Audie Murphy: Biography, Movies & Awards

Instructor: Allison Waithe-Benton

Allison has been a history teacher for nine years. She holds a master's in teaching.

Audie Murphy was one of the most famous World War II veterans in America. He earned more than 30 decorations for his bravery in battle and became a movie star, all before the age of 22.

Audie Murphy

Audie L Murphy is America

You would be forgiven for mistaking Audie Murphy for a superhero. Most famous for his one-man assault on the Nazis-- launched from atop a flaming tanker, no less-- he saved many lives. Those actions earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, Congress' highest individual honor for bravery in combat. The most decorated World War II veteran in America, Murphy eventually earned 37 honors for his brave military service, including three Purple Hearts.

Bravery in Battle

Murphy's 1949 book, To Hell and Back, recounts his World War II experience and his most famous act of bravery, for which he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In 1945, the then-19-year-old Army second lieutenant and his 40-man unit were positioned on the border between France and Switzerland. They were in the mountains, in a clearing in the forest. It was freezing cold and snowing.

Murphy and his men were supposed to prevent the Germans from gaining control of an important road, and they were waiting for reinforcement. Unfortunately, the Germans arrived before the reinforcement did, with 250 Nazi soldiers and six tanks.

The teenage second lieutenant ordered his badly outnumbered men to take cover in the forest. Murphy remained in the clearing, radioing details to his commanders so that they could direct the artillery (which are large guns on wheels) where to fire. At one point, a German tanker shot up an American tanker, causing it to burst into flames.

Focused only on protecting his men and maintaining their position, Murphy jumped on top of the flaming tanker. He used its rising plumes of smoke as a screen. Firing the tanker's machine gun, Murphy single-handedly killed or wounded 50 Nazis, despite being shot in the leg himself. He stayed on the tanker alone for an hour, somehow dodging all Nazi bullets but one. Once he ran out of ammunition, he returned to his men in the forest and organized a counter-attack against the Germans. The American troops, led by a bleeding Murphy, were able to push back the Nazis and hold the road.

His actions made him famous back home, and he appeared on the cover of Life magazine. His fame led him to become an actor and a best-selling author. In fact, his book To Hell and Back would eventually be made into a successful film by the same name, with Murphy playing himself.

Life Outside the Military

The life of a Hollywood actor was miles away from his upbringing as a poor farmer's son in Texas. He was one of 12 children, and he dropped out of school to help support his family when his father abandoned them. Hunting was an important source of food for his family, and he became an excellent shot, which he would later prove on top of that burning tank.

Poster for To Hell and Back movie
Poster for To Hell and Back movie

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