Saturday, March 21, 2020

Audie Murphy: Fighting Celt

Audie Leon Murphy
1924 - 1971
Greenville, Texas

Young and small, you stood
tall and shot straight. The war would

never let you go. 

Stuart Laycock's haiku above sums up the extraordinary life of Audie Murphy.  In this plague year of 2020 it is well to remember the lives of heroes who started life in the worst circumstances, overcame adversity and rose to amazing heights.  This is the Audie Murphy chapter of our forthcoming work, 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur...

Audie Murphy, a Fighting Celt from Texas, was the most decorated American soldier of World War II.

Murphy Family
Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Texas
Murphy, of Irish descent, was born in 1925 in Kingston, Texas. His parents were sharecroppers, and he did not have an easy childhood. He grew up in a large family (twelve children) who at one time lived in an abandoned train car. His father left home when young Murphy was twelve, and his mother died when he was sixteen. Murphy became proficient with a rifle in order to hunt squirrels to help feed his family.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy attempted to join the marines, the navy, and the army. He was rejected by all services because of his short stature and because he was underage. His height was recorded as five foot five, and he was seventeen years old at the time.
He was, however, determined to serve. His older sister Corinne modified his age on a fake affidavit in order to get him admitted into the US Army in June of 1942. 
Following basic training in Texas and infantry training at Fort Meade, Murphy was shipped to North Africa, arriving in Casablanca in February 1943. Assigned to the 3rd Division under Lucian Truscott, Murphy participated in Operation Torch, which played a key part in liberating North Africa from Axis forces. In Tunisia, he shot a pair of Italian officers who were mounted on white horses. He also seems to have contracted a case of malaria that dogged him throughout the war.
He next participated in Operation Husky—the invasion of Sicily in the summer of 1943. Murphy subsequently landed near Anzio and saw fierce fighting on the Italian peninsula. Again and again, he demonstrated a combination of tremendous physical courage and expert marksmanship.

Audie mourns his pal
Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Texas
In June 1944, Murphy was part of the liberation of Rome. A schoolteacher named Elleridge who was in his unit waxed rhapsodic about Rome: “Here we are in the eternal city. Along these streets buried Caesars have walked.” Would Murphy have been interested to learn that he was following in the footsteps of ancient Celts such as Brennus, who had sacked Rome around 387 BC in the Battle of Allia?  Murphy also participated in Operation Dragoon, an invasion of the south of France in 1944.
Medal of Honor
Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Texas
Since the American Civil War, 202 Irish-born have won the Medal of Honor, more than any nationality other than Americans. Murphy was not born in Ireland, but he was of Irish-Celtic heritage. In his autobiographical account of his experiences in World War II, To Hell and Back, he wrote,  "my moods, typically Irish, swung from the heights to the depths.” 

Second Lieutenant Murphy won his Medal of Honor for his actions on January 26, 1945, when he was in command of Company B in the Colmar pocket in Germany.
His Medal of Honor citation tell us that:
with the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver … Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention … Lt. Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective.
Over the course of three years, Murphy was credited with having killed 240 Axis soldiers, with many more wounded or captured. He would later tell an interviewer that the day he learned about the end of the war in Europe (VE Day) was the happiest day of the war for him.
To Hell and Back
Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Texas
Murphy’s book To Hell and Back was published in 1949, and in 1955 it was made into a movie in which Murphy portrayed himself. The resulting film was Universal Studios’ biggest box office hit until the release of Jaws in 1975.
After the war, Murphy suffered from what would today be termed post-traumatic stress disorder. He slept with a handgun under his pillow and struggled with alcohol, drugs, and gambling.  His love of dogs and horses provided some comfort.

Audie Murphy Actor
Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Texas
Murphy acted in over forty films, including many westerns, in the 1950s and 1960s. He also wrote poetry and songs.
His 1968 poem, “Freedom Flies in Your Heart Like an Eagle,” includes these lines:
Dusty old helmet, rusty old gun
They sit in the corner and wait.
Two souvenirs of the Second World War
That have witnessed the time and the hate. …

I salute my friends in the corner.
I agree with all they have said …
And if the moment of truth comes tomorrow,
I’ll be free, or by God, I’ll be dead.

In 1971, Murphy was tragically killed in a private plane crash in Virginia. His grave at Arlington is the second most visited gravesite after that of President Kennedy.  Murphy’s widow, Pam, died in 2010 after having served the interests of veterans in VA hospitals for over thirty years."

Audie makes cover of Life
Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Texas

Tourist Notes: You will find the excellent Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum in Greenville Texas about an hour east of Dallas (

Commander K. & Audie Murphy statue
Greenville Texas

This blog is dedicated to my friend Sergeant Emily Olivia Morgan of the US Army -- another hero from Texas.


You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

1 comment:

JC Sullivan said...

Murphy did not ‘win’ the MOH, he was a recipient. When ssked if he remembered the action he replied, “Like a nightmare.”