the next asault. As they waited in the snow for the order to attack, 6 German tanks and 250 Infantrymen approached from Holtzwihr. Being greatly outnumbered, Audie ordered his men to pull back. Audie called in artillery on the approaching enemy but did not stop them.
Audie decided to take action. Near his position was a burning tank destroyer. Audie climbed on top, and turned the machine gun on the approaching Germans. As Audie fired from the burning tank, the artillery began to land in earnest and the german advance faltered. For almost an hour, Audie contineud to lay down fire on the Germans. When he ran out of ammuntion, he dropped into the snow and discovered he had been wounded, his third, in the leg. Enemy soldiers lay dead just 10 yards from the tank destroyer. For this daring feat, Audie was recommended for and recived the Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company B 1 5th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Holtzwihr France, 26 January 1945. Entered service at: Dallas, Tex. Birth: Hunt County, near Kingston, Tex. G.O. No.. 65, 9 August 1945. Citation 2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions 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, 1 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 machinegun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 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 which 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 the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way 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.
Audie was removed to a rear area and made a liason 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 the Medal of Honor and Legion of Merit to Audie. The Legion of Merit was awarded for hisoutstanding services with the 3rd Infantry Division from January 22, 1944 to February 18, 1945. On June 10, Audie left Paris by plane and arrived in San Antonio Texas 4 days later. On September 21, 1945, Audie was discharged from the Army. Audie rose to national fame as the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. Credited with either killing over 240 of the enemy while wounding and capturing many others, he became a legend within the 3rd Infantry Division.
During this same time, actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood in September 1945, when he saw Murphy's photo on the cover of Life Magazine. His first starring role came in a 1949 released film by Allied Artists called, Bad Boy. The movie, To Hell and Back, held the record as Universal's highest grossing picture until 1975 when it was finally surpassed by the movie Jaws. In the 25 years that Audie spent in Hollywood, he made a total of 44 feature films. He returned frequently to the Dallas area where he owned a small ranch for a while. He also had ranches in Perris, California and near Tucson, Arizona. He was a successful Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racehorse owner and breeder. His films earned him close to 3 million dollars in 23 years as an actor.
Audie loved to gamble, and he won and lost fortunes. Dozens of Audie Murphy's songs were recorded and released by such great performers as Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Jimmy Bryant, Porter Waggoner, Jerry Wallace, Roy Clark, Harry Nilsson and many others. His two biggest hits were Shutters and Boards and When the Wind Blows in Chicago. Eddy Arnold recorded When the Wind Blows in Chicago for his 1993 album Last of the Love Song Singers which is currently in release by RCA.
Always an advocate for the needs of veterans, he broke the taboo about discussing war related mental problems. In a effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Audie Murphy spoke-out candidly about his personal problems with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, then known as "Battle Fatigue". He publicly called for United States government to give more consideration and study to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to returning war vets.
While on a business trip on May 28, 1971, he was killed at the age of 46. A private plane flying in fog and rain crashed in the side of a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia. Five others including the pilot were also killed. In 1996 the Texas Legislature officially designated his birthday, June 20th, as Audie Murphy Day. On June 9, 1999 Governor George W. Bush, Texas made a similar proclation declaring June 20th to officially be Audie Murphy Day in the state of Texas.
Murphy was awarded every American medal for bravery and several foreign awards. His list of medals include: