5 lesser-known facts about the most decorated soldier in American history
No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.
His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5'5", 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn't admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you've seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, "no way," Audie Murphy probably did it.
But this isn't a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you've served in the U.S. military and don't know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy
1. His rise in the ranks
After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.
He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a "V" device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.
In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.
Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.
(Signal Corps Archives)
2. His acting career
After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.
Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That's how badass his actual actions were.
Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled 'The Way Back,' that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.
3. He never wanted to sell out
To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from a morphine addiction (a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean), became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.
Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he'd be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.
Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.
4. His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington
On May 28, 1971, Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made his way toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphy crashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.
He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President John F. Kennedy, Murphy's headstone is the most-visited grave. The volume of tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to build an entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodate the foot traffic.
The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.
5. A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor
The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.
The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they'll be well taken care of.
I've had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they'd gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)