By Austin Wells
The Audie Murphy Memorial Park — an unassuming little plot of land just off of US 69 N past the 30-miles-per-hour speed limit sign in Celeste — is pretty easy to miss. But according to Charles “Curly” Combs, that does not seem to stop tourists from visiting it year in and year out.
“I think it’s probably the most photographed spot in Hunt County,” he said.
Curly, a retired war veteran and 17-year resident of Celeste, volunteered to help maintain the park after moving into the small home just across the street from it in 1996.
“From the dining room window I can watch all the out-of-state cars pull up and take pictures,” Curly said. “There’s more of them than there are local visitors.”
The park is dedicated to local war hero Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in the history of the United States military who served three years during World War II.
Curly said that he maintains the park in honor of his childhood hero.
“I met Audie Murphy for the first time back in 1945, when I got to shake his hand,” he said. “He seemed self-assured; seemed like he knew what he was doing.
“A lot of people think he was a smart aleck, but he really wasn’t. He was really down-to-earth.”
But Curly is not attributing Murphy as his inspiration to join the Navy in 1950, leaving behind his home in Blue Ridge, Texas.
“I didn’t want to pick cotton anymore,” he said. “But I didn’t have a job and it was a living. Nobody really influenced me one way or the other.
“I needed some place to go and something to do, so I joined the Navy.”
Curly spent four years in active service, a duty which saw him shipped off to Korea and back four times. He then spent four years in the reserves before retiring.
He said that the one thing he liked the most about being in the Navy was getting to see different parts of the world.
“I enjoyed seeing different places the most,” Curly said. “I saw practically all of the Pacific, from Honolulu to Japan to Guam.”
Not having much to do in his retirement, Curly decided to volunteer his time doing all the gardening chores for the park. An avid gardener, Curly uses his talents for his duties around the park, including mowing the lawn, watering the flowers, and planting.
“I also work on the flags,” he said. “We had other people working on them but they got called out on a job, and it’s all volunteer work here.”
Currently, the park requires two of its three flagpoles to be straightened. Curly said he expects new flagpoles to be installed within a month or so.
Curly also built the small gazebo near the park’s back end, complete with a stone bench underneath.
“The FFA from Celeste High School put in the bench,” he said. “It was donated by the insurance company in Celeste, and then the FFA boys came and put it under here.”
He added that back when the park first got started by a group of women from a local gardening club, the plot of land was barren and had no trees or much plant life at all. Thanks to Curly, visitors can now enjoy more greenery while reading about the life of Audie Murphy on the historical marker located at the park’s front.
Looking back on his childhood, Curly reflected that one of the reasons Murphy became his idol was the publicity he received while he was in service.
“I was also at an impressionable age, around 11 or 12 at the time,” he said. “But probably the main reason was because he was more or less our hometown hero.”