October 21 • 09:57 PM

Above and beyond the call of duty

November 08, 2017
As prescribed by a law signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, Saturday, November 11 is Veterans Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, Veteran's Day is set aside to honor all men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces.

Does the name Audie Murphy ring a bell to you? Some people will remember Murphy as a movie star in the 1950s and 60s. He appeared in 45 mostly forgettable films, many of them Westerns. Some, however, were very good such as "The Red Badge of Courage" and "To Hell and Back" (based on his autobiography of the same name).

But what Audie Murphy is really remembered for is being the most decorated American soldier in World War II. So this Veterans Day column will look back on the life of Audie Leon Murphy as a tribute to all veterans and to say, "Thank you for your service."

When Audie was born in 1925 to Texas sharecroppers one would hardly imagine that he would become one of the most widely recognized people in the world. He had a quick temper and dropped out of school in the fifth grade and did odd jobs. His father deserted the family of 12 kids (Audie was number seven) and his mother died when he was sixteen.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 Audie tried to enlist in the service. He was rejected by all three branches of the military for being too small and too young. But his older sister falsified a document lying about his age and he entered the Army on June 30, 1942.

Sent to the European Theater in early 1943, Murphy saw plenty of combat action and killed numerous Germans after being ambushed. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.

In August 1944 Murphy earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award by the Army, after some Germans, appearing to surrender, shot and killed his best friend. Murphy, under direct fire, attacked and killed six Germans, wounded two and took eleven prisoners. By the time the battle was over 15 Germans had been killed and 35 more were wounded.

He was later awarded a Silver Star, the Army's third-highest award, and then another one shortly thereafter, for gallantry. He was promoted to Lieutenant. Murphy received two Purple Heart medals in these battles.

In January 1945 he received a third Purple Heart after being wounded in both legs. And on January 26 he earned the nation's highest accolade, the Medal of Honor.

Here is the text of Murphy's Medal of Honor citation: "By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in the woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective."

In addition, Murphy received the Outstanding Unit Award, American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal. France recognized his service with the French Legion of Honor—Grade of Chevalier, the French Croix de guerre with Silver Star, the French Croix de guerre with Palm, the French Liberation Medal and the French Fourragère in Colors of the Croix de guerre.

After the war Murphy became a movie star but died at age 45 on May 30, 1971 in a plane crash. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery and is the second most visited grave there behind only President Kennedy. The headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington are normally decorated in gold leaf. Murphy previously requested that his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier.

We salute Audie Murphy as a true American hero and in so doing remember and pay tribute to all of the men and women who have served. Always take time to thank a veteran. As JFK said, "The price of freedom is always high but Americans have always paid it."

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