Loading...

Audie Murphy is a name that has become almost synonymous with bravery and with good reason.

 Audie Murphy

Loading...
Loading...

On January 26, 1945, the Germans were advancing on Company B, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, who were working to repel the Germans in France. German fire had destroyed an American tank and they were severely outnumbered. They were led by 19-year old Lieutenant Audie Murphy, who had received a battlefield commission recently due to his heroism on the battlefield. He would climb on a burning tank and man the 50 caliber machine gun on the tank. He would stand on the burning tank, which could have blown up at any moment, and killed 20 German Soldiers. He kept shooting even with a wounded leg. He would then lead his men against the Germans and kill 50 more of their Soldiers. He would receive the Medal of Honor for those actions of heroism. He was only 19-years old and stopped going to school after the 5th grade.

This is a guest post written by James Royer. He got his Master’s Degree in History from George Mason University. He writes a blog called The Nutty Historian where he posts weekly blogs on his travels to historical sites. He is a U.S. Army veteran who lives with his wife and two kids in Northern Virginia.

On April 23, 1945, at the age of only 19, Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor for his actions. It was not the first time Murphy had distinguished himself. He had received many awards for valor, including the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Star medals, and two Bronze Star medals. After receiving the Medal of Honor, Murphy was widely celebrated as the most decorated American soldier in World War II and was featured on the covers of magazines in the United States. The Medal of Honor is the highest level award received in the military.  Audie Murphy was a scrawny 19-yr old kid. What led him to this? How did a kid with a 5th grade education receive the military’s highest award for valor, which made him an instant celebrity? 

Audie Murphy – Early life

He was born June 20th, 1925 in Kingston, Texas. His father was a sharecropper, which is close to indentured servants. His father was allowed to grow crops on someone else’s land and keep some of the profits while sharing it with the owner. His father would later abandon the family, which forced the young Audie Murphy to quit school to start working before he was 11-years old. In 1941, when he was 16-yrs old, his mother died. Once his mother died his younger siblings were placed in orphanages. Murphy vowed to save enough money to buy a house for them all to live in. Once the war was complete he used his money from military service and his new found fame as a Medal of Honor Awardee to buy a house for his family to live in.

Audie Murphy – World War II

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which brought American officially into the war, albeit, America had been unofficially supporting the allies since the war began. Audie Murphy was rejected by the military the first try because he was too small and scrawny. He was too underweight and was underage at 16 years old. He spent months working out to grow in size and gain weight, which he did. He then had his older sister claim he was 17 years old, which was the minimum age to begin service. It worked, and he was accepted into the Army as an infantryman.

He first went to North Africa after his initial training was complete. He was part of Operation Torch where Americans seized a port in French Morocco. He would later train and participate in the invasion of Sicily. They would fall under the command of the famous General George S. Patton. The fighting in Sicily was so severe, that is when Murphy began to realize what war was really like. He is quoted as saying, “I have seen war as it actually is, and I do not like it. But I will go on fighting.” He started to display heroism during a battle in Naples where his unit, outnumbered, repelled a German fighting force. It would get him promoted to Sergeant due to his amazing leadership ability. He would go on to win many more awards and promotions before he would eventually receive the Medal of Honor.

PTSD

When Murphy returned from the war in 1945, he had horrific nightmares at night. He would wake up with night sweats and sleep with a pistol by his bed. He often woke up vomiting  and had debilitating headaches. Murphy would see a doctor in 1947, who prescribed him sleep pills. He would use those until the 1960s, which is when he realized he was dependent on the sedative, Placidyl. Back in those days the opiate epidemic was not a thing and drugs did not have a scheduling system, so they were much easier to get from doctors for long term care. In those days it was called battle fatigue and not the contemporary term, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. Murphy spoke about his battle fatigue openly and brought awareness to the issue long before it became as open as it is now. Once Audie Murphy realized he was completely hooked on the sedative, he locked himself in a hotel room and went cold turkey. He would fight off the withdrawal like he fought off the Germans. He successfully got off of Placidyl and never took drugs again.

He would marry actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. His marriage was extremely volatile as his severe bouts of PTSD plagued the marriage. He would have severe flashbacks to the war and would hold Hendrix at gunpoint on numerous occasions during his most severe flashbacks. They would divorce in 1951. She would later claim that he felt such guilt that he lived and would always think of the men that died during the war. 

Murphy began to speak publicly about his battle fatigue, which was something rarely done during those days. Men rarely showed vulnerabilities. He would bring awareness about the after effects of prolonged war on mental stability. He would be quoted as saying,“I remember the experience as if I do a nightmare. A demon seemed to have entered my body.” The fact that the most decorated Soldier in history was openly talking about what is now PTSD, helped Soldiers cope and doctors to better understand the mental toll that war takes on a Soldier’s mental health. 

Movies

As Audie Murphy was battling “battle fatigue,” he was using his fame to propel him into a movie star. He would act in 26 movies where his name is in the credits. He was in mostly westerns portraying the hero of the film. Murphy wrote an autobiography called To Hell and Back, which had become an instant bestseller. He portrayed himself during the movie adaptation of his book, however, it also forced him to relive those painful memories of the war. He was able to make a lot of money and bought a large house with a swimming pool in California.

Later life and death

Murphy was able to make good money as an actor, but he also liked to gamble. His gambling became the most severe at a time when he was also battling his addiction to Placidyl in the 1960s. He would claim he hit rock bottom during that time. He had lost most of his money and was addicted to pills. He would try to commit suiced multiple times during this period. He would get offers from cigarette and alcohol companies wanting to star in their commercials. He declared bankruptcy in 1968. He would refuse because he felt that was a bad example for him to set. Those commercials would have been a financial windfall at a time when he desperately needed it, but he never stopped being a hero. 

On May 28, 1971, Murphy boarded a plane. Murphy was traveling to make a business deal when the plane crashed in Roanoke, Virginia killing everyone on board. Murphy was 46 years old at the time of his death. He will be remembered as the nation’s most decorated war hero. He was small and very young during WW 2, but his bravery put the men he served with in awe of him. Anyone can be a hero regardless of size or wealth. He was one of the first that brought awareness to what is not referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which helped many other service members returning from battle. If the most decorated American Soldier in history can talk about it, so can others.

The Sergeant Audie Murphy Club

The United States Army created the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club to recognize excellence in leadership. To get nominated you must supervise at least two Soldiers and get nominated by your chain-of-command, and have a high physical fitness test score. Once you meet that criteria, the nominee goes in front of a board of senior Sergeants to carefully review the nominee’s military records and leadership ability. If they get selected as a member of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club they enter into an elite membership of top tier leaders that can help them advance their careers. This shows how the Army values Audie Murphy and his legacy of excellence.

 

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/1971/06/01/archives/audie-murphy-war-hero-killed-in-plane-crash-audie-murphy-killed-in.html?auth=login-google1tap&login=google1tap

https://www.wearethemighty.com/mighty-trending/audie-murphy-most-decorated-soldier/#:~:text=To%20put%20it%20bluntly%2C%20Audie,to%20gambling%20and%20poor%20investments.

https://www.biography.com/military-figure/audie-murphy

https://www.pbs.org/perilousfight/psychology/the_mental_toll/

https://www.jber.jb.mil/News/Commentaries/Display/Article/292872/sergeant-audie-murphy-club-promoting-excellence/

 

Cite This Article
"Audie Murphy: His Life, Heroics, And Legacy" History on the Net
© 2000-2023, Salem Media.
January 28, 2023 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/audie-murphy-his-life-heroics-and-legacy>
More Citation Information.
×