Audie Leon Murphy (June 20, 1924 – May 28, 1971), was the United States' most decorated combat soldier of World War II. He later became an actor and singer/songwriter.
Among his thirty three awards and decorations was the Medal of Honor,
the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any
individual in the United States of America, for "conspicuous
gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the
call of duty." Murphy received every decoration for valor that
the U.S. had to offer, some of them more than once, and five
decorations by France and Belgium. He served three years active
service as a combat soldier in World War II. Murphy was released from
the Army as an active member and reassigned to inactive status on
September 21, 1945.
Audie Murphy and his wife, Pamela Archer.Audie Murphy was the son of poor Texas sharecroppers, Emmett and Josie Bell Murphy. He was born near Kingston, Texas (Hunt County). He grew up in nearby Celeste, Texas (Hunt County). He went to school in Celeste until the eighth grade when he dropped out to help raise his family. He also lived in the rural area of Farmersville and later at Greenville, Texas. Murphy was the sixth of twelve children, only nine of whom survived to see their eighteenth birthday. Food was scarce and the Murphy family was very poor. Before his ninth birthday, he had become a decent shot, hunting rabbits and squirrels to help put food on the table. Sometimes he could only afford a single shell in his rifle to supply meat for his family of nine brothers and sisters. He became a very good shot, a skill which served him well later in life. In 1936, when Murphy was twelve, his father Emmett Murphy, deserted the family and never returned. At twelve, Murphy left school and was hired out as a farmer's helper, ploughing and picking cotton at a dollar a day to help make ends meet. He also went to work in a combination general store, garage and filling station in Greenville, Texas. At sixteen, Audie was working in a radio repair shop when tragedy struck again. He became an orphan when his mother, Josie Bell, died. He had to place the three youngest siblings in an orphanage according to his mother's last wish.
Audie Murphy fought in World War II with such courage that he received every decoration for valor that the United States had to offer, plus another five decorations that were presented to him by Belgium and France. He was the most decorated U.S. soldier during WWII. Part of Murphy's appeal to many people was that he hardly fit the "image" of a war hero. He was a slight, somewhat skinny, shy and soft-spoken young man, with a boyish appearance (something he never lost throughout his life). Beginning his service as an Army Private, Murphy quickly rose to the enlisted rank of Staff Sergeant, was given a battlefield commission as Second Lieutenant, and company commander. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant prior to receiving his Medal of Honor. Murphy was credited with killing over 240 of the enemy while wounding and capturing many others. Murphy became a legend within the Third Infantry Division for his heroism. He was wounded three times and awarded the Purple Heart with Second Oak Leaf Cluster. Murphy served the rest of the war as a liaison officer and then returned to Texas after the war. After Murphy's discharge from the service, he went back to Texas to be welcomed to parades, banquets and speeches. He even had his photo hung at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas.
Murphy sufferred from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His first wife, Wanda Hendrix often talked of his struggle with his condition, claiming he had at one time held her at gun point. He was plagued by insomnia and depression. During the mid-1960s he became dependent for a time on doctor prescribed sleeping pills called Placidyl. When he recognized that he had become addicted to this prescription drug, he locked himself in a motel room. He stopped taking the sleeping pills and went through withdrawal symptoms for a week. Always an advocate for the needs of veterans, he broke the taboo about discussing war related mental problems after this experience. In a effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Audie Murphy spoke-out candidly about his personal problems with PTSD, then known as "Battle fatigue". He publicly called for United States government to give more consideration and study to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to address PTSD and other mental health problems of returning war veterans.
Actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood in September 1945, when he saw Murphy's photo on the cover of Life Magazine on July 16, 1945. The next couple of years in California were hard times for Murphy. He became disillusioned from lack of work. He was broke and slept on the gymnasium floor of his friend, Terry Hunt. He finally received token acting parts in his first two films, Beyond Glory and Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven but his roles were very minor in these movies. Murphy's third movie, Bad Boy, was Murphy's first starring role.
Murphy's 1949 autobiography "To Hell and Back" became a
national bestseller. The 1955 film, of the same name was based on his
book. The film grossed almost ten million dollars during its initial
theatrical release, and, at the time, became Universal's biggest hit
movie in the 43-year history of the studio. It held the record as
Universal's highest-grossing motion picture until 1975, when it was
surpassed by Steven Spielberg's Jaws. This film would not be released
until October, 1955, but Universal believed the movie would be a big
hit, so the studio gave Murphy latitude in choosing roles as long as
they required a lot of action.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Audie Murphy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street. In the twenty five years that Murphy spent in Hollywood, he made a total of forty four feature films.
In addition to acting in motion pictures, Murphy also became successful as a country music songwriter. While on a business trip on May 28, 1971, (Memorial Day Weekend) he was killed at the age of 46. His private plane was flying in fog and rain. It crashed on the side of Brush Mountain near Catawba, Virginia, some twenty miles west of Roanoke, Virginia. Five others including the pilot were also killed.
On June 7, 1971, Audie Murphy was buried with full military honors in
Arlington National Cemetery. His gravesite, near the Amphitheater, is
second most visited gravesite year round. President John F. Kennedy's
grave is the most visited. At Arlington Cemetery, the tombstones of
Medal of Honor winners are normally decorated in gold leaf, but Murphy
had requested that his tombstone remained plain and inconspicous
Trivia about Audie Murphy
Murphy's height was 5'5".
Had only one buttock. Lost in battle.
Was the orginial choice to play the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry.
Had horrible nightmares and slept with a gun under his pillow.
Purchased a Middle Eastern oil field in the 60's which was blown up during the Six Day War, causing him to file for bankruptcy.
His highest grossing film was To Hell and Back (film).
Would often say he had "no talent."
His films earned him close to 3 million dollars in 23 years as an actor.
Ironically, former WWII General and President Dwight Eisenhower did not enjoy Murphy's films saying his fight scenes were unbelievable due to his small stature.