Audie Murphy

Who was the symbol of U.S. heroism during WWII and commemorated with every war decoration including the Congressional Medal of Honor and starred in over forty Hollywood films? Great things come in small packages. Audie Murphy weighed only 112 lbs. and measured 5’4 when he entered the Army in 1942, and his heroic escapades for his singular efforts such as earning the Bronze Star for destroying a German tank or systematically destroying several enemy machine-gun nests lining a hill are just two examples. I think of the scene in Saving Private Ryan after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. The squad made their way up the hill to silence the enemy fort, and I think of Audie Murphy who actually did it. By himself. That is, until his best friend joined him and the Germans shot him down. On a rampage to avenge his friend, he assaulted and secured the enemy nest. After that, he asked for one dangerous assignment after another, rising in rank, remaining loyal to his company.

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The act that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor might have come from a Marvel superhero film. In January of 1945, nineteen-year-old second lieutenant Audie Murphy and his 18 men faced 200 Germans and six tanks. After Murphy’s two tank destroyers were disabled by German fire, he ordered the retreat. Next, he scrambled over to the tank destroyer on fire and manned the turret and assaulted the Germans by firing the machine gun. He kept up the attack single-handedly for at least thirty minutes, killing over fifty enemy soldiers. The Germans withdrew and he hobbled away exhausted and slightly injured. For his heroism, he was awarded the highest military metal. For detailed accounts of his life, I recommend the Audie Murphy Memorial Website

You might think after the war and his return to Texas, he would find peace and contentment away from the horrors of war, but like many soldiers after discharge, Audie Murphy had difficulties processing what he had endured. According to his memoir, To Hell and Back, he suffered from nightmares, and found “normalcy” suffocating. He went to Hollywood, befriended James Cagney and starred in a lot of “B” Westerns. When his plane crashed in 1971, society’s anti-Vietnam attitudes made war heroes unpopular in general, and Audie Murphy’s passing went unnoticed by many. With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year, I wanted to pay tribute to an exceptional leader and outstanding soldier. Audie Murphy reminds me of the value of duty, the sacrifice of soldiers who fight for preserving freedom, and their willingness to protect their brothers in arms.

I recommend Tom Huntington’s article about the personal side of Audie Murphy in America in WWII magazine

I can’t imagine suffering the horrors of war only to relive them again in films like To Hell and Back. Have you seen John Huston’s 1951 film adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage? What about Gunsmoke which inspired the television series? Which Audie Murphy film do you recommend?

33 thoughts on “Audie Murphy

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  1. You were quite right, Cindy, I do like this post. The only sad thing is I remember my father saying how many others, he had seen, went wild after seeing a buddy killed and performed similar outstanding acts of courage. He said most rarely remembered what they had done, they simply reacted, but they were not so honored. Perhaps this is why I am constantly trying to get as many stories as possible on-line for the future generations?

    1. Thank you, GP. Yes, your father is quite right. That moment of truth when you wonder how you will react when faced with death. The survival instinct kicks in and heroes are born.

  2. Yes, you are absolutely right. Suffering real combat and its horrors, and then reliving them, must have taken a lot of determination and courage. Another really interesting blogpost.

  3. I only watched my first Audie Murphy film as recently as a couple of months ago. The Duel at Silver Creek was the start of my education. Thanks for filling in some more of the blanks.

  4. Amazing .. I was just looking at Murphy the other day. Quite a man. Made a lot of Westerns, of course, but they were mostly formula stuff – to capitalize on his notable War record/Heroism – but a few were pretty good. The irony: under John Huston, Murphy demonstrated that he actually some (unexploited) excellent acting talent in Unforgiven (1960) which also Starred Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn – a Classic Western. But Murphy disliked Hollywood and it’s trappings and tried to get out and do his own thing – sadly not all that successful. I believe he was a good honest man of integrity.

    1. Thanks for your insights, JC. I feel bad for him. His personal life was a shambles from what I read, his ending tragic, and he was forgotten by most, but not if I can help it 🙂

  5. I LOVE learning history from you Cindy! Haven’t even heard of Audie Murphy before, what an astonishing life he’s led. WOW, I too can’t imagine suffering the horrors of war only to relive them again in various films.

  6. Think you for your educational Audie Murphy post. I heard his name often when I was growing up but knew next to nothing about him. I watched the “Gunsmoke” series on TV as a child, and I’ve read “The Red Badge of Courage” twice but don’t recall seeing either film. So I really can’t address your question, but I do have a comment about “The Red Badge of Courage.” It’s a wonderful book and all the more so because Stephen Crane who wrote it was NOT in the Civil War. I find that remarkable because his descriptions of the the battles and the soldier’s fear–and later–bravery are so authentic. What a brilliant writer he was! As far as I know, he only wrote one novel and died at the age of 35. For some reason, one thing I’ve never forgotten about “The Red Badge of Courage” is that the soldier drank Earl Grey tea. I started drinking it after that, but I can’t say that it’s made me braver. 🙂

  7. This is a really good insight on a war hero, I wasn’t aware of, though I’ve heard the name.
    This post blends your love for History & Cinema. Nice!!!
    I might have seen ‘The Red Badge of Courage’, in the 80’s, as a little kid, but am not sure.

    1. Thank you, Nuwansen. Yes, I couldn’t resist noticing the two fav topics of mine, as well. I found it interesting he just drove out to Hollywood and James Cagney admired him (because they are both short, feisty men?) so he took him under his wing and gave him a room over the garage for 2 years. 44 films is a lot, even if they are mostly B westerns. An interesting life!

  8. Hi, Cindy:

    It’s always the little guys. Short in stature and easily forgotten in a mass formation or crowd who often surprise the most. And Mr. Murphy had those admirable virtues in Spades!

    I’d go with ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ which covers the bravura, allure and uncertainty of combat over ‘To Hell and Back’. Which is a great war film within an overflowing mass of war films. Though, come across a bit choreographed.

    John Wayne was asked to take on the role of the main character after the film ‘Gunsmoke’ was being considered for a weekly television series. Wayne declined, not being a fan of the nuts and bolts of acting in TV. And heartily suggested a recent co-star, James Arness for the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.

  9. My son just met an amazing WWII vet in his 90s who gave our homeschool group a tour at an air museum. He (American) was taken as a German POW but was treated decently (given the situation) thanks to the Geneva Conventions. But he said food had run out and he went down to 100 lbs. He is among the last of the survivors from that time. And so much to learn here, Cindy. Great post.

    1. Hi, Diana, thank you for your contribution. So many people, so many heroes from all sides of the war. Audie was amazing and I think symbolic of many never at the right place or time to garner the attention accolades they deserve.

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