Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Audie Murphy: America’s Most Decorated World War II Hero

Before James Dean and Elvis Presley and my late husband, Felix, I loved Audie Murphy.  I saw some of his movies more than once. I even watched his autobiographical movie, To Hell and Back. (I know now he was not a very good actor but at the time, I was an enduring fan.)  I was sad and morose for a week when he died in a plane crash in 1971. So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw part of a wall in the d-fac (dining facility) of the army hospital I work in, dedicated to the memory of Audie Murphy.
Audie Leon Murphy was born into a poor sharecropper family in Texas.  One of nine children, he worked to help his parents feed his siblings.  He was said to have learned to be a sharp shooter with the rifle from hunting game for his family.  When World War II broke, 18 year old Murphy tried to enlist in the Marines and the Paratroopers, both of which turned him down for being too small.  At enlistment, he was 5’4” tall and weighed 110 pounds.  He persisted, was eventually signed into the US Army and was almost relegated to a clerk job when he fainted in his first week of basic training.
Murphy saw action in Europe where he earned his numerous medals in between hospitalizations for malaria and war injury.  He earned most of his rank promotions on the field from enlisted man to Major.  He led his troops to battle in North Africa, Italy, Germany and participated in the liberation of the south of France.  Murphy received every possible medal of valor awarded by the United States, among others, the highest US award, the Medal of Honor, 3 Purple Hearts, the French Legion of Honor, one of five awards bestowed by France and one from Belgium.  His autobiography, To Hell and Back, chronicled the war effort and his experiences, careful to emphasize the contributions of his soldiers and fallen comrades rather than placing the spot light on himself.
Murphy’s war hero status led him to Hollywood at the invitation of James Cagney.  He starred in several Western B movies and was a mediocre actor until he starred in John Houston’s Red Badge of Courage and when in 1955 he played himself in To Hell and Back.  This movie grossed ten million dollars in its first release, the highest box office grossing movie eventually topped only  by the movie, Jaws by Steven Spielberg in 1975.  Murphy was also a song writer and poet.
This war hero was plagued by the emotional ravages of war.  Like many soldiers returning from combat, adjusting to life in the civilian world was not easy.  Murphy was insomniac and beset by nightmares of scenes of war. He was hypervigilant and was said to sleep with a pistol under his pillow.  He became addicted to the sleeping pill, Placidyl.  When he realized this, he locked himself in a hotel room for days until he kicked the habit. At the time, little was known about post-traumatic stress disorder which was then called “battle fatigue.” Understanding his own experience, Murphy lobbied tirelessly for the better treatment of Vietnam veterans who came home to insensitive often disrespectful countrymen.
It is sad that Audie Murphy is no longer in our collective memory.  He fought for the freedom of Europe and the mandate of his country, doing his duty without question.  He is the American soldier.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, as he wished, in a no frills grave indistinguishable from other fallen soldiers. 
Arlington National Cemetery
 As a young girl, I was infatuated with his good looks and movie star status. As an old woman, I understand now why I loved him and I am grateful.
First published in Qondio
The Warrior Ethos/ The Warrior Creed

I am an American soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values.
       I will always place the mission first.
       I will never accept defeat.
       I will never quit.
       I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and a professional.
I am an American soldier.

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