Audie¬†Leon¬†Murphy¬†(20 June 1925 ‚Äď 28 May 1971)


Audie Leon Murphy was an American soldier, actor, songwriter, and rancher. He was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II. He received every military combat award for valor available from the United States Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. Murphy also received the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrated at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off a company of German soldiers for more than an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945; and then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

Murphy was born on 20 June 1925, in¬†Kingston, a small rural community in¬†Hunt County¬†in northeastern¬†Texas.¬†He was the seventh of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy (1887‚Äď1976) and his wife Josie Bell Murphy (n√©e¬†Killian; 1891‚Äď1941). The Murphys were¬†sharecroppers, of English, Irish, Scots-Irish, Scottish, and German descent.

As a child, Murphy was a loner with mood swings and an explosive temper.¬†He grew up in northeastern Texas around the towns of¬†Farmersville,¬†Greenville, and¬†Celeste, where he attended elementary school.¬†His father drifted in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserted them. Murphy dropped out of school in fifth grade and got a job picking cotton for a dollar a day (equivalent to $20 in 2021) to help support his family; he also became skilled with a rifle, hunting small game to help feed them.

After his mother died of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, Murphy worked at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville.

The loss of his mother stayed with Murphy throughout his life. He later stated:

She died when I was sixteen. She had the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen. It reached almost to the floor. She rarely talked; and always seemed to be searching for something. What it was I don’t know. We didn’t discuss our feelings. But when she passed away, she took something of me with her. It seems I’ve been searching for it ever since.

After his mother’s death, Hunt County authorities placed his three youngest siblings in Boles Children’s Home,¬†a Christian orphanage in¬†Quinlan. After the war, he bought a house in Farmersville for his eldest sister Corinne and her husband, Poland Burns. His other siblings briefly shared the home.

Military Career

Murphy had always wanted to be a soldier. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he attempted to enlist, but the Army, Navy and Marine Corps all turned him down for being underweight and underage. After his sister provided an affidavit that falsified his birth date by a year, he was accepted by the U.S. Army on 30 June 1942. After basic training at Camp Wolters, he was sent to Fort Meade for advanced infantry training. During basic training, he earned the Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar and Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar.

When the Third Infantry landed at Licata, Sicily, on 10 July, Murphy was a division runner. On a scouting patrol, he killed two fleeing Italian officers near Canicattì. Sidelined by an illness for a week when Company B arrived in Palermo on 20 July, he rejoined them when they were assigned to a hillside location protecting a machine-gun emplacement, while the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division fought at San Fratello en route to the Allied capture of the transit port of Messina.

Murphy participated in the September 1943 mainland Salerno landing at Battipaglia. While on a scouting party along the Volturno River, he and two other soldiers were ambushed with German machine gun fire killed one soldier. Murphy and the other survivor responded by killing five Germans with hand grenades and machine gun fire. While taking part in the October Allied assault on the Volturno Line near Mignano Monte Lungo Hill 193, he and his company repelled an attack by seven German soldiers, killing three and taking four prisoner. Murphy was promoted to sergeant on December 13th.

In January 1944, Murphy was promoted to staff sergeant.¬†He was hospitalized in Naples with¬†malaria¬†on January 21st and was unable to participate in the initial landing at the¬†Anzio beachhead.¬†He returned on January 29th and participated in the¬†First Battle of Cisterna,¬†and was made a platoon sergeant in Company B following that battle. He returned with the 3rd Division to Anzio, where they remained four months.¬†Taking shelter from the weather in an abandoned farmhouse on March 2nd, Murphy and his platoon killed the crew of a passing German tank.¬†He then crawled out alone close enough to destroy the tank with rifle grenades, for which he received the¬†Bronze Star¬†with¬†“V” device.

Murphy continued to make scouting patrols and take German prisoners before being hospitalized for a week on March 13th with a second bout of malaria. Sixty-one infantry officers and enlisted men of Company B, 15th Infantry, including Murphy, were awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge on May 8th.

Murphy was awarded a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Bronze Star. American forces liberated Rome on June 4th and Murphy remained bivouacked in Rome with his platoon throughout July.

Decorations

Murphy received every U.S. military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army for his World War II service.

The United States additionally honored Murphy’s war contributions with the¬†American Campaign Medal,¬†the¬†European‚ÄďAfrican‚ÄďMiddle Eastern Campaign Medal¬†with¬†arrowhead device¬†and 9¬†campaign stars, the¬†World War II Victory Medal, and the¬†Army of Occupation Medal¬†with¬†Germany Clasp.¬†France recognized his service with the¬†French Legion of Honor¬†‚ÄstGrade of Chevalier, the¬†French Croix de guerre¬†with Silver Star,¬†the French Croix de guerre with Palm,¬†the¬†French Liberation Medal¬†and the¬†French Fourrag√®re¬†in Colors of the¬†Croix de guerre,¬†which was authorized for all members of the 3rd Infantry Division who fought in France during World War II. Belgium awarded Murphy the¬†Belgian Croix de guerre¬†with 1940 Palm.

Brigadier General Ralph B. Lovett and Lieutenant Colonel Hallet D. Edson recommended Murphy for the Medal of Honor.¬†Near¬†Salzburg, Austria on 2 June 1945,¬†Lieutenant General¬†A.M. Patch¬†presented Murphy with the Medal of Honor and Legion of Merit for his actions at Holtzwihr. When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied, “They were killing my friends.”


At the end of World War II, the 36th Infantry Division reverted to state control as part of the Texas Army National Guard.

Murphy drilled new recruits in the summer training camps, and granted the Guard permission to use his name and image in recruiting materials. Although he wanted to join the fighting and juggled training activities with his film career, the 36th Infantry Division was never sent to Korea.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Since his military service, Murphy was plagued with insomnia and bouts of depression, and he slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow.¬†A post-service medical examination on 17 June 1947 revealed symptoms of headaches, vomiting, and nightmares about the war. His medical records indicated that he took sleeping pills to help prevent nightmares.¬†During the mid-1960s, he recognized his dependence on the sedative¬†Placidyl, and locked himself alone in a hotel room for a week to successfully break the addiction.¬†Post-traumatic stress levels exacerbated his innate moodiness¬†and surfaced in episodes that friends and professional colleagues found alarming.¬†His first wife, Dixie Wanda Hendrix, claimed he once held her at gunpoint.She witnessed her husband being guilt-ridden and tearful over newsreel footage of German war orphans.¬†Murphy briefly found a creative stress outlet in writing poetry after his Army discharge. His poem “The Crosses Grow on Anzio” appeared in his book¬†To Hell and Back,¬†but was attributed to the fictitious character Kerrigan.

Film Career

During an acting career spanning from 1948 to 1969, Murphy made more than 40 feature films and one television series.¬†When actor and producer¬†James Cagney¬†saw the 16 July 1945 issue of¬†Life¬†magazine depicting Murphy as the “most decorated soldier,”¬†he brought him to Hollywood. Cagney and his brother William signed him as a contract player for their production company and gave him training in acting, voice and dance.

Universal Studios signed Murphy to a seven-year studio contract at $2,500 a week (equivalent to $28,200 in 2021). His first film for them was as Billy the Kid in The Kid from Texas in 1950. He wrapped up that year making Sierra starring Wanda Hendrix, who by that time had become his wife, and Kansas Raiders as outlaw Jesse James. Universal lent him to MGM in 1951 at a salary of $25,000 to play the lead of The Youth in The Red Badge of Courage, directed by John Huston.[135] Murphy and Huston worked together again in the 1960 film The Unforgiven.

Personal Life

Murphy married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. Their divorce became final two years later in 1951. Four days later, he married former airline stewardess Pamela Opal Lee Archer with whom he had two sons: Terry Michael (born 14 March 1952), and James Shannon (born 1954).

Murphy bred quarter horses at the Audie Murphy Ranch in what is now Menifee, California, and the Murphy Ranch in Pima County, Arizona.

His horses raced at the¬†Del Mar Racetrack, and he invested large sums of money in the hobby.¬†Murphy’s gambling left his finances in a poor state. In 1968, he stated that he lost $260,000 in an Algerian oil deal and was dealing with the¬†Internal Revenue Service¬†over unpaid taxes.¬†In spite of his financial difficulties, Murphy refused to appear in commercials for alcohol and cigarettes, mindful of the influence he would have on the youth market.

In May 1970, Murphy was arrested in Burbank, California, charged with battery and assault with intent to commit murder in a dispute with a dog trainer. He was accused of firing a shot at the man, which he denied. Later, Murphy was cleared of all the charges.

On 28 May 1971, Murphy was killed when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed into Brushy Mountain, 14 nautical miles northwest of Roanoke, Virginia, in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed.

On 7 June 1971, Murphy was buried with full military honors at¬†Arlington National Cemetery.¬†In attendance were Ambassador to the U.N.¬†George H. W. Bush, Army Chief of Staff¬†William Westmoreland, and many of the 3rd Infantry Division. Murphy’s gravesite is in Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11, 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 cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President¬†John F. Kennedy.‚ú™

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