Monday, May 31, 2010

Badasses Through History: Audie Murphy

It's Memorial Day, so why not honor a soldier. Specifically, today we honor quite possibly the single greatest soldier in American history.

From Kingston, Texas, Audie Murphy, a veteran of World War 2's European theater, has a list of military decorations that need only be read to get the idea across, and it should be noted that this is a partial list:

*Medal of Honor
*Distinguished Service Cross
*Silver Star (won twice)
*Legion of Merit
*Bronze Star (won twice)
*Purple Heart ('won' three times)
*Combat Infantryman Badge
*Presidential Unit Citation (won twice)
*U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal
*French Legion of Honor
*French Croix de guerre (won twice)
*Belgian Croix de guerre
*Marksman Badge on rifle bar
*Expert Badge on bayonet bar

Did I mention that Murphy was fighting off malaria basically the entire time? And that Murphy, in case you're not counting, wound up with a complete set of American military medals for valor? Seriously. They awarded him everything they had, 33 American medals in all, to go with the five French and one Belgian.

And he had to lie to say he was of age to serve, take an Army post after the Marines, Navy and paratroopers rejected him for being too small, and had to fight off an assignment to baker's school after passing out during training- and just having that kind of face- just to get the opportunity.

Let's take the Distinguished Service Cross first. On August 15, 1944, Murphy's division made an amphibious landing in southern France. After a firefight, a German soldier walked forward carrying a white flag. Then the German soldier rescinded the white flag and shot Murphy's friend, Lattie Tipton. This was not a good idea. Murphy went nuts, grabbing a German machine gun and, along with the use of grenades, proceeded to lay waste to every German in the vicinity, spread across several positions.

As for the Medal of Honor, usually one need only read the citation, and here it is.

on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position 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. It's crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to water. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant 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 single-handed 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 personally killed or wounded about 50.

Lieutenant 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.

And remember: this was while he had malaria.

Murphy died in a plane crash in 1971; not only is he buried at Arlington, but his gravesite is the second-most visited in the cemetery, behind only John F. Kennedy. It contains no special adornments- which Murphy would have been entitled to; Medal of Honor winners normally are given gold leaf on their tombstones- as Murphy wished to have a gravestone similar to that of an ordinary soldier.

It wasn't the first time he had downplayed himself. This is a man who, in the movie made about his service, To Hell And Back (in which he played himself), asked that his actual, real-life deeds be toned down for the movie because they would not be believable to a movie audience. He also would have preferred not to play himself; he thought it egotistical.

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