Audie Murphy, Barefooted and Bewildered
Audie Murphy lived a humble life with just his name in a poverty stricken home without shame. He showed courage at a young age, becoming a family provider.
The price for valor was learned initially in his early years , Audie Murphy, learned that duty to family came at a high cost. His father abandoned him and his mother of nine children leaving them without a means for getting food for their stomachs and clothes for their backs. It was the worst of times during the “Great Depression.”
One day, his father gave up, and simply walked out of their lives, he was never heard from again. Over the next year, the severity of the depression overwhelmed his mother with emotions of grief and sadness. She was desperately trying to keep the brood of children together, she worked harder than ever but to no avail, consequentially, she succumbed to a nervous breakdown and sickness. Her illness led to her death. Audie was just sixteen years old.
Boyhood to Manhood:
Losing his father to abandonment and his mother to a sickness at such a young age was a traumatic experience that few of us can truly understand. He became the family caretaker where he used a plow, an ax, hoe, or a rifle to feed his family. He became a sharpshooter while hunting small game.
Audie Murphy was changed by the loss of his parents. The grief from his loss manifested itself in a quick tempered teenager who was getting into fights at school, using his fists in an attempt to level what he assumed was his fate –to live a lifetime in poverty.
Meanwhile, his siblings were taken by the authorities and put into an orphanage, leaving Audie alone. To escape this unfortunate circumstance, he would escape reality by using his vivid imagination and sense of adventure to day dream and escape from his feelings . His dreams helped to calm his fears, temper his anger, and soften his sadness. It was during these quiet, thought provoking moments, that he affirmed his character traits to himself. He layed a foundation for his future manhood.
On December 7, 1941, his life changed drastically with the declaration of war declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the announcement, Audie’s active mind created dreams of him entering the military to avenge the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, even though he was too young to join the fight. So, with the help of his sister (altered birth documents), he enlisted (at 17 years) into the U.S. Army. Soon after boot camp training, he began military life in combat witnessing graphic and horrific images of battle. He responded to the challenges of war with bravery, honor, and disguised service to country.
Audie Murphy was assigned to the 3rd Division U.S. Army where, his military saga began with the invasion of Sicily and Salerno, Italy. Audie’s intestinal fortitude, or his “piss and vinegar” spirit was lessened, as he was shocked and awed by the blood and guts strewn across the beach head near Salerno, Italy. “Seeing the elephant” of war came at a price to a boy who had falsified his birth records to enlist at diminutive height 5’5” and weight 112 pounds. He began to pay the price—he experienced the fear of death.
Audie’s vivid imagination could not have predicted the events and experiences that would become a part of his future legacy and character—as America’s most decorated hero of World War II.
A Complex Person:
Audie Murphy was a complex personality, and the essence of his character is hard to capture. The Films of Audie Murphy by Larkin and Magers, described Murphy with grayish –green eyes, reddish brown hair, and a liberal sprinkling of freckles that was as Irish as his name. “By nature Audie was an idealist whose circumstances forced him into becoming a realist. He often expressed himself with shocking candor. He chose his friends on the basis of character, he detested snobbery and artificiality in any form.”
The authors summarized: when Audie spoke you knew dam well what he said. This was evidenced by his military training where he was fearless while living on the edge of life and death during the war. He admired sincerity and loyalty in his friends, he would never let himself or another be pushed around or belittled.
An Achille’s Heel:
His one downfall was his habitual gambling—whether it be poker, craps or horses—and his inability to win at these. During his life he lost several fortunes. Money meant nothing to him. His gambling addiction maybe explained by understanding his past experiences. Because he lived on adrenalin and the high stakes during combat, he had an emotional need to be constantly seeking that adrenalin rush. The winning and losing from gambling provided an adrenalin high and low temporarily that appeased his emotional need in the moment. The public gained gained rare insight into the man, when he appeared on “What’s My Line,” a television game show on July 3, 1955. His television appearance was just months before the release of his biographical movie— “To Hell and Back.” His film career was prolificly impressive with 44 films, which are conviently listed on Wikipedia.
Honoring an American Hero:
Audie Murphy fought in the European campaign for three years, winning battlefield promotions from private to first lieutenant, and gaining every combat medal awarded by the army, including many for bravery, plus the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was wounded three times, twice in the legs and once in the hip, and was discharged from the army as fifty percent disabled in September of 1945. Audie Murphy was officially credited with killing 240 enemy soldiers, he returned home as a hero. He was discharged weighing in at 165 pounds and 5″10″ tall. He discusses our country’s combat readiness from Western Germany in 1960. See the Audie Murphy interview (4:43).
It is perhaps evidence of his strength of character, that although Murphy was scarred both physically and psychologically, he was not defeated by post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.). Instead, he was able to carve out a career in the motion picture industry, making 44 films.
This writing was a personal tribute to honor a man who received a pretty raw deal from life most of the time, and who deserves a little glory and dignity in the world today.
On the mornng of May 28, 1971, an Aero Commander 680 Super departed Peachtree Airport in Atlanta destined for the Blue Ridge Airport in Martinsville, Virginia, a distance of 246 miles with a flight time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. At 12:08 the aircraft impacted the west side of Brushy Mountain at the 2,700 foot level while flying at high speed level attitude.. The collision into the heavily wooded slope and post crash fire destroyed the aircraft, and all six passengers, including Audie Murphy at 46 years old. In December of 1971, the family of Audie Murphy sued the aviation company for negligence in the operation and maintenance of the aircraft. In December of 1975 a jury awarded the Murphy family $2.5 million in damages to be paid by the aircraft’s owner, Colorado Aviation of Denver. The news report of the crash is available to view.
Audie Murphy was his name, his life and character remain as his legacy. A song was written to remember his name: “The Ballad of Audie Murphy.”