Texan Audie Murphy Wasn’t Always The Most Decorated

The Story You Might Not Know

Life Magazine 1945

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.

In about 1937, Audie’s father abandoned the family who moved back into the boxcar for some months, and young Audie dropped out of school to help support his family.

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?

I actually showed The Red Badge Of Courage to my students after reading the book.

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.

Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum, Hunt County, Texas

“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.



About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
This entry was posted in 1940s, Latest Posts, Military, Texas Heritage, Texas History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Texan Audie Murphy Wasn’t Always The Most Decorated

  1. Crystal Meeks says:

    Hi Fredda, I haven’t spoke to you in a while but I wanted to send you a quick message and tell how much I enjoyed this article. I knew that Audie had served in the military and that he was a great actor but I did not know about his sibling or the torment he suffered after returning home. Very interesting. Thank you for all the articles. You make them much more thatn an article, you make them so real with your words of expression. Thank You, Crystal

    • Fredda Jones Fredda Jones says:

      This has been a long, hard day, Crystal, so you have no idea how much your comment means to me!! I’m so glad you liked it. I have a lot of fun finding the Rest of the Story. LOL

  2. Harrell Gilbreath says:

    Fredda, thanks for reminding us of this true story. I have read parts of it down thru the years but do not remember anyone retelling it in it,s entirety. This is America at it,s best and worst but our best sometimes is really Great and our worst must always be overcome by people with Heart, integrity and Guts. Carry on!

  3. Dennis Marken says:

    Great story. Audie has been a hero for me since I was a child. If any are interested there are three great books about Audie Murphy. 1. “Audie Murphy American Soldier” Author: Harold B. Simpson. It is all about his life from childhood on. 2. “To Hell And Back” Author: Audie Murphy. This is all about his time at war. 3. “The Films and Career of Audie Murphy, America’s Real Hero” Author: Sue Gossett. What many people do not know about Audie is he wrote poetry and a number of country-and-western songs. that was recorded by artists such as Roy Clark, Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Porter Waggoner, Charlie Pride, Jimmy Dean, among others. Most of his poetry deals with the war and gives one a look at the man. Of course I have all his books. I do ask if anyone out there has a copy of “Texas Monthly” that has a short story about Murphy I would love to buy it if for sale. That is the only thing I don’t have. For the record he was one of our greatest hero’s, but he was only the second highest decorated soldier in WW II.. I will let those of you interested find out who was the most decorated. Again, anyone that may have the “Texas Monthly” and want to sell please let me know. Thanks Fredda, you are my hero.

  4. missy jones says:

    Fredda, you talked about your family keeping up on news, etc. i was born in 1930, and when World War II came along, I was old enough to pay attention to the news. We had family friends enlisting, with 2 at Camp Bowie in Brownwood (at different times). They would come over to spend weekends with us, and we went several times to Camp Bowie to pick them up. I remember the newspapers with articles and news. We cut out the columns by Ernie Pyle and saved them. I particularly was very thouched by an article about a Texas lieutenant serving in Italy. He was killed and his body brought down from the mountain on the back of a mule. Also, the papers had lots of maps, and so we were able to see just where things were happening.

  5. Audie Murphy was my hero when I was a child and saw the movie “To Hell And Back” for the very first time. I have probably watched it dozens of times since then and every other movie that he made. Thanks for sharing his story and telling me some things that I didn’t know about him. Today we need heroes more than ever and there just don’t seem to be as many of them around.

  6. william tell says:

    I’m interested in talking to anyone who knows a lot about Audie Murphy’s life including detail of his dealings with the military and his life after the war. Audie is a hero of mine also. I saw “To Hell and Back ” as a kid and marveled at this real life hero playing himself in a movie. Amazing . For me It just doesn’t add up that he would die that way without some outside help . If you have something for me , let me know that you want to talk to me . Post that in a comment here and I will contact you. They will notify me by email. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>