Audie Leon Murphy was a legend in his own time. He was a war hero, movie actor, writer of country and western songs, and poet. His biography reads more like fiction than fact. He lived only 46 years, but he made a lasting imprint on American history. Murphy was born on a sharecropper’s farm in Texas on 20 June 1924. As a boy, he chopped cotton for $1 a day and was noted for his feats of derring-do and his accuracy with a gun. He had only 5 years of schooling and was orphaned at age 16.
After being refused enlistment during World War II in both the Marines and Paratroopers for being too small (5’5) and underweight (110 lbs), he enlisted in the U.S. Army a few days after his 18th birthday. After basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and advance training at Fort George. G. Meade, Maryland, Murphy was sent overseas. He was assigned to the famous 15th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, and fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. He earned a battlefield commission for his courage and leadership ability as well as citations and decorations, including every medal for valor that America gives.
He was also awarded three French and one Belgian medal. Lieutenant Audie Murphy was the highest decorated soldier in America history. Discharged from the Army on 21 September 1945, Murphy went to Hollywood at the invitation of movie star James Cagney. He remained in California for the rest of his life and was closely associated with the movie industry, both as an actor and a producer. He acted in 44 films, starring in 39 of them. His best-known film was, “To Hell and Back,” adapted from the best-selling book of his experiences by the same name. Most of his movies were westerns. In 1955, Murphy was voted the Most Popular Western Actor in America by the Motion Picture Exhibitors. Murphy wrote the lyrics to 16 country and small western songs.
The most popular was “Shutters and Boards,” written Scott Turner in 1962. Over 30 pop singers, including Jerry Wallace, Dean Martin, and Porter Waggoner recorded the song. He was an accomplished poet; unfortunately, only a few of his poems have survived him. In 1950, Murphy joined the 36th Infantry Division (“T-Patchers”) of the Texas National Guard and served with it until 1966. Murphy was killed in a plane crash on a mountaintop near Roanoke, Virginia, on 28 May 1971. Fittingly, his body was recovered two days later on Memorial Day. Murphy could very well be the last American war hero. He is the greatest combat soldier in the 200 years plus history of the United States.