Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back to Film to TV to Song

On a cold day on this date of January 26 in 1945 in France during a World War II battle, Audie Murphy earned the Medal of Honor when he engaged in a single-handed battle with Germans. His heroic actions would save many of his fellow soldiers, and it eventually garnered Murphy attention from Jimmy Cagney and Hollywood, helping launch a film career.

Murphy’s Act of Heroism

In the January 1945 battle, Murphy saw his unit reduced from 128 men to 19.  So, he ordered the remaining men to fall back while he fought the Germans by himself for a period.  He eventually climbed up on an abandoned tank and used its machine gun to enable his comrades to return and organize a counter-attack.

The counter-attack won back the town of Holtzwihr, France for the Allies. When he later was asked why he took on an entire company of German infantry, Murphy explained “They were killing my friends.”

Murphy was wounded in the fight, which ended his active duty. Through his military career, he won a large number of medals and decorations, making him known as “the most decorated combat soldier in World War II.”

Audie Murphy in Hollywood

After the decorations led to a profile in Life magazine, Hollywood came calling.  The attention eventually led to a film based on Murphy’s war service.

The movie was called To Hell and Back (1955).  And it starred . . . Audie Murphy.

Upon seeing a trailer for the exploits of a war hero with the war hero playing himself based on a co-written autobiography, one might conclude that Murphy had a big ego and thought of himself as a great hero. But Murphy originally did not want to play himself.

The film is largely a tribute to Murphy’s fallen comrades.  The movie highlights the deaths of the fallen, including the dead soldiers haunting Murphy’s award ceremony.

My favorite film with Murphy is Destry (1954), a remake of the also good Destry Rides Again (1939), which starred Jimmy Stewart. He also appeared in a number of television shows, including a Western, Whispering Smith (1961).

Murphy’s War Experience

Murphy was humble about his exploits and realistic about war, as shown by this 1963 radio interview.  In the interview, he explains that the highlight of the war for him was the day he heard the war was over.

Murphy also became a hero when he helped veterans of the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam by breaking taboos to speak about his own post-war struggles.  He was open about his personal battles, including post-traumatic stress syndrome and addiction to sleeping pills.

You may see how unassuming he is in this clip from the TV show What’s My Line?, recorded before To Hell and Back hit theaters.

Murphy the Songwriter

It was not until I started writing this post that I discovered that Murphy also co-wrote a number of country songs.  His songs were recorded by singers such as Dean Martin and Porter Wagoner.

Below is one of Murphy’s biggest hits, “When the Wind Blows in Chicago,” sung here by Roy Clark.

Murphy’s Death and Confusion About His Age

Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971. His widow, Pam Murphy, continued to work for veterans until she died in 2010.

Audie Murphy had been 21 when he risked his life and earned the Medal of Honor. When he died, he was only 45, although many sources like Wikipedia and even his tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery claim he was 46.

The age confusion was created because this honorable and talented man did lie once. Several months after his mother died, with some help from his sister, the teenaged Murphy falsified his birth certificate.  He lied so he could serve his country when he was only seventeen.

What is your favorite Audie Murphy film? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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