Audie Murphy – Most Highly Decorated World War II Hero

I’m taking a timeout from my usual goofball self to pay tribute to one of the many veterans we’re honoring for Veterans Day on November 11th.

I’m grateful to all the brave men and women who have served and are serving our country, and I’d like to spotlight one of my favorites, a true underdog who rose above great odds to become a hero on many fronts in addition to his amazing feats during combat duty.

Audie Leon Murphy, 1924 – 1971
Most Highly Decorated Combat Soldier in World War II
“I never liked being called the ‘most decorated’ soldier. 
There were so many guys who should have gotten medals 
and never did–guys who were killed.”   Audie Murphy
Photo from Wikipedia
In this YouTube video, Audie Murphy was featured in a radio interview on Veteran’s Day 1963.
You can listen to his own humble words.
Audie Murphy Discusses WWII

I’ve been fascinated with Audie Murphy’s story ever since I saw the movie “To Hell and Back” (1955) where he starred as himself. It’s based on his best-selling autobiography, written in 1949 with the same title. He oversaw the making of the movie and insisted on sticking to the facts, no fictionalizing. He even had them omit parts of his story, fearing people would think he was exaggerating the truth.

Audie Murphy was one of twelve children born to poor Texas share croppers (three siblings died before his birth). His father abandoned the family in 1936. At age ten, Audie dropped out of school and worked on farms picking cotton or plowing to help care for his five younger siblings. He also hunted small animals to put food on the table and became a sharp-shooter as a result.

His mother died in 1941 when Audie was only 16 years old. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist, but he was too short for the Marines at 5’5″, plus he only weighed 110 pounds. The Navy turned him down because he was too young.

In 1942 at age 16 or 17 (depending on the source), he enlisted in the Army, thanks to falsified documents which stated he was 18. The paratroopers didn’t want him because he was too small. After passing out during a drill in basic training, his commander wanted to send him to baker and cook school, but he insisted on combat duty. He finally became part of the 3rd Infantry Division, where his platoon members nicknamed him “Little Texas” and “Baby Face.” Little did they know that he would soon become a legend in their division.

Starting out as a private, he was quickly promoted through the ranks, from corporal, to staff sergeant, and up to 2nd Lieutenant. Audie Murphy cared about the men under his command and became known for his fierce revenge when one of them was killed.

At one point, Audie’s best friend Lattie Tipton was killed by a German in a machine-gun nest who had faked surrender by holding up a white flag. Audie went ballistic and charged them, single-handedly cutting them down, then used the German machine gun and grenades to wipe out two other enemy nests.

One of my favorite scenes in “To Hell and Back” is during the Battle of Holtzwihr in France, when Audie, the lone surviving officer, ordered his men to take cover in the woods. He climbed on top of a burning tank destroyer, a ticking time bomb. For an hour, he used the machine gun to hold off the enemy, now approaching from three sides. Some got as close as 10 yards from the destroyer before he gunned them down.

The Germans couldn’t figure out where the enemy fire was coming from. They never considered that anyone would be crazy enough to be on top of a flaming tank destroyer that was about to blow up.

When he ran out of ammo, Murphy abandoned the tank destroyer and at that point realized he’d been shot in the leg, but he refused treatment and planned a counter-attack to force the enemy back. That was one of three injuries he incurred during his service, in addition to suffering bouts of malaria.

For his heroics on the burning tank destroyer, Audie Murphy received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery given by the United States of America.

Congressional Medal of Honor

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Audie Murphy received 32 other awards, citations, and decorations, 27 from the United States of America, five from France, and one from Belgium. Most were received before age 20.

After the war, Audie was invited to Hollywood by James Cagney, but it was rough going with only bit parts. He was homeless and slept in a gymnasium. He finally caught a break in 1949 with the starring role in the movie “Bad Boy,” then went on to make 44 feature films, 33 of them westerns.

Hollywood took notice of Audie Murphy
when he was featured on the cover of Life Magazine.
Audie_Murphy_Life_magazine_July_16_1945
Photo From Wikipedia

Audie Murphy also found success as a country music songwriter. “When the Wind Blows in Chicago” and “Shutters and Boards” were his biggest hits.

Back when post-traumatic stress disorder was known as “battle fatigue,” Audie Murphy was well aware of the scars the war had left on him: He suffered from nightmares, depression, and insomnia. His first wife claimed that he slept with a gun under his pillow.

He didn’t try to hide that fact that he suffered from the emotional effects of war. In the mid-1960s he faced the realization that he’d become addicted to prescription sleeping pills, so he locked himself in a motel room for a week to battle his addiction, suffering withdrawals until he was finally clean.

He openly talked about his fight with “battle fatigue” and the emotional impact war has on veterans, especially those returning from the Korean and Vietnam wars. He became an advocate for veterans and sought aid from the government to provide treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions and to conduct studies to better help veterans.

On May 28, 1971, Audie Murphy died in a plane crash at age 46. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery near the Amphitheater, and his grave site is the second-most visited grave. President John F. Kennedy’s grave site receives the most visitors per year.

Tombstones of Medal of Honor recipients are usually decorated in gold leaf, but Audie Murphy asked for his tombstone to remain plain and inconspicuous. 

Here’s one of the poems he wrote:

Dusty Old Helmet

Dusty old helmet, rusty old gun,
They sit in the corner and wait –
Two souvenirs of the Second World War
That have withstood the time, and the hate.
 
Many times I’ve wanted to ask them –
And now that we’re here all alone,
Relics all three of a long ago war –
Where has freedom gone?
 
Mute witness to a time of much trouble,
Where kill or be killed was the law – 
Were these implements used with high honor?
What was the glory they saw? 
 
Freedom flies in your heart like an eagle.
Let it soar with the winds high above
Among the spirits of soldiers now sleeping,
Guard it with care and with love. 
 
I salute my old friends in the corner.
I agree with all they have said – 
And if the moment of truth comes tomorrow,
I’ll be free, or By God, I’ll be dead!
Audie Murphy 
 
Do you remember the game show What’s My Line?
Here’s a clip where Audie Murphy appeared as the mystery challenger.
 
If you want to watch the entire movie of To Hell and Back, it’s on YouTube. 
Here’s a link:

Or you can go to YouTube and type in: To Hell and Back (1955)
Other sites with info and photos of Audie Murphy:
So, who are some of your heroes? What are you doing for Veterans Day?

I think I’ll watch To Hell and Back. I haven’t seen it in many years. What a surprise to find the whole movie on YouTube!

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40 Responses to Audie Murphy – Most Highly Decorated World War II Hero

  1. Bish Denham says:

    Yup, he's a Texas boy. The VA hospital in San Antonio is named after him.

  2. cleemckenzie says:

    What a wonderful tribute to this man, this hero. I had no idea he also wrote poetry. Great story, Lynn. Thanks for reminding me of him and of this day.I guess I'd have to say my dad was one of my heroes. He fought in WWII as a Scout Sgt. mostly behind enemy lines. I have his stories in my head. Wish I could write them into something. Maybe in the future.

  3. I read some of his autobiography to get a feel for "battle fatigue" and how he dealt with it back then. He had a crazy temper sometimes and I really think it was the result of the PTSD.Great tribute to him, Lynn. I only wish he'd lived longer to see how we have come to see PTSD as a true disorder that so many of our brave soldiers go through.

  4. Old Kitty says:

    I absolutely adore To Hell and Back and think Audie Murphy a most wonderful hero. Amazing talented man – who suffered for his bravery. Wonderful. Thanks for this post!! Take carex

  5. Kara says:

    What an amazing story, thank you for sharing it! At our former home we lived closed to a Veterans hospital and we would make handwritten cards and red poppy tissue flowers and they would deliver them to the veterans there. My girls saw first hand that the effects of war live on for many of the returning men and women and that it is important we don't forget the sacrifices they made.

  6. Awww! I love this!One of my hero/veterans is my dad. He pretty much rocks in a whole lot of ways.

  7. Love reading about heroes! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. I never realized how much Audie Murphy accomplished – or how much adversity he dealt with on the way there – thanks for sharing!

  9. Bish – As a Texas girl, I figured you knew all about Audie Murphy. That's so cool that the VA hospital is named after him.Lee – Thanks. I didn't know Audie wrote poetry either until I did the research on him, and I think he was a pretty good poet. I hope you write down your father's stories. I can't imagine what he went through during the war fighting behind enemy lines. I bet you could write an awesome poem to honor your dad.Melissa – I was so impressed to find out all the things Audie accomplished, and I think speaking out about his problem and becoming an advocate for other vets is a testimony to his character. I wish he had lived longer, too. Old Kitty – You're a kindred spirit who loves the movie also. The first time I watched it, it just blew me away that it's a true story – and that he played himself!

  10. Kara – Wow, I think it's awesome that you and your daughters made those cards and tissue flowers for the vets at the hospital. I bet it meant so much to them, knowing they are appreciated. Peggy – Thanks! It's so cool to have our dad as one of our heroes. My dad is one of my heroes, too. He served during the Korean war but was stationed in Austria. I'm thankful my dad didn't have to see combat. He's small like Audie Murphy, and war is hell and something none of us want to see our loved ones have to deal with.Coleen – You're welcome! Thanks for stopping by.Jennette – I never realized the scope of his adversities either. It makes me admire him that much more. So glad you stopped in!

  11. Excellent post and tribute! Thank you for this. I will have to watch the movie!

  12. I'm embarrassed to say that I forgot about Veteran's Day. I stumbled upon a ceremony at a nearby cemetery a couple of years back… Adding it to my calendar, thanks to you!My granddad served in WWII…a hero on many levels and who I'll miss particularly on 11/11/11.

  13. Susie – Thanks for stopping by. I hope you get a chance to watch the movie.August – Your granddad would be proud.

  14. Eve.E says:

    Hey there, I am just passing through from Alex's blog hop, and I am still working my way around all the blogs on the list. So I thought I would say a quick "hello" and I will stop by when I can. Great blog!!Eve 🙂

  15. Marcy says:

    My hero would be my husband. He served in the Marine Corps for 5 years (including a combat deployment to Iraq before we met). I got to see firsthand the effect going to war can have on a person through him, and I will always be proud of him for the sacrifice he made. Thanks for writing a post to honor veterans.

  16. Eve – I'm so glad you stopped by. I'll see you soon.Marcy – Yes, your husband is a hero. And he's fortunate to have you there for him. Tell him I said thank you for serving. I think he's a hero, too.

  17. Really great post, Lynn. Thanks for the information. I knew he was a war hero, but I know him mostly as a TV cowboy.

  18. debrakristi says:

    Wonderful post Lynn! My grandfather was stationed out of Texas when my mother was born. Spent the first few years of her life there. He also served during WWII. She didn't see him for several of her younger years because of his tour of duty. My grandmother has many stories about white gloved tea parties with the other officer’s wives. He retired a general. I have many heroes in my family that have served. My grandfather and father as well as my husband's father, uncle and brother. God bless all our service men and women.

  19. Stephanie – I don't remember seeing his cowboy movies, just To Hell & Back! I'll keep an eye out for his other movies from now on, though.Debra- Wow, how cool that your grandfather retired a general, plus all those other heroes in your family. Yes, I agree, God bless our service men and women. They rock!

  20. Wow! What a fantastic article, Lyn! I'm going to tweet it. 😀 I had no idea the star of To Hell and Back was playing himself. I saw that movie years ago. I hope they play it on tv this weekend.I have a wall in my house that is dedicated to family and friends who have served in the forces. My father-in-law recently gave me his medals and his braids to add to my wall. 🙂

  21. nutschell says:

    Wow. This is a fascinating piece of history, Lynn! Audie Murphy is certainly a man to remember. You've inspired me to learn more about him. Thanks for this!nutschellwww.thewritingnut.com PSI'm so glad you're back online!

  22. I know Audie! He's my mom's favorite. And I love him too. But I did not realize he wrote poetry, did I? I don't think so. Great tribute, pal. My uncles are veterans so this day around our house was always very cherished. My uncle Al was a prisoner of war in WWII. He was a pilot and his plane was shot down. He was in a prison camp for a year.I heart you, my friend. *waving*

  23. Very interesting and informative post. Thanks for sharing this.

  24. Sharon – That wall in your house sounds really awesome. I'd love to see a pic of it.Nutschell – Thanks! So glad this post inspired you.Robyn – That's so cool that Audie's your mom's favorite, too. And your uncles, wow, can't imagine what they went through, especially as a POW. Pretty awful. They deserve to be honored, for sure.Jennifer – Thank you! And thanks for stopping by!

  25. E.R. King says:

    Beautiful tribute! I've seen To Hell and Back. It was amazing. My husband says his favorite war hero is Murphy, too. This was very well done, Lynn. It makes me proud to be American!

  26. Pat Tillett says:

    Fantastic post! Audie Murphy was an amazing guy. He even managed to have himself a pretty nice little career in Hollywood! Lot's of good info about the man!

  27. E.R. – Thanks so much. Makes me proud to be an American, too! Pat – Thank you. Yes, isn't his Hollywood career amazing, too? Especially since he dealt with PTSD through it all but kept keepin' on.

  28. Julie Daines says:

    Love this interesting and timely post. Thanks for reminding us all about loyalty, service and sacrifice.

  29. What an amazing story of strength and perseverance! I need to watch that movie now 🙂

  30. Julie – That's a good way to put it, "loyalty, service and sacrifice." Thanks for stopping by!J.A. – Thank you. I hope you do get to watch the movie. It's amazing because it's a true story.

  31. Al Penwasser says:

    Thank you for this.One of my heroes is a Navy commander who was killed at the Pentagon on September 11th.He was also one of my best friends (his picture is on my blog).I'll spend Veterans Day reminding others that it's Veterans Day.

  32. wow, what an amazing person. This is an amazing tribute to not only Audie, but to all veterans.

  33. Al – You're welcome. Thank you for your service to our country. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend on 9/11. It's great that you're going to spend Veterans Day honoring other veterans. Lynda – Thank you. Yes, I guess it is a tribute to all veterans, actually!

  34. Julie Musil says:

    Wow, wow, wow. I'm amazed by this information, and by his humility. That generation truly was amazing, wasn't it? Thanks so much for this tribute to a true hero.

  35. I'm an Audie Murphy fan, so I loved all the interesting tidbits. Thanks for showcasing a hero.

  36. Julie – Thank you! Yes, that generation was awesome. Gene Pool Diva – Thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  37. Hobo Annie says:

    Audie Murphy was awesome and you really put a ton of work into this wonderful tribute blog! I love 'To Hell and Back'. Great job, Lynn. On Veteran's Day I sent a special thanks to the women of the military, particularly those who served in the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.They forged the way for many of today's women in uniform and all too often didn't get the recognition or respect due them.

  38. laughingmom says:

    That was an awesome post! There are so many amazing heroes that we could all learn more about. New Follower!

  39. Hobo Annie – Thank you! That's cool that you paid tribute to the women in the military, especially those who paved the way. You/re right, they're often forgotten. Laughingmom -Thanks for visiting my site and for the follow. Glad you enjoyed reading about Audie. And there are many heroes, for sure, and I love learning about those that I've never heard about before.

  40. melvin says:

    Hello, which hero! Thank you for paying him an amply deserved tribute.Melvin

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