Document 74190

This year, AmeriForce celebrates the military’s depiction in films and television with a look at some of
your favorites, and at some of the movie stars who
also served in the reserve component. This is the
third article in the series. You can find our previous
articles on our website at
Audie Murphy
36th Infantry Division, Texas
Army National Guard
For the T-Patchers holding the road in theater today
by Claire Henline, All photos are from the Audie Murphy Research Foundation unless otherwise indicated
intersection of happenstance
and hell; that time and fate
of Honor are earned. It is an
intersection from which many
never return alive. And it was
where a 19-year old kid from
Texas found himself on a
cold winter day in France. He
had undoubtedly lied about
his age when he joined the
United States Army. For many
from his background of abject
poverty, absent parents and
though, a smudged year on
a birth certificate meant the
difference between a chance
to thrive or to languish at home
in a status quo that seemed
worse than any world war.
Looking back upon his miasmic
youth as the son of a sharecropper
who walked out on the family and a
mother who died too young, leaving
her children alone in the world, the
kid reflected, “I must have done
some of my best fighting in a war
I was in long before I joined the
Army. You might say there never
was a ‘peace time’ in my life, a time
when things were good.... It was a
full-time job just existing.” He had
borne the responsibility of providing
for younger siblings while he himself
was still a boy. While most children
today are still losing baby teeth,
the young Texan was perfecting his
hunting skills, picking cotton for $1
a day, and whatever jobs he could
find to take care of his brothers and
sisters. When a friend commented
on how good the kid had become
with a rifle, he simply replied he had
to be: “If I miss, my family doesn’t
eat.” He never questioned the
inequity of his lot in life, the far too
early intersection where his childhood
turned on the road to adulthood. He
just looked on it as a matter of fact
and knew someone had to be the one
to take care of things. In his mind,
that someone might as well be him —
Audie Murphy.
It was the same resilient attitude
the baby-faced Murphy took into
that hellish intersection as a Second
Lieutenant on January 26, 1945, with
orders to hold the road at all costs.
He had seen hell already — in Texas,
North Africa, Italy, and France, and
arrived at that intersection with a
combat record that showed he was
no common Soldier and would earn:
three Purple Hearts, two Bronze
Stars with Valor device, the Legion
of Merit, two Silver Stars, and a
Distinguished Service Cross.
A fellow officer cautioned others of
Murphy, “Don’t let that baby face fool
you, that’s the toughest Soldier in the
Third Division.”
Now he stood on the battlefield
again, surrounded by an onslaught
of German infantry troops and
advancing German tanks. In the
ensuing assault, Murphy alone would
remain of the seven officers on the
field. The full strength of 129 men
from the 1st and 2nd Battalions
of the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd
Infantry Division had been whittled
down by the Germans to 40. To
Murphy, the commander of Company
B in 1st Battalion, there were but 18
enlisted now at his disposal — but
he had his orders. Someone had to
hold the road — at all costs — and
in the inference that all costs meant
continued loss of life, then it might as
well be his life. He ordered his men
to withdraw while he remained at his
command post directing artillery fire.
In between directing fire, Murphy
climbed onto a burning tank — still
heavily loaded with gasoline and
ammunition — and commandeered
its .50 caliber machine gun making
effective use of it to mow down
German troops. The enemy came
within 10 yards of Murphy, according
to eyewitness accounts and at least
one German shell hit the tank on
which Murphy stood. In the fog of
war, the Germans — even as close
as they got to Murphy’s position —
were having trouble locating him as
his machine gun
rained down on them.
After nearly an hour of fighting,
the German tanks and remaining
troops retreated due to heavy losses
— an estimated 50 casualties mowed
down by Murphy — in the protective
infantry ranks. Murphy then at last
dismounted the burning tank and
rejoined his men.
At that point, the tank that had
been his bastion finally blew up.
Even more amazing (with the
exception of reopening the wound
he had received the day before),
Murphy was unharmed in this
action that earned him the one
medal he had not yet earned —
the Medal of Honor. When asked
years later why he had seized the
Top row: Audie receiving
MOH and LOM from LTG
Patch AMResearch Foundation, Audie with fellow MOH
recipient Charles Murray
at military ceremony 1955,
Audie Murphy and siblings
welcome home parade AMResearch Foundation, Audie
Murphy as a child
Second row: Audie drilling
with TXARNG, 1953 Camp
Mabry in Texas, Audie filming To Hell and Back, Audie
visting Wounded Warriors
1946 AMRF
Bottom row: March 17 1952
- Terry Murphy, Universtal
Studios To Hell and Back.
machine gun and taken on an
entire company of German infantry
by himself, Murphy said simply,
“They were killing my friends.”
Audie Murphy returned home to
Texas in June 1945, after more
than 2-and-a-half years of combat
service overseas. He was only now
just 20 years old. Back home, he
set about reclaiming custody of his
younger siblings and reintegrating
to life outside of the combat arms
profession. He honorably discharged
continued on page 30
continued from page 29
from the Army in September 1945.
Though his baby face often met the world
with a smile such as the one seen on
the cover of LIFE Magazine in July 1945,
he would for the next several decades
face new battles with insomnia, bouts
of depression, and nightmares. “After
the war,” Murphy pointedly and bravely
summarized decades later, “they took
Army dogs and rehabilitated them for
civilian life. But they turned Soldiers into
civilians immediately, and let ‘em sink
or swim.” For Murphy, as with all those
other intersections he faced in life, there
was no choice, he had to swim.
In a large part due to Murphy’s own
candid discussions regarding his personal
struggle with “battle fatigue,” he helped
bring the hidden subject of post-traumatic
stress disorder into the spotlight. In
calling on government to lift the veil on
post traumatic stress disorder and study
Photo by Claire Henline
its impacts on combat veterans, part of
Murphy’s legacy would become the way the
Courage, The Cimarron Kid, Gunsmoke, Night Passage,
military takes care of its personnel today and rotates its
The Unforgiven, and Ride a Crooked Trail. Murphy also
force pool for missions.
performed in television series to include Whispering
Smith and non-western genre films like The Quiet
It was actor James Cagney who saw the LIFE cover
American. His standout role, though, was the one he
photo of Murphy and invited the young hero out
was literally born to play as himself in To Hell and Back
to Hollywood for the opportunity to try acting as a
in which he acts out his own true war story based on
profession in late 1945. “I came to Hollywood because
the accounts documented in his autobiography of the
I had no place else to go,”Murphy stated. He had
same name. He also had success as a country song
some bit roles to start, but he was not immediately
writer, book author, poet, and rancher.
successful in the industry. For the intermediate time,
the kid who quickly became an American war hero
only knew the struggle that plagued him before the war
as he tried to navigate civilian life and employment
(now with the effects of battle fatigue). Eventually the
bit roles, led to small roles, which led to bigger roles
and then the lead role as outlaw Billy the Kid in the
1950 film The Kid from Texas. The movie was a box
office success which garnered Murphy a seven-year
contract with Universal Studios.
Soon, Audie Murphy was not just a war hero but a
western movie star. Murphy surmised his success in
this new craft was because, “Acting is daydreaming.
And I had daydreamed all of my life. It was the only
way I could escape my environment.” He filmed
some 44 movies in his career, with memorable
performances in classics such as: The Red Badge of
Still, first and always, he remained a Soldier who took
an oath once and never forgot it. “Nobody likes for
his life to be disrupted,” Murphy affirmed, “But when
the country calls, they need you . . . I am in favor of
no more war but as long as war clouds hover over
the earth, as a citizen, I feel we should be prepared
for the worst.” At the outbreak of the Korean War in
1950, Murphy returned to military service with the 36th
Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard as
a federally recognized Captain.
The T-Patchers were never called up during the war,
but Murphy continued his part-time duty with them
over the next two decades, and allowed the historic
division to use his affiliation for recruiting initiatives.
Murphy fulfilled drill duties and annual training with
the 36th, serving in Headquarters and Headquarters
Company of both the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 141st
Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. He
culminated his career at the rank of Major and was
eventually transferred to the Inactive Reserve in 1966.
He was on the roles of the Retired Reserve when he
died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971, at the age of 41.
I walk by his name inscribed on a Medal of Honor wall
every day on my way to the office. And now, I finish
his story where he lies bivouacked forever at Arlington
Cemetery near the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier. I look upon
his name carved on the simple
headstone of a Soldier. It is a
name I heard referenced my
whole life, in my upbringing as
an Army brat; its spokenness
inferred a valor untenable in
ranks today. In just under three
years of active duty combat
service, Audie Leon Murphy, the
baby faced sharecropper’s kid
from Texas, became the most
highly decorated Soldier of World
War II — a feat that still has not
been surpassed. He received
every medal for valor this country
can award — sometimes more
than once — and the highest
medals for honor the French
and Belgians can bestow. He
is credited with killing over 240
of the enemy. He arrived at the
intersection of happenstance
and hell and never questioned
his placement there. “I’ll tell you
what bravery really is,” Murphy
once disclosed, “Bravery is just
the determination to do a job that
you know has to be done.”
Claire Henline is a freelance writer and an
employee of Arrowpoint, Inc. She has held
strategic communications and strategic planning
positions with both the G5 and G4 directorates
of the ARNG. She enjoys writing about military
history for Reserve & National Guard Magazine.
The Army says there will never
be another Audie Murphy. In
a sense, the Army is right. The
nature of warfare has changed
to a level of hybrid, high-tech,
highly public, visibility arena in
which no single service member
can ever play a protracted role
like Murphy. But he is a reminder
that the most effective weapon
the military invests in will always
be a well-resourced, resilient,
ready Soldier.