Have you ever seen the movie Pearl Harbor? Remember the battle scene? With planes flying overhead and bombs dropping and guns blasting? That was just one battle similar to the many that Audie Murphy survived. And most of the battles he was in were worse than Pearl Harbor because he did so much of the fighting himself!
The name Audie Murphy may not sound familiar to you. In fact, very few people actually know who he is these days. But there was a time when Audie Murphy was a household name. Parades and parties and speeches were held in his honor. Audie Murphy was a real, honest-to-goodness hero, just like what you see in the movies! But to know the full story, you have to go way back to when, and where, he was born.
Audie Leon Murphy was born June 20, 1924, before the impact of the Great Depression had fully hit the United States of America. When the Great Depression did hit, I doubt very seriously that Audie even knew about it. You see, Audie was born to a very poor family. They were sharecroppers in a town called Kingston, Texas. His mother and father, Emmett, and his mother, Josie, were of Irish descent, meaning their families were originally from Ireland, but somehow they found themselves on a farm in the South sharecropping. Sharecropping is when a farmer raises crops and sells them on someone else’s farm. Then, after the crop is sold, and the farmer has paid all of his bills to the landlord, the farmer gets to keep any money left over. There usually wasn’t much money left over, and most sharecroppers were poor. Audie’s family was very poor. He was born 7th out of 12 children, and all of them had to work.
Being so poor, Audie had to work the cotton fields most days to earn money. He had to learn to shoot well to put food on the table for his large family. There wasn’t much time for school, and Audie was forced to drop out in 5th grade to help support his family. When Audie was only 16 years old, his mother died. His father had left the family the year before, so there sat Audie with a family to feed and not much money.
He got the idea to join the military, and go to war after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Audie’s difficult childhood had made him tough, and a hard worker. He just knew that he would be a great soldier, but nobody would let him join! Audie was only 5 foot 5 ½ inches, and only weighed 110 pounds. Everyone said he was too small to go to war. But he was a fighter, and didn’t give up on his dream. Audie tried to enlist in every armed force until finally the United States Army let him. While in training camp, he learned many war strategies, and practiced intense drills every day.
Murhpy’s first military placement was in Casablanca, Morocco in Africa. He did not see any fighting there, but did have a chance to learn more drills and to practice being a soldier. Finally, his dreams came true, and Audie was sent to Sicily, Italy, with the 15th Infantry Regimen, 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. He was promoted to corporal after killing two Italian officers who were trying to escape. Audie fought in a few more battles and skirmishes and was promoted frequently for his bravery and excellent marksmanship. He also won many awards for his fighting. All that hard work as a child was paying off! Murphy could tell that the long days in the cotton fields and the shooting practice had been valuable skills for a soldier.
As Audie fought his way across Europe, he began to earn a reputation as a good soldier. He continued to win medals and awards, and continued to be promoted. Perhaps his most important battle, though, was the one he fought at Holtzwihr, France. Audie and his fellow soldiers had been fighting against the German soldiers for quite awhile. The Germans had huge tanks with machine guns on them, and the battle had been very hard for the 3rd Infantry Division. They had suffered many casualties, which was upsetting to Audie. He was close to his friends, and it hurt him to see them die.
Finally, Audie was pushed to the edge. He ordered his troops to move to the cover of the nearby forest, while he ran to a burning tank. Audie jumped onto the tank and took over the machine gun. He fired it wildly into the German lines and succeeded in killing many of them. For an hour more, Audie Murphy fought the battle almost by himself, on top of that burning tank. While he was on the tank, he could send orders to his troops by a landline attached to his back. His troops followed his orders faithfully, and Audie was able to turn the tides of the battle in the American’s favor, while his fellow soldiers provided cover fire from the forest behind him.
Murphy only quit firing when the landline to his troops was cut off by a bullet. He had been shot in the leg by another bullet, but had paid no heed to his own injury. All he could do was fight. When the landline was cut, he jumped from the tank and ran for the forest. He could see that German soldiers had made it as close as ten yards from his tank, but had not been successful in stopping him.
By the time Murphy reached the forest, the German forces were running. His men celebrated. Slowly, as the adrenaline ran its course and began to settle, Audie could feel the dull ache in his leg build to a blazing burn. He did not ask for medical assistance until all of his men were taken care of, and only when they had been tended to did he let anyone work on his leg.
Audie Murphy had become a real life hero.
When he returned to the United States, many parties, parades, and festivities were held in his honor. He was the most decorated soldier of World War II. Nobody had earned as many honors as he had. Murphy had even won the Medal of Honor, the highest honor available to a soldier at the time, for his battle in Holtzwihr. Every magazine and newspaper wanted an interview with him, and his name was on everyone’s lips. The story goes that James Cagney, a famous movie star at the time, saw Audie Murphy’s picture on the cover of Life magazine and invited him out to Hollywood. Cagney was sure that Murphy would be a hit in Tinseltown.
So Audie went to Hollywood; but the going was tough though. He battled what was known as “war fatigue.” War fatigue was when a soldier had terrible nightmares and panic attacks over what they had seen in war. Back then, not too many men would talk about it, but Audie Murphy did. He was one of the first soldiers to bring to light what war fatigue really was, and in doing so, he helped many soldiers today. Now we call war fatigue Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and because of the work Audie Murphy started, many soldiers feel confident about talking about their PTSD and getting some help for it.
Anyway, after some hard work, and a few small roles in western films, Muphy was cast as the lead in the movie Bad Boy, a movie about a wayward group of boys who decide to turn their lives right, and he was a hit! His next roll was the lead in To Hell and Back, a movie based on the book he had written by the same name about his war experiences. To Hell and Back was a box-office hit, and had earned more money than any movie ever until Jaws came out!
Audie Murphy starred in many other films and even wrote and sang a few popular country western songs. He enjoyed his fame, and became a big time cattle rancher. Murphy’s success carried on until 1971, when his life was ended in a plane crash over Maryland. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where his headstone is today. Many soldiers have gold on their headstones to mark them as special for their bravery in battle. Not Audie Murphy. He did not want to be known as special in anyway. He considered himself just an everyday man.
But Audie Murphy was no ordinary man. He was a patriot, who believed in America. He believed in the Constitution and in fighting for his country. Audie started life with nothing and rose to greatness, despite many obstacles. He was a good man, a humble man, who loved family, friends, and the great United States of America.