Audie Leon Murphy was born in the village of Kingston, Hunt County, Texas (north of Greenville) in 1925 to Emmett Berry and Josie Bell Killian Murphy, a family of sharecroppers. Audie was the sixth of twelve children. His father abandoned the family when Audie was eight and his mother died when he was a teenager. Audie dropped out of school at the elementary level, in order to help support his family. Looking at this humble resume, not much would have been expected of him.
Audie was too young to be drafted when World War II erupted, but tried to enlist as soon as could, reportedly engaging his sister to falsify his birth records to show him as being of age, leading to his date of birth later being listed as 1924 rather than the actual 1925 in some cases. Murphy was physically small, being five feet five inches tall and weighing 110 pounds. As a result, he was passed over by the Marine Corps and Navy, but enlisted in the Army. His first real action came in Sicily and Anzio and continued into southern France, the Ardennes, Germany and central Europe. He was a fearless fighter. By the end of the war he had been decorated many times, earning the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, and many others. He was the most decorated World War II soldier in America and was discharged at the rank of First Lieutenant in 1945.
In 1948, he began a film career that would last over 20 years and would include some 40 feature films, interrupted by a two year term of service in the Texas National Guard where he reached the rank of Captain. He resumed his film career for a few years and then returned to active duty as a major during another term of service from 1955 to 1957, remaining in the inactive reserve until his final separation in 1969. His film career was mostly in the Western genre, but included the autobiographical To Hell and Back in which he portrayed himself. He also wrote and co-wrote more than a dozen songs recorded by such artists ad Dean Martin, Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark, Eddie Arnold, Teresa Brewer, Vic Dana and others.
Murphy died at the age of 46 along with the pilot and four other passengers in a private plane crash in poor weather conditions in Virginia. The twin engine Beechcraft Aero Commander had been declared missing May 28, 1971 and was located about 48 hours later when Civil Air Patrol rescue workers found Murphy’s remains along with the other passengers on rugged Brushy Mountain, Virginia. Audie was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Medal of Honor recipients are entitled to gravestones enhanced with gold leaf, but Murphy had previously requested that his gravestone be plain.
It is said that everyone loves a hero. Audie Murphy’s life was not all positive, as he reportedly suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and in his later life endured financial difficulties, but he was in every sense a true Texas hero.
To learn more about Audie Murphy, please visit the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website. His autobiography, To Hell and Back, is still widely available.
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