Born to a sharecropper in Texas, whose father abandoned him, his mother, and his eleven brothers and sisters when he was a teenager, whose mother died just a short year after his father left, Audie Murphy did not have an easy childhood. Because of his small size and age, he was denied entrance into the military when he first tried to enlist when WW2 started. After many tries, and a few lies from his sister, he managed to join the army. For this, I think the Army will be forever grateful.
I have been on an Audie Murphy movie kick for quite a while now. I watch his dozens of westerns, then watch them over again. Audie was not the best actor in town, but he was the best Audie Murphy there ever was. His on screen persona is no doubt a lot like his real one. His dialog is curt. If he answers a question, he only answers it once. He takes no guff.
In real life, Audie Murphy won every medal that one could win, including the Congressional Medal of Honor at the age of nineteen. While many nineteen-year-olds today are playing war-type video games, though there are thousands faithfully serving in the military in foreign climes, Audie Murphy was in harm’s way in the real thing. The enemy soldiers he faced were more in harm’s way than Murphy, it seems. He sent a lot of them on to their reward. WW2 was unprecedented. I hope it stays that way.
It is reported that Murphy suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of his wartime experiences. This was not a medical or psychological diagnosis back then (they were said to be “shell-shocked”). There is no doubt that no one could come through the wartime experiences Murphy had and not be affected by them. There is also no doubt that there were few like Murphy then, and even fewer now.
They say desperate times bring the best men to the surface. WW2 gave us Winston Churchill. WW2 gave us Dwight Eisenhower. WW2 gave us Audie Murphy. WW2 gave us hundreds of thousands of men who gave everything they had. Even though WW2 was the big one, whatever war you are in where you are getting shot at is pretty big to the one thus engaged. I have seen it written that Soldier _____ was killed in a minor skirmish. To Soldier _____, it was a his major battle. Aimed bullets frequently miss. Bullets shot forth blindly strike anything in their path. Lead, iron, and steel rain from the sky, from the sea, and from the land. Flesh is no match for then, nor for air compressed to the density of steel. Many died that got no medals. Many served that got no medals. Many of those who braved these dangers and served with valor and intrepidity did so to save the lives of their comrades in their company. Some were awarded their medals posthumously. Those that survived were heroes we could shake hands with. I wish I could have shaken Audie Murphy’s hand. Other than a smile and a thank you, what else could one say, other than in Murphy’s case it could have been, “I sure did enjoy watching No Name On The Bullet, one of his many westerns.
I will be forever grateful for his service to our country in desperate times, and for his wonderful westerns that are some of the very best Westerns ever made. Not only was he a movie hero, he was a real hero: tested and proven on the field of battle.
I am moved every time I think of this. Every time I see Murphy in a movie, facing down the bad hombres, every time I see Murphy standing in the face of danger, I think of the real Murphy, who did the same thing in real life, in the face of enemy combatants, with real bullets flying all around, afraid yet fearless, wanting to run but standing his ground, and above all, like any good soldier, doing his duty yet going far above and beyond the call of duty. When asked about how he felt after the engagement that won him the Medal of Honor, Murphy said, of walking back to his unit under fire after running out of bullets “I was too scared and too exhausted to care if the Germans killed me.” Murphy was frightened, too. Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is doing what must be done in spite of fear. Murphy had courage He was made of stern stuff.
I remember my grandmother weeping openly when she heard the breaking news on the radio that Murphy had been killed in a plane crash in Roanoke, Virginia. I remember the stories about the crash, about the bad weather, about the pilot’s lack of experience with instrument flying, and the questionable story about the 45 Colt Automatic found in the wreckage that belonged to Murphy that had been fired. It was whispered that Murphy shot the pilot, who was about to crash the plane and kill them all. There is no way of knowing this. Likely is it just a legend that followed Murphy, told by people who were not there, could not know, and none of the folks that died in the crash could verify. With spurious stories like this, even a coroner’s report would be believed to have been doctored so that Murphy would not appear in an unfavorable light.
Demons chased Murphy before the war, as we are told that he had an explosive temper, which if true is probably because of the bad hand life had dealt him: a no good father, and being left an orphan having to care for brothers and sisters. He dealt with demons in the middle of the most intense conflict the world has yet known. He dealt with demons after the war was over, which no doubt haunted him until the day he died in Roanoke at the age of 45.
I salute Audie Murphy and everything he stood for, yet I hope no desperate times apprehend us so that we are able to identify more Murphys. It is better if we live our lives in peaceful obscurity than to endure the horrors of war and come out the other side of it with medals and honors. If we are unable to do that, then let me follow an Audie Murphy and be inspired by his valor.
I cherish his memory as much as I cherish his movies.
Thanks, Audie Murphy, for everything.
©2017 Mississippi Chris Sharp