Sixty years ago during World War II, Audie Murphy won the Congressional Medal of Honor for a remarkable feat of bravery on the battlefield.
Audie Murphy, a poor, pint-sized, grammar-school dropout from Hunt County, was awarded every U.S. medal for valor (two of them twice) that a soldier can win, plus France’s highest award for valor, the Crois de Guerre.
Murphy was a skilled, tough soldier who survived major campaigns from Sicily to Germany. John Huston, movie director, who knew Murphy in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s, called him a “gentle little killer.”
Don Graham, a University of Texas English professor who researched the life of Murphy for a book, “No Name on the Bullet: A Biography of Audie Murphy,” said about his fighting abilities that if he were alive today he would make Rambo look like a wimp.
He won the nation’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, during the bitter fight of the Comar Pocket on Jan. 26, 1945, near the Holtzwihr Woods in France. Murphy’s command had been reduced to fewer than 20 men when the Germans launched an attack against his position, hurling 200 men and six heavy tanks. As the attack began, Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepare a position inside the tree line while he remained in the forward position to direct artillery by telephone. As the German infantry and tanks approached, Murphy climbed on top of a burning tank destroyer (that was in danger of blowing up) and used the .50 caliber machine gun against the oncoming enemy soldiers.
Finally, the enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. With the enemy in retreat, Murphy left the burning tanks, which minutes later exploded, the force of the blast blowing off the turret near where he had stood. Not through for the day, Murphy organized a counterattack.
The Medal of Honor citation noted, “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.”
Murphy was only 20 when he won the medal.
President Harry Truman approved the award on April 23, 1945, and the medal was presented to Audie on June 2, 1945.
Murphy came home to a hero’s welcome, his picture on the cover of Life magazine and large homecoming parades in San Antonio, Farmersville and Greenville.
After the war, Murphy went onto a dazzling career in the movies with 40 films to his credit, his career in Hollywood outlasting that of most actors of the time.
Murphy died at age 46 in a plane crash in Virginia on Memorial Day in 1971, a true American hero.
Dr. Jim Conrad has retired as Emeritus Archivist from Texas A&M University– Commerce. This article is a reprint from January 16, 1995.