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April 16, 2008

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The Little Soldier from Texas

In the May issue of Field & Stream, in "Cheers & Jeers," we had occasion to mention Audie L. Murphy and his 1949 autobiography, To Hell and Back. Most readers of this blog are aware that Murphy remains the most decorated serviceman in American history, but he was a remarkable person in other respects, and he is certainly worth remembering here.

Murphy came from a large, dirt-poor Depression-era Texas family. His father deserted, his mother died, and at the age of 16, Murphy found himself the sole support of his brothers and sisters. He couldn't manage, and they were placed in an orphanage.

In 1942, he enlisted in the Army. At 5'5" and 110 pounds he was pronounced unfit for combat duty, but he insisted, and was trained as an infantryman. Murphy was sent overseas, assigned to the Third Infantry Division, and saw 27 months of combat in North Africa, Italy, and France.

He began as a private and finished as a first lieutenant, having been awarded the Medal of Honor as well as 32 other U.S. medals, 5 French, and 1 Belgian. He received every American decoration for bravery that it was possible to get at that time.

Murphy returned home a celebrity, was introduced to Hollywood by James Cagney, and went on to a successful film career, making 44 pictures. His most notable was To Hell and Back, which was faithful to his book. This 1955 film was an enormous hit, and was Universal's leading money-maker until it was surpassed by Jaws in 1975. Its theme is the same as the book's: that the lot of a combat infantryman is unrelieved terror, grief, and misery, and that there is no glory anywhere. When asked what it was like to act in the film Murphy said: "I got to see my friends killed all over again."

He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and in the 1960s, became one of the first to talk about it openly. He drank, had nightmares, was married and divorced repeatedly, and is alleged to have suffered fits of violence.

Murphy might eventually have recovered, but on May 28, 1971, when he was 46 years old, the small plane in which he was flying crashed near Catawba, Virginia. All aboard were killed. I've often wondered what he thought in his last few seconds of life: To survive so much and die like this? And very possibly, No more dreams.

He was buried with full honors at Arlington Cemetery. Tradition dictates that Medal of Honor winners have grave markers set off by gold leaf, but Murphy's at his request, is plain. After John Kennedy's grave, more people visit it than any other.

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Comments

DINFOS

Great post, Mr. Petzal.

Robert  W.  Sprague

Dave, thankyou for this reminder of what a hero is, and that freedom isn't free. May you rest in peace Mr. Murphy.
Robert Sprague

Former Marine

"...Tradition dictates that Medal of Honor winners..."

They are known as RECIPIENTS, not winners. They didn't WIN anything... it wasn't a contest.

Great post otherwise.

OOH RAH

Del in KS

I was in NCO school at Ft. Benning, GA when Audie Murphy died. He was simply our best soldier ever. Most CMH recipients are decorated for single events of bravery but he did many and lived to tell. Good point former Marine.

Scrap5000

God Bless him & all who serve our country!

Bernie Kuntz

Yes, Lt. Murphy was an exemplary soldier. He was a small-statured man, almost boyish in appearance, but certainly had more guts than most. God bless him.

ishawooa

Lt. Murphy has been a hero of mine since I first saw the movie as a child. Oddly enough the uncle who took me to this movie was also in the 3rd but did not know Audie. Many kids today never have heard of him or other men of his standing and that of itself is a real shortcoming of today's society in America.

John

About thirty years ago a bunch of us gun nuts would gather at the local Holiday Inn in Denison, Tx for coffee. One of the regulars was a spit and polish Sergeant Brandon with the Texas Highway Patrol. Sergeant Brandon had been a good friend of Audie Murphy and had grown up with him in Farmersville, Tx. He told the story of taking a leave from the Highway patrol to be Audie's business manager but he said that he could not keep up the pace as Audie would wake him up in the middle of night on a whim to fly somewhere so Brandon gave it up and returned to the Highway Patrol. He also told the story that evertime Audie would buy a new gun he would by two and give one to him. He would always remember if he had not returned to the Highway Patrol he would had gone down in that plane crash.

Sgt Michelle Wilson

As a currently deployed soldier, it's soldiers like Lt Murphy and all those who came before us whom paved the way for the rest of us. Let us never forget those soldiers who have died in previous and current conflicts around the world. They are the true heroes.

Dan

Dave, what can be added to that? There are lots of reasons why it can be hard to come home (some of your recitations of rat shootin at the dump or gallery shooting point out what happens when "home" goes away). Audie had a hard time coming home because so many ghosts came with him... a gift that keeps on giving, a sacrifice that keeps on taking. The first thing I feel is the deeper gratitude for his sacrifice -- offered as that small youth long before he know just how much it would take from him.

It puts the lie to the idea that PTSD sufferers are not brave. We seem to have done a singularly poor job with the folks who come home struggling with it; and a worse job now when some legislators want to marginalize them further by saying that, after they gave so much, they are no longer trustworthy to keep arms, hunt, or participate in other healing activities.

KJ

Good post.

I think George Carlin said it well when he talked about "post-traumatic stress disorder": four syllables, rolls gently off the tongue, easy to say, not harsh at all. Not like "shell shock." If we had called it "shell shock" all along maybe we would have treated our returning soldiers better.

Murphy was bigger than his stature suggested.

WA Mtnhunter

I was in the former Republic of South Vietnam in 1971 when the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported the death of Audie Murphy. We were saddened to hear that news. He was a hero and much the same age as our fathers at the time.

He was a real soldier....nuff said.

Clay Cooper

Lt. Audie L Murphy

The real and true life JOHN WAYNE!

http://www.warfoto.com/AudieMurphy.htm

tjbbpgob

I have known 2 men who were in Mr. Murphy's platoon, one an attorney in Bessemer Al. repeated to me that Audie Murphy was every bit as brave as his medals suggest and maybe more so. A little known fact is that he was a member of the Texas National Guard and not regular Army at first, anyway.

3kidsdad

Makes me sad for this generation to rememeber who used to be in Hollywood.

I was going through my list of actors I knew were veterans when I decided to check my facts. I went to:

http://www.answers.com/topic/list-of-world-war-ii-veterans

The list is suprising. I mean, Bob Barker, of The Price is Right? A Corsair pilot in WWII?
Don Adams, of Get Smart fame? A marine on Guadalcanal?

Everybody knows about Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin. But to see the comedians and others you would not associate with a "tough guy" persona. These were people forged in a depression then tempered in combat.

I hope we have enough citizens who have heard shots fired in anger for our country to survive. We cannot endure with what we get from American Idol.

Thomas Fowler

America's best comes often from America's most unlikely. But riflemen like the Revolutionary Tim Murphy and the WWI farm boy, Alvin York, join Audie Murphy as The Best of the best.

I believe that Audie would point to other farm boys of his outfit that were his heroes, and never made it home.

We salute you, Texas farm boy, American Hero.

Tom Fowler

duff

Dave, wow what a post. When the comments bring tears to my eyes, the provocation has done it's job. Dad is a WWll vet (Cdn.Navy-Destroyer Haida) and his one brother was shot down over Germany and died with their entire Lancaster crew. I watched him relive the war through Audie movies and the like. This past fall, after much research and many years we finally found where Uncle Bill was buried and I took Dad to Germany to say goodbye. It was tearful for both of us and very relieving. He was Dad's oldest brother and when they enlisted, Dad was underage, but lied to serve with his two brothers. Bill was Dad's hero...your remembrance of Mr. Murphy strikes a very deep and important cord with us.
As usual..thanks.

Clay Cooper

I never knew the name, Lt. Audie L Murphy until the other day. For years, I have been saying that there are two laws. Murphy’s Law with a million laws and Sergeant Cooper’s Law. Sergeant Cooper’s Law says, Murphy was an optimist! At first reading about this giant of men and one of the greatest Americans to walk this land, I had second thoughts about what I’ve been saying and remorse in doing so. But it’s true! Lt. Audie L Murphy was what we call a disadvantage individual, yet he allowed nothing to stand in his way period! He knew the risks and knew the cost of failure and he knew that there is a time one must take the lead to win! I know very little of this person that casted a shadow lager than any man in his presence. This great American Soldier knew what it’s like to be at the bottom and to lose what is so dearly. He chose to sacrifice oneself, so others may live is beyond words.

I have a new definition of Murphy’s Law and replace all Murphy’s laws with only one law.

The new law is called

PERSERVERANCE!

WA Mtnhunter

Clay

Which planet have you been on all these years? A veteran that has not heard of Audie Murphy?

Surely you are just kidding us on that one.

Jim in Mo.

Some heros are manufactured others are born unnoticed till they get in a sticky situation.

Thomas

Dan,
I could not say it better. The pain of combat does not end at the battlefield. It is etched in their hearts, soles and bodies for the rest of their lives. They endure successfully and sometimes not so successfully the pain of having to take another life for their country. They come home and think that they are all alone out there and that no one will understand what they went through. They are afraid to tell what they have seen and done for fear of killing their friends all over again. Eventually it is more then they can bare and it weighs them to the ground. As it has been said before Freedom is not Free and many have paid the High Price with their Lives.

Every Day should be Veterans and and Memorial Day for our Vet's.
God Bless Them.

Tom the Troll

CPT BRAD

Hey, WOW what a post! Yes it is so true that Audie was the true American Hero. Thanks 3kidsdad for the link. I printed it off and posted it in our TOC. To motivate and reenforce the Ideas of what it means to "Soldier Up" I'm currently on my second tour in Iraq and Pray to God that my children will never have come here. Let us all pray for out Veterans and Mr Petzal Thank You, from all the Men and Women serving abroad for remembering the heros past, present and future

Del in KS

Clay,

Have you heard of Alvin York from the valley of the three forks of the wolf in Tennesee? Two good war movies are "Sgt York" and "To hell and back". Suggest you rent them you will be glad you did. Both are based on fact. Really enjoyed the thread on Lt Murphy.

Del in KS

My father-in-law LtCmdr John Schurman went thru navy flight shool during WWII with Bob Barker. John retired in 1968 after flying in 3 wars and died of cancer in 1986.

Bill Rayfield

We should be reminded more often for those who sacrificed for us all.....lest we forget.




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