Audie Murphy was one of the United States’ greatest war heroes and the most decorated soldier in American history. He distinguished himself countless times in the face of incredible adversity, overcame every obstacle he faced, braved peril of every sort, and did it all with humility, dignity, and a healthy amount of machinegun fire.
Audie was born in rural Texas in 1924, the sixth of twelve children. He dropped out of school at an early age to help support his family by performing odd jobs around town and hunting for food to feed his family. His father abandoned them in 1936, and in 1940 his mother died, leaving Audie to care for his brothers and sisters. When war broke out after Pearl Harbor in 1942, Audie saw the armed forces as a way to help support his family and serve his country. He tried to enlist, but was still to young for the service. As soon as he turned 18 he went to the Marine Corps recruiter begging to join up. The Marines took one look at little Audie – he was five feet five inches tall and one hundred ten pounds – and determined that he was too small for the service. The Navy guys told him the same thing. The Army had no qualms about throwing Murphy into the meat grinder however, and shipped him off to North Africa as part of the US 3rd Infantry Division.
Audie trolled around in the desert for a while but never saw any combat until his unit was sent to invade Sicily. There, he proved himself in several battles and was quickly promoted to Sergeant. He continued to distinguish himself during the Allied invasion of mainland Italy, serving bravely during an amphibious invasion and in several key battles of the Italian campaign.
After helping secure Italy, the 3rd Division was tasked with the amphibious invasion of Southern France. After landing on the beachhead, Audie and his best friend noticed a group of German soldiers heading towards them waving a white flag and holding their rifles in the air. The Americans advanced forward to accept their surrender when all of a sudden the Kraut bastards pulled their rifles down and shot the shit out of Audie’s buddy.
This didn’t sit well with Sergeant Murphy. He flipped out like a goddamn ninja and gunned down the treacherous Nazi bastards. As soon as they hit the deck, a hidden German machine gun nest opened up on Audie. This only served to make him more angry. Murphy charged up the hill towards the gun emplacement and smoked the gun crew. He then picked up their MG42 machine gun and turned it on another nearby machinegun nest. Using the captured gun Rambo-style, Sergeant Murphy took out two more gun emplacements as well as a couple of sniper positions. His actions in beating Kraut asses earned him the US Distinguished Service cross – the second-highest honor given out by the military.
As battle raged across Southern France Murphy continued to distinguish himself, earning Silver Stars for taking out machine gun nests and calling down artillery strikes on enemy armored troop positions. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant, but his adventure wasn’t over yet.
Lt. Murphy was serving as company commander in the Holzwihr forest on 26 January 1945. His unit had been completely decimated – he had 19 men left in his company that was once 128 strong – and had been assigned to hold the critical Colmar Pocket region from a German counterattack. He had two M-10 tank destroyers attached to his unit, and was expecting and additional two companies of infantry to come cover his flank.
It was a cold, rainy morning when Lt. Murphy first noticed the battalion of German mechanized infantry heading towards his position. Three companies of Nazi soldiers and half a dozen heavy Tiger tanks were bearing down on him. Murphy radioed to HQ, only to find that the two companies of supporting infantry he was expecting to hold the flank were not going to arrive in time. Audie was alone and outnumbered, but it was his duty to hold this position and he knew what he had to do.
He send his men back to take defensive positions behind him, and called the M-10s forward to take out some of the German armor. Within minutes, both vehicles had been knocked out like chumps. Now it was just Audie against an impossibly large force of German troops. Instead of falling back to safety like a regular, sane person, Murphy instead jumped up and manned the .50 caliber machinegun mounted one of the burning, disabled M-10s. He got on the radio with Command HQ and started calling in artillery strikes to hit the German positions. Shells rained down, taking out Nazis all over the place, but it wasn’t enough. Lt. Murphy opened up the machinegun from his completely exposed position and stared mowing down Krauts left and right. Artillery continued to pound the Germans while Murphy shot the shit out of them. Before long the German losses were so great that the Tiger tanks had to pull back because they had lost most of their infantry support. Audie continued to fire until he ran out of bullets, then dismounted the M-10 only seconds before the entire vehicle exploded. He rallied his men, and the small group of Americans charged forward and routed the German forces. The Colmar Pocket had held.
Murphy saw the war through to it’s conclusion before returning home as a hero and receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. He served some time in the Texas National Guard, retiring at the rank of Major. After his military service, Audie Murphy went on to be a badass movie action hero, starring in a number of Westerns and even playing himself in the autobiographical To Hell and Back. He was eventually given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I remember when I was young my Dad and I watched To Hell and Back, and he told me that it was the true story of this kid’s life. I remember watching it and thinking to myself that his story was too incredible to be true. The guy was an unassuming, humble man, but the stuff he accomplished during the war like like shit straight out of a bad action movie. Add his success as an actor to that, and you have a truly incredible badass.
But don’t take my word for it – just look at the list of medals he received for his service:
• Congressional Medal of Honor
• Distinguished Service Cross
• Two Silver Stars
• Legion of Merit
• Two Bronze Stars
• Three Purple Hearts
• U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal
• Good Conduct Medal
• Two Presidential Unit Citations
• American Campaign Medal
• European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with One Silver Star,
Four Bronze Service Stars and one Bronze Arrowhead
• World War II Victory Medal
• Army of Occupation Medal
• Armed Forces Reserve 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
• French Croix de Guerre with Palm
• Medal of Liberated France
• Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 Palm