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Audie Murphy, Texas Farmboy

Forty years ago, on May 28, 1971, the most decorated soldier in WWII, Major Audie Leon Murphy, died in a plane crash on Brush Mountain, near Roanoke, Va. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Va., in Plot Section 46, Lot 366-11, Grid O/P 22.5. His grave is near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There are 300,000 gravesites on the 624 acres of Arlington National Cemetery, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Army.

On Murphy’s simple headstone is a carved cross above the words, “Audie L. Murphy, Texas, Major Infantry WWII, June 20, 1924-May 28, 1971, Medal of Honor,” followed by alpha listing of his other military awards. He had received 27 medals, plus five each from France and Belgium. A special walkway was constructed because there were so many visitors to his grave.

Who was Audie L. Murphy? His father was Emmett Berry Murphy, a Texas sharecropper, who deserted his family in 1936. His mother, Josie Bell Killian had 12 children, including two who died before adulthood. Audie was a sharpshooter, using his gun to kill rabbits, squirrels and birds to help feed the family. He worked for $1 a day picking cotton and plowing fields.

When WWII began, he tried to enlist but, because of his age, he was turned down. His older sister forged his age so he could be accepted into the service. However, he was baby-faced, stood only 5-foot-5-inches and weighed 110 pounds. The Marines, the Navy and paratroopers turned him down. Finally, the Army accepted him and after intense military training in early 1943, Murphy shipped out with the Third Army Infantry Division to Casablanca, Morocco. On July 10, 1943, they invaded Sicily where he killed two Italian officers, and was promoted to Corporal.

His Third Army Infantry Division invaded Italy, landing in Salermo, where he fought and was promoted to Sergeant. From there, the Third Army landed in Southern France. The fierce battle lasted seven weeks. His best friend was killed beside him. The entire Division had 4,500 casualties. Audie was wounded in the hip and spent 10 weeks in the hospital, before returning to his unit.

On January 26, 1945, in 2-feet of snow, his Army Infantry Division fought the Battle of Holtzwitle, France, where only 19 of 128 soldiers survived. Sergeant Audie Murphy climbed on a burning tank destroyer, used a .50 caliber machine gun on the enemy, while talking on a landline phone, calling in artillery fire. This lasted for an hour.

Murphy was wounded in the leg.

When asked why he stayed there shooting, he answered, “They were killing my friends.” For his heroism, he was given the Medal of Honor and taken to Paris. From there, on June 10, 1945, he was flown to San Antonio, Texas, and given a hero’s welcome. Audie Murphy was on the July 16, 1945 cover of LIFE magazine, the most popular magazine of its time.

Murphy wrote his war memoir, “To Hell and Back,” that became a bestseller in 1949. It was made into a movie in 1955, in which he starred. The poem, “The Crosses Grow on Anzio,” is in his book. He wrote the poem while trying to make a success of being an actor but was out of work, staying with fellow actor and good friend, Doug McClure. McClure made the comment he’d heard from a WWI veteran that “Hell is 6-feet deep,” which inspired Murphy to write the poem. He acted in 44 films, including many westerns, in his lifetime.

The Crosses Grow on Anzio

By Audie Murphy

Oh, gather ’round me, comrades;

and listen while I speak

Of a war, a war, a war

where Hell is 6-feet deep.

Along the shore, the cannons roar,

Oh, how can a soldier sleep?

The goings slow on Anzio

and Hell is 6-feet deep.

Audie dealt with sadness and personal guilt all his life saying that “there are other soldiers who should have gotten medals and never did, guys who were killed.”

His widow, Pamela Murphy, worked fulltime as a patient liaison at the Sepulveda, California VA Hospital for 35 years, until she was 87 years old. After Audie passed away, she lost their home and moved to an apartment in Canoga Park where she passed in her sleep at age 90 on April 8, 2010. True to his memory, Pamela always claimed her husband “was always my hero.”


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