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American Heroes: Audie Leon Murphy

I grew up seeing Audie Murphy as an actor in westerns and a war movie called To Hell And Back. It would be years before I recognized that he was an actual war hero who was the recipient of every medal for valor that the Army had, and a couple from foreign governments as well. He fought in Europe during WWII in the invasion of Sicily, followed by Anzio, the liberation of Rome and, later, in France.

Murphy grew up poor in northeast Texas, the seventh of twelve children who were deserted by their father. Murphy dropped out of school in the fifth grade to help support his family by picking cotton and performing other jobs of labor. He had a rifle and often fed his family with whatever game he brought in. Those marksmanship skills would serve him well later. His mother died when Murphy was sixteen and the following year, 1942, he used fake documents to enlist in the Army. It took several attempts to enlist; at only 5'5" tall, he was also underweight and three different branches of the military rejected him before the Army accepted him on his second try. Although enlisting as a private, he would later win a battlefield commission and left the Army as a first lieutenant.

After his discharge Murphy became an actor and starred mostly in cowboy movies. He suffered from PTSD and attempted suicide several times over the years, in addition to an addiction to sleeping pills which he took for the nightmares. He was an advocate for veterans returning from Korea and Vietnam who were also afflicted with the traumas of war, and petitioned Congress to recognize "combat fatigue", now known as PTSD, as a legitimate illness.

By the 1960s Murphy had lost nearly all of his money to gambling and bad investments. When offered healthy sums of money to endorse alcohol and tobacco, which would have put him back on his feet financially, he declined because he felt it put out the wrong message to the youth of America.

Audie Murphy died in a plane crash in 1971 just a few weeks shy of his 46th birthday.

His Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Second Lieutenant (Infantry) Audie Leon Murphy (ASN: 0-1692509), United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty on 26 January 1945, while serving with Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, in action at Holtzwihr, France. Second Lieutenant Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Second Lieutenant 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, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Second Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Second Lieutenant 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 three 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 Second Lieutenant 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 ten 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. Second Lieutenant 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.

Other medals for valor:

Distinguished Service Cross (Ramatuelle, France)

Silver Star (2) (Cleurie, France, three days apart)

Legion of Merit (for continuous bravery in combat while in Italy and France)

Bronze Star (2) with "V" for valor (both earned at Anzio, Italy)

Croix de Guerre (2) (awarded post-war by the government of France)

Croix de Guerre (awarded post-war by the government of Belgium)

He also received three (3) Purple Heart for wounds received in combat (all in France, months apart).

Audie Murphy epitomized a generation that grew up during the Great Depression and answered the call to duty when his country was attacked. He was a true American hero.


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