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.
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?