Profiles of Valor: Audie Murphy

Posted on Mon 05/22/2023 by


“Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”

Born the seventh of 12 children in a sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas, Audie Murphy dropped out of school in fifth grade in order to pick cotton for a dollar a day. His was a hard upbringing and very difficult life.

Like many young men in rural areas, he became proficient with a rifle and as a hunter. He had always wanted to be a soldier, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor he attempted to enlist, but the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps turned him away because he was both underage and, as a slight 5-foot-5, also underweight. With the help of his sister, he falsified documents to show he was old enough to serve, as did many at the time, and the Army accepted him for service in 1942.

In basic training he earned his Marksman Badge with a Rifle Component Bar and Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar. He shipped out for the European theater with Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. He was involved in fierce combat in Italy, where he distinguished himself as a fearless fighter and leader. It was then that he began to accumulate a service record that would make him the most decorated American soldier in history.

In a battle in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France in January 1945, Murphy’s actions would result in his being awarded the Medal of Honor. As his men were under imminent threat, he mounted a burning tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun for over an hour to kill or wound more than 50 approaching Germans.

Asked by a commander via a field telephone about the proximity of those Germans, Murphy responded, “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”

His Medal of Honor citation notes, “Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction.”

Murphy received 23 medals in addition to his Medal of Honor, including the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star (two), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal (two, and one with a “V” device), and Purple Heart (three). He is also the recipient of France’s highest awards, the Legion of Honour and the Croix de Guerre with silver star. His military decorations are rivaled only by the awards earned by fellow WWII Medal of Honor recipient Captain Matt Urban.

After Audie returned home, this unknown little man from Texas became a national icon, his photo on the cover of Life Magazine. Hollywood star Jimmy Cagney talked him into trying his hand at acting. He was unsuccessful at first, until his own heroic story was made into a 1955 movie called “To Hell and Back,” based on his 1949 autobiography by the same name. It became the world’s top grossing film for 20 years, until Steven Spielberg’s movie “Jaws” finally broke that record. Murphy went on to act in 27 films, mostly Westerns.

In a column on warriors’ advice on leadership, I quoted Murphy: “Loyalty to your comrades, when you come right down to it, has more to do with bravery in battle than even patriotism does. You may want to be brave, but your spirit can desert you when things really get rough. Only you find you can’t let your comrades down and in the pinch they can’t let you down either.”

When prompted about his love of country and what “America” meant to him, Audie responded: “It’s in a Texas rodeo, in a policeman’s badge, in the sound of laughing children, in a political rally, in a newspaper… In all these things, and many more, you’ll find America. In all these things, you’ll find freedom. And freedom is what America means to the world. And to me.”

Audie Murphy inspired generations of American who have fearlessly defended our country with honor, including our military analyst Lee Miller, a West Point graduate, Army Ranger, and SF combat veteran. He recalls: “I grew up watching old war movies with my dad. When other kids wanted to be cowboys, astronauts, or firefighters, I wanted to be a soldier. My favorite was ‘To Hell and Back’ starring Audie Murphy as himself. I loved the story of a poor, runt farm boy from Texas who was rejected by every service until he snuck under the fence into the Army. He would go on to be arguably the greatest combat soldier in American history, and that made him my personal hero. At the age of six, I knew I wanted to be a soldier and never changed my mind.”

Murphy’s later years were influenced somewhat by what we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder. Of his self-destructive tendencies, he said: “With me, it’s been a fight for a long, long time to keep from being bored to death. That’s what two years of combat did to me.”

On May 28, 1971, Murphy, age 46, died in a plane crash in Virginia. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where his gravesite receives more visitors than any, other than that of John Kennedy.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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Join us in prayer for our Patriots in uniform and their families — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen — standing in harm’s way, and for our nation’s First Responders.

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