The Story You Might Not Know
Every year that I live I become a little more thankful that my parents kept up with what was going on in the world and that they talked about it. In listening to my friends discuss their childhoods, I’ve learned that was not the case in all homes. However, in my home we knew just what the president was doing; we knew what MLK was up to; we knew every time someone in some administration spit on the sidewalk, and we talked about it.
Probably by the time I could talk, my mom was telling me about Audie Murphy. I didn’t really understand much but by golly, I knew all about both his age and the decorations he earned! However, I have the feeling that even my parents did not know what might be considered the Rest of the Story, and it is that part of the story that I want to discuss today because there was a time when Audie had no decorations at all. In fact, he didn’t have much of anything.
Audie Leon Murphy was born in June of 1925 in Kingston, Texas, the sixth or seventh of the twelve children born to poor sharecropping parents. In 1933, the family moved to Celeste, Texas so that the children could attend school there. They lived in an old boxcar on the outskirts of town for several months until they could rent a very run-down home.
Working for the common dollar a day, Audie picked cotton and did anything else he could to help provide for the family. He also became increasingly skilled with a rifle, bagging anything he could for the family table. When a friend commented on the fact that Audie never missed what he shot at, Audie replied that if missed, his family wouldn’t eat that day. I assume that was motivation enough for the boy who was way too young to carry so much responsibility.
Then, on May 23, 1941, Audie Murphy’s mother died. And here’s where I get a little confused on Audie’s age because the younger siblings were placed in a children’s home, but it was judged that Audie’s age of seventeen was old enough to let him care for himself. Seventeen? I wonder if this was not the first time that a lie was told about his age, but I have no idea.
I do know that what I believe was the sixteen-year-old Audie Murphy tried to enlist in the service after Pearl Harbour was attacked in December of 1941. He was turned down because he was underage. Supposedly, after he turned seventeen the next June an older sister helped him adjust his birth date. Claiming to be eighteen, Audie Murphy tried to enlist.
The 5’5″, 110 pound boy was turned down by the marines, the army paratroopers, and the navy. Finally, he was accepted by the army. Isn’t it funny how one little detail has the potential to completely reshape history?
There is not room in this article to list every award that the young man who was still a boy earned, but it would be well worth your while to do a little research. In June of 1945, one of Texas’ favorite son, Audie Murphy, returned home to a hero’s welcome, even appearing on the cover of Time Magazine the next month. The story caught the attention of actor James Cagney, and the rest is history, as they say.
There are two things about post-war Audie Murphy that I do not want to omit. The first is that after twenty-nine months overseas, Audie Murphy returned to reclaim his sibblings. I personally think this should have earned him a medal as well.
The second is something that is usually overlooked in the very successful man’s story, and is that Audie Murphy who climbed so high and who came so far from his raising struggled and struggled hard.
“In addition to his acting career–he made a total of 44 films–Murphy was also a successful rancher and businessman. He bred and raised thoroughbred horses and owned several ranches in Texas, Arizona and California. He was also a songwriter, and penned hits for such singers as Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride and many others.
“His postwar life wasn’t all roses, however. He suffered from what is now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but was then called “combat fatigue”, and was known to have a hair-trigger temper. He woke up screaming at night and slept with a loaded .45 automatic nearby.
“He was acquitted of attempted murder charges brought about by injuries he inflicted on a man in a bar fight. Director Don Siegel said in an interview that Murphy often carried a pistol on the set of The Gun Runners (1958) and many of the cast and crew were afraid of him.
“He had a short-lived and turbulent marriage to actress Wanda Hendrix, and in the 1960s his increasing bouts of insomnia and depression resulted in his becoming addicted to a particularly powerful sleeping pill called Placidyl, an addiction he eventually broke.
“He ran into a streak of bad financial luck and was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1968. Admirably, he campaigned vigorously for the government to spend more time and money on taking care of returning Vietnam War veterans, as he more than most others knew exactly what kinds of problems they were going to have.”
Audie Murphy was killed on May 18, 1971, when a private plane crashed into the side of a mountain in Virgina. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. According to cemetery records, the only grave site visited by more people than Murphy’s is that of assassinated President John F. Kennedy.