Audie Murphy: The Most Decorated Soldier In US History

Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Audie Murphy was one of the most famous faces of both the US Army and Hollywood. He valiantly served overseas throughout the Second World War, becoming the most decorated soldier in American history. He followed up his service with a successful career on the big screen, starring in a number of highly-rated films, including one about his own exploits.

The following are nine facts about the actor and veteran you might not have known.

He was rejected from the US Navy and Marine Corps

Bill Mauldin and Audie Murphy as Tom Wilson and Henry Fleming in 'The Red Badge of Courage'
The Red Badge of Courage, 1951. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Audie Murphy was driven to enlist in the US military. He tried to join the Marine Corps, Navy and Army, but was denied by all three due to his being underweight and underage.

Undeterred, Murphy enlisted the help of his sister to falsify documents to make it appear as though he was older than he actually was. He tried, once again, to join the US Army and this time was accepted.

Murphy was sent to Camp Wolters, Texas for Basic Training, where he earned his Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar and Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar. After this, he underwent Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Audie Murphy single-handedly held off a company of German troops

Alexander Patch placing the Medal of Honor around Audie Murphy's neck
Gen. Alexander Patch presenting Audie Murphy with the Medal of Honor, 1945. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

In February 1943, Audie Murphy was deployed to the Mediterranean, and after seeing notable action there was transferred to the European Theater. It was there that he would experience the majority of his wartime service. One notable incident, in particular, resulted in him being presented with the Medal of Honor.

In January 1945, Murphy was stationed in the Colmar Pocket with his platoon. He and the 3rd Infantry Division were later moved to Holtzwihr, where they encountered a German counterattack. Murphy was made commander of Company B, and, despite being injured, put the wellbeing of his men over his own.

After the Germans set an M10 tank destroyer ablaze, Murphy ordered his men to retreat to the woods, away from the enemy fire. Alone, with just his M1 Carbine and a radio to direct artillery fire, he mounted the armored vehicle and began firing its .50-caliber machine gun at the advancing troops. He did this for an hour, inflicting 50 casualties.

Murphy himself suffered yet another injury to one of his legs. Despite being wounded, he returned to his men and led a full-man charge against the Germans. Speaking about Murphy’s bravery, Pvt. Charles Owen recalled, “He saved our lives. If he hadn’t done what he did, the Germans would have annihilated us.”

The US Army changed how he viewed his name

Portrait of Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy, 1950s. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

While he was growing up, Audie Murphy hated his first name. As such, he often went by his middle name, Leon. It had been given to him by one of his older sisters, who had no idea of its meaning in Latin: “lion.” It was a rather fitting name, considering all he achieved during World War II.

Only when he entered the US Army did Murphy begin to appreciate his first name. In the service, “Leon” was considered a country name, which prompted him to go by either “Audie” or “Murph” for the remainder of his life.

Awarded every US military combat award for valor – and then some

Portrait of Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy with his military decorations. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Audie Murphy is known for being the most decorated soldier in American history. This isn’t a symbolic title, either – he actually earned all the honors bestowed upon him.

Along with the Medal of Honor, Murphy was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with “V” Device, the Purple Heart with two bronze oak leaf clusters, the Presidential Unit Citation with First Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal and the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.

He was also the recipient of a number of campaign medals – the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal – and several badges, including the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar and the Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar.

That’s not all… Those are only the awards presented to him by the US military!

Murphy also received decorations from the French and Belgians. These included the French Legion of Honor – Grade of Chevalier (Knight), the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Medal of a Liberated France, the Belgian Croix de Guerre with 1940 Palm and the French Fourragère in Colors of the Croix de Guerre.

Audie Murphy suffered from battle fatigue for the rest of his life

Audie Murphy as Capt. Bruce Coburn in '40 Guns to Apache Pass'
40 Guns to Apache Pass, 1967. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

While known back in the day as “battle fatigue,” Audie Murphy suffered from what today we’d call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his WWII service. After he returned home, he began to suffer from insomnia and depression, and needed to find a solution. He was prescribed Placidyl, a strong sedative, from a doctor and unknowingly became addicted to it. When he realized the grip the drug had on him, Murphy locked himself in a motel room, without any pills, and spent a week detoxing.

Unlike many celebrities and veterans of his time, Murphy became an advocate for mental health, particularly in regards to retired servicemen returning home from Korea and Vietnam. He spoke of his own experiences in his advocacy, and even pushed the US government to conduct better research into the toll combat has on the human brain.

He wanted to make a movie about Desmond Doss’ military service

Harry Truman placing the Medal of Honor around Desmond Doss' neck
President Harry Truman presenting Desmond Doss with the Medal of Honor, 1945. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

There was once a time Audie Murphy wanted to make a film about another Medal of Honor recipient, Desmond Doss. Awarded the decoration for his actions at Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss risked his life to treat his injured comrades, even though it meant exposing himself to unrelenting enemy fire. His efforts saved the lives of 75 men.

Hal B. Wallis, the producer of Casablanca (1942), tried to use Murphy to convince Doss to sell his story to Hollywood. However, the MoH recipient didn’t consider himself a hero, nor did he want “his character being impugned or compromised,” so he turned down the offer. It wasn’t until the release of Hacksaw Ridge in 2016 that Doss’ bravery made it to the big screen.

Audie Murphy portrayed himself in To Hell and Back (1955)

Audie Murphy as himself in 'To Hell and Back'
To Hell and Back, 1955. (Photo Credit: bigpix / MovieStillsDB)

It’s rare that someone gets a film made about their life, let alone that they get to star as themselves in it. Audie Murphy is one of the few who did, portraying himself in the 1955 movie, To Hell and Back, based on the 1949 autobiography ghostwritten by his friend, David McClure.

To Hell and Back covers Murphy’s service during the Second World War, and stars the likes of Jack Kelly, Marshall Thompson, Charles Drake, Gregg Palmer and Paul Picerni, among a host of other notable names. It was released on the anniversary of his discharge from the US Army, and received generally positive reviews.

Despite being poor, there were still products he wouldn’t promote

Portrait of Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy, 1950. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

In the last few years of his life, Audie Murphy struggled financially. He lost several hundred thousand dollars in an Algerian oil deal, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had come after him for unpaid taxes.

While the majority of actors would have accepted any job that came their way, he refused to go against his morals. Murphy was offered a number of cigarette and alcohol commercials, but turned down each one, as he didn’t want to set a bad example for his young fans.

Audie Murphy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Rows of gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery
Audie Murphy’s gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Getty Images)

While traveling to a business deal on May 28, 1971, Audie Murphy was killed when the private plane he was in crashed into the side of a mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. Given his prior military service, he was granted a plot in Arlington National Cemetery, where he was buried with full military honors on June 7.

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Given his status, Murphy’s gravestone became a high-traffic area, becoming the second-most visited at Arlington, after that of President John F. Kennedy. The amount of visitors prompted the constructed of a flagstone walkway, and those wishing to visit the grave can find it in Section 46, across from the Memorial Amphitheater.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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