Lt, US Army, MOH
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.
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?
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?
'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
The Most Decorated Soldier
In the History of the United States
Ask an American younger than 50 who Audie Murphy was, and you're likely to draw a blank stare, unless they happen to have some tie to the military. Or they might have heard of him from some old westerns on late-night TV.
That's a shame, and a travesty, because Audie Murphy was the embodiment of the term "American hero." His legacy of courage, honor, and commitment has inspired generations of soldiers coming after him. 1st Lt. Audie Murphy is far too important to be forgotten by Americans.
Rejected by the Marine Corps
Audie Murphy was born in a sharecropper's shack in North Texas, one of thirteen children, only nine of whom survived to age 18. His father abandoned the family in 1936, when Audie was just 12 years old. He had to drop out of school to help his mother support his brothers and sisters. He picked cotton for a dollar a day, and was known for his accuracy with a gun. His hunting helped to feed his family. When he was 16, Audie's mother died, making orphans of him and his siblings. Helpless, he watched as his younger siblings were placed with family members or in foster homes. When he returned home from the war, Audie Murphy retrieved every one and put his family back together.
When World War II began, Audie Murphy tried to enlist in the military, lying about his age like many others. He wanted to be a Marine, but was turned down, not because of his age, but because of his stature. At just 5'5", and 110 lbs., he was deemed "too small." Ten days after his 18th birthday, on June 30, 1942, Audie Murphy enlisted in the Army. The Army Paratroopers turned him down, too. He became an Infantryman.
Rapid Battlefield Promotions
After nine months of training, Private Audie Murphy was assigned in March 1943 to the famous 15th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, in North Africa, preparing to invade Sicily. It was there in 1943 that he first saw combat, proving himself to be a proficient marksman and highly skilled soldier. He landed at Salerno and then at Anzio as part of the Allied force that fought its way to Rome. On May 7, 1943, he was promoted to Private First Class.
Murphy's skills continued to earn him advancements in rank, partly because many of his superior officers were being transferred, wounded or killed. After the capture of Rome, Murphy earned his first decoration for gallantry. He received subsequent promotions to Corporal, Sergeant, and Staff Sergeant.
Murphy's long list of decorations began on March 2, 1944 with the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for valorous conduct in action against the enemy on the Anzio Beachhead, Italy. This was followed with the First Oak Leaf Cluster on the Bronze Star Medal two months later for his exemplary conduct in ground combat on or about 8 May, 1944. At this same time, he was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge.
After landing in Southern France, Murphy earned the Distinguished Service Cross on 15 August, 1944, just three month after the second Bronze Star. Audie Murphy advanced inland with his squad but was halted by intense machine gun and small arms fire from a boulder-covered hill in front of him. Acting alone, he obtained a light machine gun and in the ensuring duel, he was able to silence the enemy weapon, killing two of its crew and wounding the third. As he proceeded further up the draw, two Germans advanced toward him and were quickly killed.
Still alone, Audie then dashed further up the draw toward the enemy strong point, disregarding the hail of bullets directed at him. Closing in, he wounded two more Germans with carbine fire, killed two others in a fire fight, and forced the remaining five to surrender. It was fighting during this action that took the life of his dear friend, Lattie Tipton. Devastated by this loss, Audie co-dedicated his autobiographical book "To Hell and Back" to PVT Lattie Tipton and to PVT Joe Sieja who was killed in action on the Anzio Beachhead in January, 1944.
Two Silver Stars
On the morning of 2 October 1944, near the Cleurie Quarry, France, Audie inched his way over rugged terrain, alone, toward an enemy machine gun which had fired upon a group of American Officers on reconnaissance. Getting to within fifteen yards of the German gun, Audie stood up, and ignoring a burst of enemy fire, flung two hand grenades into the position, killing four Germans and wounding three more, thus destroying the position. For this action, Audie was awarded the Silver Star.
Just three days later, on October 5, 1944, on a hill in the Vosges Mountains near Le Tholy, France, he earned an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star. Carrying an SCR536 radio, and alone, Audie crawled fifty yards under severe enemy machine gun and rifle fire, to a point 200 yards from a strongly entrenched enemy. For an hour Audie Murphy directed artillery fire upon the enemy, killing fifteen Germans and inflicting approximately thirty-five casualties. On October 14, 1944, he was given a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant.
Medal of Honor for an Army of One
Audie Murphy received a severe hip wound from a German mortar on October 26, 1944. Tired of the monotony of hospital life, he took it upon himself to rejoin Company B. While still in a state of convalescence on January 26, 1945, Audie Murphy earned the nation's highest award for combat action near Holtzwihr, France.
At midnight on January 25, Company B moved through the Riedwihr Woods, but fierce fighting decimated the company. With the exception of Lieutenant Murphy, all the officers were killed, and 102 of the company’s 120 enlisted men were either killed or wounded before they even reached their assigned position. Despite five replacements, the company remained critically under strength. As the senior ranking surviving officer, Audie was placed in charge of the company and was ordered to advance to the edge of the forest and hold the line until relieved.
Company B was supported by two tank destroyers from the 601st Tank battalion which were attached to the 15th Infantry, but they would soon be out of action. The frozen ground was covered with 10-12 inches of snow; it was impossible for the men to dig in, leaving them far too exposed. Audie's company was strung along a three hundred yard front at the edge of the woods.
At 1400 hours (that's 2:00 p.m.), on January 26, 1945, the Germans began a fierce attack. This assault consisted of six heavy Jagdpanther tanks supported by approximately 250 German infantry, members of the German 2nd Mountain Division transferred from Norway, attired in white snow capes. They were described as "a sea of white."
The first tank destroyer slid into a drainage ditch while attempting to maneuver into a better firing position and could not extricate itself. Its main gun was rendered useless by the awkward angle that resulted. The second TD received a direct hit from a German 88, killing the commander and gunner.
Seeing that the situation was desperate, Murphy ordered his men to fall back to an alternate position to strengthen their defenses. At this time, he began calling in artillery supported by a field telephone through Battalion Headquarters. Alone, with his ammunition depleted, Audie Murphy decided to mount the burning TD and employ its .50 caliber machine gun.
After removing the dead TD commander, Audie sprayed deadly fire upon the German infantry. With the TD in danger of blowing up at any moment, the Germans gave it a wide berth. The black smoke streaming from the TD made it difficult for the Germans to see Audie, but it also reduced his view of the advancing infantry. At this point, Audie called in more artillery support even though it was dangerously close to his own position.
Audie Murphy was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waiver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back.
For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2nd Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank.
The Germans had advanced to within 50 yards of Murphy when a nervous lieutenant from battalion headquarters inquired about the enemy’s position. Murphy replied, "If you just hold the phone a minute, I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards." Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire.
The American position, on the only road through the woods, was held by a single American - Audie Murphy. He understood the importance of maintaining control of that road at all costs.
He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. At the same time, his field telephone went dead. Audie jumped from the burning tank destroyer and never looked back. As he moved into the woods, he heard it explode just seconds later.
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 Lt. 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.
His courageous performance stalled the German advance and allowed him to lead his men in the counterattack, which ultimately drove the enemy from Holtzwihr. For this, Audie Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for gallantry in action. He was promoted to First Lieutenant after his Medal of Honor action.
America's Most-Decorated Soldier
By the war's end, Murphy had become the nation's most-decorated soldier. In 30 months, he earned an unparalleled 33 medals, including every medal the United States could bestow for valor (some more than once), three from France and one from Belgium.
When Germany surrendered, Murphy and a supply sergeant were the only ones still left from his original unit, Company B, 15th Infantry Regiment. Audie Murphy was wounded three times during the war, and in 30 months of combat was promoted from Private to 1st Lieutenant, yet, in May 1945, when victory was declared in Europe, he had still not reached his 21st birthday. His middle name was "Leon," but his men insisted the L stood for "Lucky."
With his characteristic humility, Murphy discounted his heroics, saying, "It was not a heroic act. I figured if one man could do the job, why risk the lives of others." He also remarked many times, "The real heroes are the ones with the wooden crosses."
Audie Murphy Goes to Hollywood
Audie Murphy returned to a hero's welcome in the United States. His photograph appeared on the cover of Life magazine and he was invited to Hollywood by actor James Cagney to embark on an acting career. Still very shy and unassuming, Murphy arrived in Hollywood with only his good looks and — by his own account — "no talent."
Nevertheless, he went on to make more than 40 films,eventually earning his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His best known movies were "To Hell and Back," in which he portrayed himself in the film version of his autobiography by the same name; "Red Badge of Courage;" and "The Unforgiven" with legendary screen stars Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn.
Early Proponent of Better Treatment for PTSD
Murphy, who once said that he could only sleep with a loaded pistol under his pillow, was haunted by nightmares of his wartime experiences throughout his adult life. He became active in speaking out about the mental effects of war on its soldiers, publicizing his struggles with what, at the time, was called "battle fatigue," and is better known today as PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He urged Congress, government and military officials to do a better job of taking care of the impact of war on the mental health of service members.
In 1971, at the age of 46, he died in the crash of a private plane near Roanoke, Va.
Audie Murphy is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, just across Memorial Drive from the Memorial Amphitheater. A special flagstone walkway has been constructed to accommodate the large number of people who stop to pay their respects to this hero. His grave is second in number of visitors only to that of President John F. Kennedy.
At the end of a row of graves, his tomb is marked by a simple, white, government-issue tombstone, which lists only a few of his many military decorations.
The stone is, as he was, too small.
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A special petition has been started, requesting that President Obama posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Audie Murphy. He has already been awarded every military medal for valor authorized by this country. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is certainly a fitting civilian award to honor this man who did so much to preserve freedom for Europe and America. Please click on the link to sign the petition.
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