The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reprise: Memorial Day: WWII Hero Audie Murphy Remembered

This entry was posted last Memorial Day, 2010. The reason why more people have viewed it than any of my other posts is simple: the subject, WWII hero, Audie Murphy. I enjoyed researching and writing this post about one of the heroes of my adolescence. 

What do you do if you're a poor farm boy in North Texas in the late 30's and your dad deserts the family? If you're an honorable and responsible young man with a sense of duty like Audie Murphy, you quit school and go to work, plowing and picking cotton for a dollar a day. To help put food on the table, he became very accurate with a hunting rifle (he killed squirrels and rabbits and other small game).

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Murphy, then 16, tried to enlist in the military but was rejected for being under the age of 18. A year later, when he was 17, his sister adjusted his birth date so he appeared to be 18. When he entered the Army, he was 5 foot 5 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds. Because of his size he was turned down by the Marines, the paratroopers, and the Navy. The Army accepted him.

Not only did he have a slight build and a baby face, he seemed to be weak physically. He passed out during a closer order drill and generally gave the impression that he might not be able to deal with the rigors of combat. His company commander tried  to get him transferred into cook and baker school. But he insisted on a combat assignment. Finally his superiors relented and he was sent to North Africa to receive training with the 3rd Army for the invasion of Italy. As the invasion progressed and Allied Forces moved into France, Murphy proved that he was right and they were wrong. He became America's most decorated soldier in WWII. 

Wikipedia reports that in August of 1944 in France
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).
Over the last few months of 1944, he received two Silver Stars for his bravery in action and a promotion to Second Lieutenant and Company Commander. In January of 1945, in two feet of snow and 14 degree temperature he took his unit (at an effective strength of 19 out of 128) into battle at Holtzwhir France.  Realizing they were hopeless outmanned by the advancing German tanks and infantry, Murphy sent his men to the rear and proceeded to use the phone to direct artillery fire. 

But that was just the beginning.  What he did in the battle of Holtzwhir was the kind of deed that legends spring from. For his brave and heroic actions that day, he received the nation's highest military honor: The Medal of Honor. To read a very detailed account of Murphy's determined stand that day, read this pdf file of a 1997 Fort Hood newspaper article. Phillip Washburn, author of the article, says,
The one undisputed fact is that Audie L. Murphy performed some of the most heroic acts under fire of any soldier-citizen in American history. On the battlefields of Sicily, Italy and France, Murphy earned every medal for valor his country could give, including medals from the French and Belgium governments. Murphy is credited with killing approximately 240 enemy soldiers and, out of 16 million who served, he is the most decorated combat soldier of World War II.
After the war Murphy became a Hollywood star and appeared in over 40 movies. The 1955 movie based on his autobiography and starring a reluctant Murphy himself, To Hell and Back, was the top grossing picture for MGM until "Jaws" came along. He also starred in "The Red Badge of Courage," "No Name on the Bullet," "Destry," "Drums Across the River," "The Cimmaron Kid," "The Duel at Silver Creek," "The Quiet American," etc. He wrote more than 17 country and western songs and was inducted into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame. His songs were recorded by artists such as Eddy Arnold,  Dean Martin, Teresa Brewer, Roy Clark, Charlie Pride, and Jerry Wallace.

Though all of his honors, commendations, and his successful career in the movies were enough to make most men vain, Audie Murphy retained his humility. Take a listen to this radio interview from 1963.

Here's a picture of the Audie Murphy and Hunt County Veteran's Memorial in Greeneville, Texas. On our last trip to North Texas to visit our son and his family, we stopped off at the Memorial to pay our respects to one of America's greatest military heroes and to the other fallen soldiers named there.

Murphy was killed in a plane crash in 1971. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery and his gravesite is the second most visited site in the cemetery (JFK's is first).

Audie Murphy's Military Medals

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star (with oak leaf cluster)
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star (with oak leaf cluster and Valor 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 Fourragère 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,
Expert Badge with Bayonet Bar

Update: Thanks to SSG(R) George K. Keck for info regarding the correct way to display the 3rd Army Patch. I couldn't make the change in the photo above, but here is the correct version:
SSG Keck also has a website, The Audie Murphy National Fan Club, with much more info and many pics.


  1. Dan, thank you for posting this. As a child, I watched "To Hell and Back" on some Saturday afternoon "Movie of the week" thing. I was just fascinated by the story. During the first commercial, I went and found Momma and told her about what I was watching.

    She came in to the living room and sat down with me. She began to tell me that this was a true story, and that the actor was actually the brave soldier himself. I was even more amazed. Momma sat and watched the whole thing with's one of my fond memories.

    Dang! I need to go rent that for my young son to watch (and his old man). Thanks for reminding me!

  2. Audie Murphy was one of my first heroes. I saw "To Hell and Back" as a first-run movie in the theatre at Orly Field outside Paris. That was back in the day when kids were actually encouraged to have heroes and to emulate their qualities. (sigh) We'll not go on any further...

    Thanks for posting this, Dan. Well done!

  3. Thanks for the reminder about his movies. I will get them from Netflix as I know Chas and Andy have never seen them. He was the greatest hero for every boy of my generation - even in South Africa.

  4. Nicely done, Dan. However, first chance you get...please correct the 3rd Infantry Division patch. The blue triangles in the upper right and lower left show the patch is displayed incorrectly. The small blue triangles should be in the upper LEFT and lower RIGHT. Thanks.

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