b. 20/06/1924 near Kingston, Texas. d. 28/05/1971 near Roanoke, Virginia.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 26/01/1945 near Holtzwihr, France.
Murphy was born on 20 June 1925, in Kingston, a small rural community in Hunt County in northeastern Texas. He was the seventh of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy (1887–1976) and his wife Josie Bell Murphy (née Killian; 1891–1941). The Murphys were sharecroppers, of English, Irish, Scots-Irish, Scottish, and German descent.
He grew up in northeastern Texas around the towns of Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, where he attended elementary school. His father drifted in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserted them. Murphy dropped out of school in fifth grade and got a job picking cotton for a dollar a day (equivalent to $21 in 2022) to help support his family; he also became skilled with a rifle, hunting small game to help feed them. After his mother died of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, he worked at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville. Hunt County authorities placed his three youngest siblings in Boles Children’s Home, a Christian orphanage in Quinlan. After the war, he bought a house in Farmersville for his eldest sister Corinne and her husband, Poland Burns. His other siblings briefly shared the home.
Murphy had always wanted to be a soldier. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he tried to enlist, but the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps all turned him down for being underweight and underage. After his sister provided an affidavit that falsified his birth date by a year, he was accepted by the U.S. Army on 30 June 1942. After basic training at Camp Wolters, he was sent to Fort Meade for advanced infantry training. During basic training, he earned the Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar and Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar.
Murphy was shipped to Casablanca in French Morocco on 20 February 1943. He was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, which trained under the command of Major General Lucian Truscott. After the 13 May surrender of the Axis forces in French Tunisia, the division was put in charge of the prisoners. He participated as a platoon messenger with his division at Arzew in Algeria in rigorous training for the Allied assault landings in Sicily. Murphy was promoted to private first class on 7 May and corporal on 15 July.
When the 3rd Infantry landed at Licata, Sicily, on 10 July, Murphy was a division runner. On a scouting patrol, he killed two fleeing Italian officers near Canicattì. Sidelined with illness for a week when Company B arrived in Palermo on 20 July, he rejoined them when they were assigned to a hillside location protecting a machine-gun emplacement, while the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division fought at San Fratello en route to the Allied capture of the transit port of Messina.
Murphy participated in Operation Avalanche, the September 1943 mainland Salerno landing at Battipaglia. While on a scouting party along the Volturno river, he and two other soldiers were ambushed; German machine gun fire killed one soldier. Murphy and the other survivor responded by killing five Germans with hand grenades and machine gun fire. While taking part in the October Allied assault on the Volturno Line, near Mignano Monte Lungo Hill 193, he and his company repelled an attack by seven German soldiers, killing three and taking four prisoner. Murphy was promoted to sergeant on 13 December.
In January 1944, Murphy was promoted to staff sergeant. He was hospitalized in Naples with malaria on 21 January and was unable to participate in the initial landing at the Anzio beachhead. He returned on 29 January and participated in the First Battle of Cisterna, and was made a platoon sergeant in Company B following the battle. He returned with the 3rd Division to Anzio, where they remained for four months. Taking shelter from the weather in an abandoned farmhouse on 2 March, Murphy and his platoon killed the crew of a passing German tank. He then crawled out alone close enough to destroy the tank with rifle grenades, for which he received the Bronze Star with “V” device.
Murphy continued to make scouting patrols to take German prisoners before being hospitalized for a week on 13 March with a second bout of malaria. Sixty-one infantry officers and enlisted men of Company B, 15th Infantry, including Murphy, were awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge on 8 May. Murphy was awarded a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Bronze Star. American forces liberated Rome on 4 June, and Murphy remained bivouacked in Rome with his platoon throughout July.
During the first wave of the Allied invasion of southern France, Murphy received the Distinguished Service Cross for action taken on 15 August 1944. After landing on Yellow Beach near Ramatuelle, Murphy’s platoon was making its way through a vineyard when the men were attacked by German soldiers. He retrieved a machine gun that had been detached from the squad and returned fire at the German soldiers, killing two and wounding one. Two Germans exited a house about 100 yards (91 m) away and appeared to surrender; when Murphy’s best friend responded, they shot and killed him. Murphy advanced alone on the house under direct fire. He killed six, wounded two and took 11 prisoners.
Murphy was with the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment during the 27–28 August offensive at Montélimar that secured the area from the Germans. Along with the other soldiers who took part in the action, he received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Murphy’s first Purple Heart was for a heel wound received in a mortar shell blast on 15 September 1944 in northeastern France. His first Silver Star came after he killed four and wounded three at a German machine gun position on 2 October at L’Omet quarry in the Cleurie valley. Three days later, Murphy crawled alone towards the Germans at L’Omet, carrying an SCR-536 radio and directing his men for an hour while the Germans fired directly at him. When his men finally took the hill, 15 Germans had been killed and 35 wounded. Murphy’s actions earned him a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Silver Star. He was awarded a battlefield commission to second lieutenant on 14 October, which elevated him to platoon leader. While en route to Brouvelieures on 26 October, the 3rd Platoon of Company B was attacked by a German sniper group. Murphy captured two before being shot in the hip by a sniper; he returned fire and shot the sniper between the eyes. At the 3rd General Hospital at Aix-en-Provence, the removal of gangrene from the wound caused partial loss of his hip muscle and kept him out of combat until January. Murphy received his first Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Purple Heart for this injury.
The Colmar Pocket, 850 square miles (2,200 km2) in the Vosges Mountains, had been held by German troops since November 1944. On 14 January 1945, Murphy rejoined his platoon, which had been moved to the Colmar area in December. He moved with the 3rd Division on 24 January to the town of Holtzwihr, where they faced a strong German counterattack. He was wounded in both legs, for which he received a second Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Purple Heart. As the company awaited reinforcements on 26 January, he was made commander of Company B.
The Germans scored a direct hit on an M10 tank destroyer, setting it alight, forcing the crew to abandon it. Murphy ordered his men to retreat to positions in the woods, remaining alone at his post, shooting his M1 carbine and directing artillery fire via his field radio while the Germans aimed fire directly at his position. Murphy mounted the abandoned, burning tank destroyer and began firing its .50 caliber machine gun at the advancing Germans, killing a squad crawling through a ditch towards him. For an hour, Murphy stood on the flaming tank destroyer returning German fire from foot soldiers and advancing tanks, killing or wounding 50 Germans. He sustained a leg wound during his stand, and stopped only after he ran out of ammunition. Murphy rejoined his men, disregarding his own injury, and led them back to repel the Germans. He insisted on remaining with his men while his wounds were treated.
For his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The 3rd Infantry Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions at the Colmar Pocket, giving Murphy a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for the emblem. On 16 February, Murphy was promoted to first lieutenant and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service from 22 January 1944 to 18 February 1945. He was moved from the front lines to Regimental Headquarters and made a liaison officer.
The United States additionally honored Murphy’s war contributions with the American Campaign Medal, the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with arrowhead device and 9 campaign stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp. 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, which was authorized for all members of the 3rd Infantry Division who fought in France during World War II. Belgium awarded Murphy the Belgian Croix de guerre with 1940 Palm.
Brigadier General Ralph B. Lovett and Lieutenant Colonel Hallet D. Edson recommended Murphy for the Medal of Honor. Near Salzburg, Austria on 2 June 1945, Lieutenant General A.M. Patch presented Murphy with the Medal of Honor and Legion of Merit for his actions at Holtzwihr. When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied, “They were killing my friends.” Murphy received every U.S. military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army for his World War II service.
Since his military service, Murphy had been plagued with insomnia and bouts of depression, and he slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow. A post-service medical examination on 17 June 1947 revealed symptoms of headaches, vomiting, and nightmares about the war. His medical records indicated that he took sleeping pills to help prevent nightmares. During the mid-1960s, he recognized his dependence on the sedative Placidyl, and locked himself alone in a hotel room for a week to successfully break the addiction. Post-traumatic stress levels exacerbated his innate moodiness, and surfaced in episodes that friends and professional colleagues found alarming. His first wife, Dixie Wanda Hendrix, claimed he once held her at gunpoint. She witnessed her husband being guilt-ridden and tearful over newsreel footage of German war orphans. Murphy briefly found a creative stress outlet in writing poetry after his Army discharge. His poem “The Crosses Grow on Anzio” appeared in his book To Hell and Back, but was attributed to the fictitious character Kerrigan.
During an acting career spanning from 1948 to 1969, Murphy made more than 40 feature films and one television series. When actor and producer James Cagney saw the 16 July 1945 issue of Life magazine depicting Murphy as the “most decorated soldier”, he brought him to Hollywood. Cagney and his brother William signed him as a contract player for their production company and gave him training in acting, voice and dance. They never cast Murphy in a movie and a personal disagreement ended the association in 1947. Murphy later worked with acting coach Estelle Harman and honed his diction by reciting dialogue from William Shakespeare and William Saroyan.
Murphy married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. Their divorce became final two years later in 1951. Four days later, he married former airline stewardess Pamela Opal Lee Archer, with whom he had two sons: Terry Michael and James Shannon.
Murphy bred quarter horses at the Audie Murphy Ranch in what is now Menifee, California, and the Murphy Ranch in Pima County, Arizona. His horses raced at the Del Mar Racetrack, and he invested large sums of money in the hobby. Murphy’s gambling left his finances in a poor state. In 1968, he stated that he lost $260,000 in an Algerian oil deal and was dealing with the Internal Revenue Service over unpaid taxes. In spite of his financial difficulties, Murphy refused to appear in commercials for alcohol and cigarettes, mindful of the influence he would have on the youth market.
He was noted for a quick, fierce temper; he was involved in various violent altercations during his adult life. In May 1970, he was arrested in Burbank, California, charged with battery and assault with intent to commit murder in a dispute with a dog trainer. He was accused of firing a shot at the man, which he denied. Murphy was cleared of the charges.
On 28 May 1971, Murphy was killed when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed into the side of a mountain 14 nautical miles northwest of Roanoke, Virginia, in conditions of rain, clouds, fog, and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed. The aircraft was a twin-engine Aero Commander 680 flown by a pilot who had a private-pilot license and a reported 8,000 hours of flying time, but who held no instrument rating. The aircraft was recovered on 31 May. After her husband’s death, Pamela Murphy moved into a small apartment and got a clerk position at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, where she remained employed for 35 years.
Second Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Second Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a 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. Second Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50-caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to 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 2d Lt. 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 singlehanded 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 killed or wounded about 50. Second Lt. 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.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
SECTION 46, GRAVE 366-11.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: DALLAS SCOTTISH RITE MUSEUM, DALLAS, TEXAS.