Audie L. Murphy (1924 - 1971)

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A photo of Audie L. Murphy
Audie Leon Murphy
1924 - 1971
updated September 18, 2019
Audie L. Murphy was born on June 20, 1924 in Kingston, Texas. He died in May 1971 in Blacksburg, Virginia at age 46.

Seventy years ago, Audie Murphy wrote the final chapter in one of the most storied military careers in American history. During intense fighting in the Colmar Pocket along the French-Swiss border, the 19-year-old 2nd Lieutenant manned a machine gun on a burning tank destroyer and made a desperate solo attack against German forces. Murphy won the Medal of Honor for his actions, and later parlayed his military celebrity into a successful post-war film career.

On January 26, 1945, Audie Murphy and some 40 U.S. troops sat shivering in a frigid, snow-covered clearing near the Alsatian town of Holtzwihr. The battle-weary soldiers had been ordered to hold a vital roadway until reinforcements arrived, but the operation was delayed and the promised relief was nowhere to be seen. Just after 2 p.m., the winter stillness was suddenly broken by the thunderclap of an enemy artillery barrage. In the distance, some 250 German troops and six tanks emerged from the woods.

As he watched the Germans line up for an attack, Murphy felt a wave of panic rise in his belly. It was a familiar feeling, one he’d learned to control during 18 months of bitter fighting across Italy and France. At just 19 years old, the baby-faced Texan had already won two Silver Stars and the Distinguished Service Cross, and he was leading men 10 years his senior into battle. Once the shooting began, he knew his instincts would take over. “The nerves will relax,” he later wrote, “the heart, stop its thumping. The brain will turn to animal cunning. The job is directly before us: destroy and survive.”

Murphy knew that his men stood no chance against so large a force, so he instructed most of them to withdraw to pre-prepared defensive positions along a nearby tree line. As they ran for cover, he stayed behind and used his field telephone to call in an artillery strike. He had just enough time to radio in his coordinates before salvos of German tank fire erupted around him. One shell immediately drilled a tree near a machine gun nest and showered its crew with deadly splinters of wood; another hit a nearby tank destroyer and set it ablaze.

Murphy with medals
Murphy with medals
Murphy’s command post was collapsing before his eyes, but he held his ground and continued calling in the Allied artillery. In seconds, a curtain of friendly fire rained down between him and the advancing German infantry, pitting the open field with craters and shrouding everything in a haze of smoke. After emptying his M-1 carbine at the enemy, Murphy grabbed his field telephone and took cover atop the burning tank destroyer. Over the radio, he could hear the artillery commander asking how close the Germans were to his position. “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards!” he yelled back.

The tank destroyer was slowly being engulfed in flames, but Murphy saw that its .50-caliber machine gun turret was still operational. He quickly seized the gun and sprayed a withering fire against the German troops nearest his position. “My numbed brain is intent only on destroying,” Murphy later wrote in his autobiography. “I am conscious only that the smoke and the turret afford a good screen, and that, for the first time in three days, my feet are warm.” He continued firing burst after burst, mowing down Nazi troopers by the dozen and keeping the tanks at bay. All the while, he remained on the phone, directing artillery fire ever closer to his own position and dealing catastrophic damage to the advancing infantry.

From their cover on the edge of the tree line, most of Murphy’s troops could only watch in shock. “I expected to see the whole damn tank destroyer blow up under him any minute,” Private Anthony Abramski later wrote. In fact, the blaze may have saved Murphy’s life. Many of the German troops and tank commanders couldn’t see him behind the veil of smoke and flames, and those that did resisted getting too close out of fear that the vehicle was about to explode.

Despite the hail of Allied artillery shells, fresh waves of German infantrymen continued inching toward Murphy’s position. One squad tried to make a flanking maneuver on his right side, only to be cut down in a hail of pinpoint fire from his .50-caliber gun. As Murphy continued his one-man attack, German gunners riddled his smoldering tank destroyer with small arms and tank fire. One blast nearly threw him from the vehicle and sent razor sharp shrapnel flying into his leg, but he took no account of the wound and kept fighting. It was only when Murphy ran out of ammunition that he finally withdrew. Dazed and bloodied, he jumped from the still-burning tank destroyer and limped to his men. He later wrote that as he walked away, one thought in particular kept racing through his mind: “How come I’m not dead?”

Murphy’s men were no doubt wondering the same thing. It was the “greatest display of guts and courage I have ever seen,” a stunned Abramski later wrote. “For an hour he held off the enemy force singlehanded, fighting against impossible odds.” Murphy had personally killed or wounded some 50 enemy troops and directed artillery against dozens more. Even after reaching safety, he refused to be evacuated from the field and instead rallied his men in a counterattack that drove the Germans back into the woods.

Audie Murphy was hailed a national hero and awarded the Medal of Honor for his jaw dropping exploits at Holtzwihr. Not wanting to risk the life of its newest celebrity soldier, the Army reassigned him as a liaison officer and did its best to keep him out of combat until the war ended. By then, the battle-hardened G.I. had endured three wounds, a nasty case of malaria, gangrene and more dead friends than he cared to remember. “There is VE-Day without,” he wrote of his mixed feelings at the war’s end, “but no peace within.”

Murphy returned home in June 1945 to a hero’s welcome of parades, swarming reporters and his face on the cover of Life Magazine. On the advice of screen legend James Cagney, he later took his boyish good looks to Hollywood, where he forged a film career that included more than 40 credits, most of them in Westerns and war films. His most famous role came in 1955, when he played himself in “To Hell and Back,” a blockbuster adaptation of his own memoir about World War II. Reliving the horrors of combat in front of the camera proved difficult for Murphy, who had suffered from nightmares and flashbacks since returning home. He later spoke publicly about his decades-long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, and urged the U.S. government to provide better mental healthcare for its veterans.

“To Hell and Back” was a smash hit—the film was Universal Studios’ most profitable release until “Jaws” in 1975—and it helped seal Murphy’s reputation as one of the most famous American veterans of World War II. But despite having won several dozen medals for valor, he always resisted attempts to label him a hero. “Bravery is just determination to do a job that you know has to be done,” he told reporters upon returning home in 1945. “I just fought to stay alive, like anyone else, I guess.”

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Audie Leon Murphy Biography

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Most Commonly Known Name

Audie L. Murphy

First name

Audie

Middle name

Leon

Last Name(s)

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lt

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Gender

Male

Birth

Audie Murphy was born on in Kingston, Texas US

Death

Audie Murphy died in in Blacksburg, Virginia US

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There is no cause of death listed for Audie.

Burial / Funeral

at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia USA

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Audie Leon Murphy (20 June 1925 – 28 May 1971) was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, receiving every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. Murphy received the Medal of Honor for valor demonstrated at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

Murphy was born into a large sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas. His father abandoned them, and his mother died when he was a teenager. Murphy left school in fifth grade to pick cotton and find other work to help support his family; his skill with a hunting rifle was a necessity for putting food on the table.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy's older sister helped him to falsify documentation about his birthdate to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military. Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlisted in the Army. He first saw action in the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Anzio, and in 1944 participated in the liberation of Rome and invasion of southern France. Murphy fought at Montélimar, and led his men on a successful assault at the L'Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.

After the war, Murphy enjoyed a 21-year acting career. He played himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his roles were in westerns. He made guest appearances on celebrity television shows and starred in the series Whispering Smith. Murphy was a fairly accomplished songwriter, and bred quarter horses in California and Arizona, becoming a regular participant in horse racing.

Suffering from what would today be termed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow and looked for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In his last few years, he was plagued by money problems, but refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he did not want to set a bad example. Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971 shortly before his 46th birthday, and was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Other Records of Audie L. Murphy

1924 - 1971 World Events

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In 1924, in the year that Audie L. Murphy was born, on January 21st, Vladimir Lenin, a leader of the Russian Revolution and the first leader of the Soviet Union died. He had survived two assassination attempts but had subsequent physical problems, suffering 3 strokes. He was in such great pain, it is said that he asked Stalin to poison him. The circumstances of his death are still disputed. He did oppose Stalin as the next leader - nonetheless, Stalin won a power struggle and ruled as a Soviet dictator until his death in 1953.

In 1930, at the age of just 6 years old, Audie was alive when as head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, William Hays established a code of decency that outlined what was acceptable in films. The public - and government - had felt that films in the '20's had become increasingly risque and that the behavior of its stars was becoming scandalous. Laws were being passed. In response, the heads of the movie studios adopted a voluntary "code", hoping to head off legislation. The first part of the code prohibited "lowering the moral standards of those who see it", called for depictions of the "correct standards of life", and forbade a picture from showing any sort of ridicule towards a law or "creating sympathy for its violation". The second part dealt with particular behavior in film such as homosexuality, the use of specific curse words, and miscegenation.

In 1951, by the time he was 27 years old, on February 27th, the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution (which limited the number of terms a president may serve to two) was ratified by 36 states, making it a part of the U.S. Constitution. The Amendment was both a reaction to the 4 term Roosevelt presidency and also the recognition of a long-standing tradition in American politics.

In 1968, Audie was 44 years old when on January 31st, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War. 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces swarmed into South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese and US troops held off the offensive but it was such fierce fighting that the U.S. public began to turn against the war.

In 1971, in the year of Audie L. Murphy's passing, on May 3rd, 10,000 federal troops, 5,100 officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, 2,000 members of the D.C. National Guard, and federal agents assembled in Washington DC to prevent an estimated 10,000 Vietnam War protesters from marching. President Nixon (who was in California) refused to give federal employees the day off and they had to navigate the police and protesters, adding to the confusion. By the end of a few days of protest, 12,614 people had been arrested - making it the largest mass arrest in US history.

Other Biographies

Other Murphies

Loretta Meats
around 1883 - Jan 31, 1925
J Murphy
around 1873 - Apr 27, 1924
Abbe Murphy
around 1829 - Jul 8, 1901
Abbie Murphy
around 1861 - Apr 18, 1924
Abbie Murphy
around 1875 - Dec 17, 1947
Abbie v Murphy
around 1891 - Jul 8, 1917
Abigail Murphy
around 1895 - Sep 5, 1896
Abigail Murphy
around 1856 - Sep 20, 1892
Abigail D Murphy
around 1847 - Feb 29, 1916
Abigail M Murphy
around 1861 - Mar 30, 1915
Abigal Murphy
around 1871 - Apr 20, 1900
Abraham D Murphy
around 1864 - Jun 1, 1935
Absolom Murphy
around 1860 - Jul 1, 1913
Ada Murphy
around 1874 - Mar 5, 1900
Ada Murphy
around 1860 - Nov 14, 1902
Ada Murphy
around 1924 - Jul 8, 1927
Ada Murphy
around 1894 - Sep 20, 1941
Adam J Murphy
around 1865 - Feb 23, 1899
Addie Murphy
around 1878 - Jul 1, 1941
Addie M Murphy
around 1858 - Apr 16, 1938

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