I want to take this opportunity to give a very heartfelt thank you to every man and woman who has served in the United States military. Your service has kept this nation safe and has protected the freedoms that we hold so dear, and while a simple “thank you,” is quite inadequate in payment of the enormous debt that is owed, it is a start.
In Texas, we are very fortunate to have been represented by so many great heroes, and none have served with more distinction than Audie Murphy. He rose from humble beginnings to become the most decorated combat soldier of World War II, and eventually embarked on a very successful career as an actor.
Audie Leon Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Kingston, Texas, to a family of sharecroppers. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Murphy, like so many, felt the call to enlist in the military, but the Army, Navy, and Marines all rejected him for service due to being underweight and underage. Undeterred, Murphy, with the help of his sister, produced a falsified birth certificate and enlisted in the Army on June 30, 1942.
Audie MurphyAfter shipping out for Europe, Audie quickly became a legend in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. He fought in nine engagements across the European theatre, was wounded three times, and is credited with over 240 enemy kills. Murphy is widely considered to be the best combat soldier produced by any branch of the military, rising from the rank of Private to Staff Sergeant, eventually receiving a battle field commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. On September 21, 1945, he was released from active duty, having received 33 awards and decorations for conspicuous valor, every one that the United States military has to offer, including the Medal of Honor.
Audie Murphy returned home to a heroes’ welcome, even making the cover of Life Magazine, and it was this cover that caught the eye of movie star James Cagney, who reached out to Murphy and urged him to move to Hollywood and try his hand at acting. His first starring roll came in 1949, and in a career that spanned 25 years, he made 44 motion pictures, mostly westerns and war films. His autobiography, To Hell and Back, became a best seller and was turned into a movie, with Murphy portraying himself in the staring role. It became Universal’s highest grossing film until being surpassed by Jaws in 1975.
Despite all of his success, Murphy never strayed from his Texas roots. He owned several ranches, where he enjoyed the cowboy life and raised thoroughbred race horses. When not making movies or tending to his livestock, Audie enjoyed gambling and was a great poker player. It was said he won and lost several fortunes at the poker table and race track.
His role as a hero was not limited to the battlefield and movie screen. Murphy suffered from insomnia and depression brought on by PTSD, which was little understood then and carried a great deal of stigma. Instead of remaining silent, he spoke publicly about his struggles, using his own experiences and star status to advocate for Korean and Vietnam vets who were suffering from what was then called “Battle Fatigue.” He lobbied for research, treatment, and understanding for those suffering from war related trauma.