We know a few great stories about movie stars who put their careers on hold to heroically serve their country in wartime – Jimmy Stewart and Elvis Presley are among the most notables. But Audie Murphy was a little different. He served in the Armed Forces first, and his illustrious movie career followed.
Audie Murphy (Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Army)
When the U.S. entered World War II, Audie Murphy was just 16 years old – but he was already a skilled hunter who made almost every shot he took. And he was a patriot, enthusiastic about joining up to fight for his country. But the military doesn't bend age rules, and they couldn't enlist an underage soldier.
That didn't stop Murphy. When he turned 17, he headed down to the enlistment office and lied about his age. But as a young man who was small and underweight, he was rejected by branch after branch of the military. Finally, the U.S. Army took him on… and tried to send him to cooking school. Murphy insisted on combat training, and again he got his wish.
In less than three years, Audie Murphy, the underweight, underage enlistee, would become the most decorated soldier of World War II.
Over and over, he distinguished himself on the battlefield for his bravery and selflessness, fighting despite injuries and recurring bouts of malaria, and taking out entire units of enemy soldiers almost singlehandedly. He earned two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Medal of Honor, and many more.
When Murphy returned to the U.S. at the end of the war, he became an instant celebrity, thanks to Life magazine's cover photo of him, declaring him "Most Decorated Soldier." He was lured to Hollywood for a movie career… but initially, the inexperienced actor didn't strike box office gold. As his acting skill increased, his career ramped up, but he still managed to find the time to write an autobiography of his war experiences, To Hell and Back. The book was made into a movie, with Murphy starring as himself, and his cinematic legend was cemented.
Before his death on May 28, 1971, Murphy went on to star in dozens of movies, and he launched a successful songwriting career, with stars like Dean Martin and Porter Wagoner recording his compositions. He also helped fellow veterans by speaking out about PTSD, then a taboo subject despite its prevalence among returning soldiers.
On Memorial Day, we salute all soldiers, with a special tip of the hat to one of the greats, Audie Murphy.
Written by Linnea Crowther