Born Audie Leon Murphy on June 20, 1925, he was the seventh of twelve children. He grew up on a farm, share cropping, near Kingston, Texas. His father abandoned the family and his mother died when he was 16 leaving him an orphan.
During World War II at age 17, his sister helped him falsify documents about his age so he could joined the Army because the Marine Corp turned him down for being underweight. During his three years at war he earned anywhere from 24 to 33 decorations (no two sources agreed on this), becoming the most decorated American combat veteran of World War II. Earning most of his metals by the age of 20, he didn’t know until the Army announced it at a surprise banquet when he returned home.
Among his decorations were the Metal of Honor—for single-handedly standing off six German tanks and 250 infantrymen; two Silver Stars; a Bronze Star; three Purple hearts—shrapnel in both knees and a sniper’s bullet in his hip; the Distinguished Service Cross and the Legion of Merit. The governments of France and Belgium also awarded him decorations for bravery.
Actor James Cagney saw Murphy’s photo on the cover of Life magazine. He invited the 21-year-old Texan to Hollywood to get his start in acting. Cagney paid for his acting and dancing lessons.
Hollywood, like war, was hell for Murphy. His first roles were few. He was used mostly for publicity and not his acting abilities. He stated in his autobiography that it ended his marriage to actress, Wanda Hendrix.
He is best known for “To Hell and Back”—his autobiography—which set a box office record that wasn’t broken until the release of “Jaws” twenty years later, “Red Badge of Courage,” and “The Quiet American.” He found more success in the B Westerns because of his soft spoken Texas accent. My personal favorite, “The Guns of Fort Petticoat.”
In 1951 he married second wife, Pamela Opal Lee Archer. They had two sons.
He earned moderate success as a county music songwriter with artists like Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Roy Clark, and Charley Pride recording his work.
By 1960 he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1962 when the studio system dropped their roster of contract players for hired actors on a per-picture basis, Murphy’s acting career fell into obscurity.
Possessing a hair-trigger temper and sleeping with a loaded gun, Murphy suffered from combat fatigue, now referred to as PTSD.
He campaigned the government for more time and money to care for returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans. He knew first hand what kinds of problems they would face.
In an interview regarding his work for returning veterans, Murphy said, “After the war, they took Army dogs and rehabilitated them for civilian life. But they turned soldiers into civilians immediately, and let ’em sink or swim.”
Two years after his death the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio was dedicated.
He died May 28, 1971 in a plane crash on Brushy Mountain in Virginia. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where the year of his birth is listed as 1924. According to cemetery records, the only grave site visited by more people than Murphy’s is JFK’s.