World War II: First Lieutenant Audie Murphy

Augie Murphy after World War II
First Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy. Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

Early Life:

The sixth of twelve children, Audie Murphy was born June 20, 1925 (adjusted to 1924) in Kingston, TX. The son poor sharecroppers Emmett and Josie Murphy, Audie grew on farms in the area and attended school in Celeste. His education was cut short in 1936 when his father abandoned the family. Left with only a fifth grade education, Murphy began working on local farms as a laborer to help support his family.

A gifted hunter, he felt that the skill was necessary for feeding his siblings. Murphy's situation worsened on May 23, 1941, with the death of his mother.

Joining the Army:

Though he attempted to support the family on his own by working various jobs, Murphy was ultimately forced to place his three youngest siblings in an orphanage. This was done with the blessing of his older, married sister Corrine. Long believing that the military offered a chance to escape poverty, he attempted to enlist following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that December. As he was only sixteen years old, Murphy was rejected by recruiters for being underage. In June 1942, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, Corrine adjusted Murphy's birth certificate to make it appear that he was eighteen.

Approaching the US Marine Corps and US Army Airborne, Murphy was rejected due to his small stature (5'5", 110 lbs.). He was similarly rejected by the US Navy.

Pressing on, he ultimately achieved success with the US Army and enlisted at Greenville, TX on June 30. Ordered to Camp Wolters, TX, Murphy began basic training. During part of the course he passed out leading his company commander to consider transferring him to cook school. Resisting this, Murphy completed basic training and transferred to Fort Meade, MD for infantry training.

Murphy Goes to War:

Finishing the course, Murphy received an assignment to 3rd Platoon, Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Casablanca, Morocco. Arriving in early 1943, he began training for the invasion of Sicily. Moving forward on July 10, 1943, Murphy participated in the 3rd Division's assault landings near Licata and served a division runner. Promoted to corporal five days later, he used his marksmanship skills on a scouting patrol to kill two Italian officers attempting to escape on horseback near Canicatti. Over the coming weeks, Murphy took part in the 3rd Division's advance on Palermo but also contracted malaria.

Decorations in Italy:

With the conclusion of the campaign on Sicily, Murphy and the division shifted into training for the invasion of Italy. Coming ashore at Salerno on September 18, nine days after the initial Allied landings, the 3rd Division immediately went into action and began an advance to and across the Volturno River before reaching Cassino. In the course of the fighting, Murphy led a night patrol that was ambushed. Remaining calm, he directed his men in turning back the German attack and captured several prisoners.

This action resulted in a promotion to sergeant on December 13.

Pulled from the front near Cassino, the 3rd Division took part in the landings at Anzio on January 22, 1944. Due to a malaria recurrence, Murphy, now a staff sergeant, missed the initial landings but rejoined the division a week later. During the course of the fighting around Anzio, Murphy, now a staff sergeant, earned two Bronze Stars for heroism in action. The first was awarded for his actions on March 2 and the second for destroying a German tank on May 8. With the fall of Rome in June, Murphy and the 3rd Division were withdrawn and began preparing to land in Southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. Embarking, the division landed near St. Tropez on August 15.

Murphy's Heroism in France:

On the day he came ashore, Murphy's good friend Lattie Tipton was killed by German soldier who was feigning surrender.

Incensed, Murphy stormed forward and single-handedly wiped out the enemy machine gun nest before using the German weapon to clear several adjacent German positions. For his heroism he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. As the 3rd Division drove north into France, Murphy continued his outstanding performance in combat. On October 2 he won a Silver Star for clearing a machine gun position near Cleurie Quarry. This was followed a by second award for advancing to direct artillery near Le Tholy.

In recognition of Murphy's stellar performance, he received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant on October 14. Now leading his platoon, Murphy was wounded in the hip later that month and spent ten weeks recovering. Returning to his unit still bandaged, he was made company commander on January 25, 1945, and promptly took some shrapnel from an exploding mortar round. Remaining in command, his company went into action the next day along the south edge of the Riedwihr Woods near Holtzwihr, France. Under heavy enemy pressure and with only nineteen men remaining, Murphy ordered the survivors to fall back.

As they withdrew, Murphy remained in place providing covering fire. Expending his ammunition, he climbed atop a burning M10 tank destroyer and used its .50 cal. machine gun to hold the Germans at bay while also calling in artillery fire on the enemy position. Despite being wounded in the leg, Murphy continued this fight for nearly an hour until his men began moving forward again.

Organizing a counterattack, Murphy, aided by air support, drove the Germans from Holtzwihr. In recognition of his stand, he received the Medal of Honor on June 2, 1945. When later asked why he had mounted the machine gun at Holtzwihr, Murphy replied "They were killing my friends."

Returning Home:

Removed from the field, Murphy was made a liaison officer and promoted to first lieutenant on February 22. In recognition of his overall performance between January 22 to February 18, Murphy received the Legion of Merit. With the conclusion of World War II in Europe, he was sent home and arrived in San Antonio, TX on June 14. Hailed as the most-decorated American soldier of the conflict, Murphy was a national hero and the subject of parades, banquets, and appeared on the cover of Life magazine. Though formal inquiries were made regarding obtaining Murphy an appointment to West Point, it issue was later dropped. Officially assigned to Fort Sam Houston following his return from Europe, he was formally discharged from the US Army on September 21, 1945. That same month, actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood to pursue an acting career.

Later Life

Removing his younger siblings from the orphanage, Murphy took Cagney up on his offer. As he worked to establish himself as an actor, Murphy was plagued by issues that would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time in combat. Suffering from headaches, nightmares, and vomiting as well as displaying alarming behavior at times towards friends and family, he developed a reliance on sleeping pills.

Recognizing this, Murphy locked himself in a hotel room for a week to break the addition. An advocate for the needs of veterans, he later spoke openly about his struggles and worked to draw attention to both the physical and psychological needs of those soldiers returning from the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Though acting work was scarce at first, he earned critical acclaim for his role in 1951's The Red Badge of Courage and four years later starred in the adaptation of his autobiography To Hell and Back. During this time, Murphy also resumed his military career as a captain in the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard.  Juggling this role with his film studio responsibilities, he worked to instruct new guardsmen as well as aided in recruiting efforts. Promoted to major in 1956, Murphy requested inactive status a year later. Over the next twenty-five years, Murphy made forty-four films with most them being Westerns. In addition, he made several television appearances and later received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Also a successful country songwriter, Murphy was tragically killed when his plane crashed into Brush Mountain near Catawba, VA on May 28, 1971. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 7. Though Medal of Honor recipients are entitled to have their headstones decorated with gold leaf, Murphy had previously requested that his remain plain like that of other common soldiers. In recognition of his career and efforts to aid veterans, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio, TX was named in his honor in 1971.

Audie Murphy's Decorations

  • Medal of Honor
  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Silver Star with First Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device and First Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Purple Heart with Second Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Legion of Merit
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • Distinguished Unit Emblem with First Oak Leaf Cluster
  • American Campaign Medal
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver service star, three bronze service stars and one bronze service arrowhead
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Combat Infantry Badge
  • Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar
  • Expert Badge with Bayonet Bar
  • French Fourragere in Colors of the Croix de Guerre
  • French Legion of Honor, Grade of Chevalier
  • French Croix de Guerre with silver star
  • Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm

Selected Sources

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: First Lieutenant Audie Murphy." ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/first-lieutenant-audie-murphy-2360163. Hickman, Kennedy. (2017, February 9). World War II: First Lieutenant Audie Murphy. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/first-lieutenant-audie-murphy-2360163 Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: First Lieutenant Audie Murphy." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/first-lieutenant-audie-murphy-2360163 (accessed November 18, 2017).