Audie Murphy: The Army’s Favorite Actor & Hollywood’s Favorite Soldier

Audie Murphy was born a sharecropper, became the most decorated combat soldier of World War II, and went on to become a Hollywood star.  Born June 20th, 1925 to Emmett Berry Murphy and Josie Belle Killian Murphy, no one could have predicted what this young boy’s life had in store for him. Untimely deaths, heroic acts of valor, and classic American films fill the life of this famous Army soldier.

Audie Murphy was one of twelve children born to struggling Texas sharecroppers. His father lacked in parenting skills and marital devotion, and eventually deserted the family completely. After his father left, Audie and some of his older siblings had to help support the family. He dropped out of elementary school to get a job and help his mother any way he could. During this time, the future war hero started his training with a rifle by hunting small game for his family to eat.

Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy – U. S. Army publicity photo taken 1948

In 1941, Murphy’s mother passed away. Murphy life was shaken by this event, and he greatly wanted to do something that would make her proud. His desire to do something that would honor his mother farther fueled his lifelong desire to join the military.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy tried enlisting; underage and underweight. He was denied.

In 1942, after bulking up and falsifying records of his birth date, Audie Murphy successfully enlisted into the United States Army. In 1943, Private Audie Murphy of Company B in the 3rd Infantry Division went abroad for the first time to Casablanca in French Morocco. The young soldier would receive six promotions, earn 33 awards and decorations, and see much of Europe before returning home a hero.

Medal of Honor

Murphy earned the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor, for his amazing act of heroism in Holtzwihr, France. In January of 1945, Murphy was the last remaining officer in his company, which was down to just 18 men. As they awaited reinforcements, Germans militantly approached. Murphy told his men to retreat, as he remained at his post alone.  The enemy soldiers launched a direct hit on a tank destroyer, setting it on fire and causing the crew to disperse. Murphy, under direct fire, ran towards and mounted the back of the burning tank destroyer and began using its machine gun to fire at the encroaching Germans. He killed or wounded as many as fifty enemy combatants, not stopping until he ran out of ammunition. With an injured leg, Murphy rejoined his men and they successfully repelled the Germans.

Upon returning home in June of 1945, Murphy found himself a hometown hero. He received a lot of attention and publicity throughout his home state of Texas. Then, in July, Life Magazine made him a national household name when his picture appeared on the front page. The cover story, declaring him the most decorated soldier, caught the attention of some big-name people in Hollywood.

bad boy movie 1949
Bad Boy Movie

James Cagney saw the cover of Life Magazine and brought Audie Murphy out to California that September. James and William Cagney trained Murphy in acting, singing and dancing, but never gave him a role in one of their films. The lack of work led to a couple of hard years for Murphy, living in Hollywood. Eventually, Murphy was given a couple smaller roles which led him to his first big role in the 1949 motion picture, Bad Boy. He went on to star in 44 feature films and one television series.

Murphy released his autobiography, To Hell and Back in 1949. The book quickly became a best seller. It was made into a movie by the same name in 1955, in which Audie Murphy played the role of himself. Other creative accomplishments of Murphy’s include his writings of poems and songs. One of his songs – Shutters and Boards – was recorded by artists including Dean Martin, Jimmy Dean and more.

After returning home from the war, and throughout his acting career, Audie Murphy struggled with what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had a difficult time coping after the war and eventually became addicted to sleeping pills. Although he swiftly broke his addiction, he was concerned about what he and other soldiers were going through. He was one of the first people to speak out about the mental stress war can cause for the returning soldiers. He put much pressure on the government to provide better care for veterans.

Audie Murphy died in an unfortunate plane crash while on a business trip in May of 1971. Just short of 46 years of age, the American hero and action star left a huge legacy that will never be forgotten. He was buried with full military honors at the Arlington National Cemetery, and his gravesite is the second most visited in the park.