On May 28, 1971, the U.S. lost one of the greatest soldiers it's ever known. He just so happened to be a movie star, too.
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 to name just two. But Audie Murphy was a little different. He first served in the Armed Forces, and then began his illustrious movie career.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Murphy was just 16 – 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… and tried to send him to cooking school. Murphy insisted on combat training, and again he got his wish.
In less than three years, 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 honors.
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 declaring him "Most Decorated Soldier" – and was lured to Hollywood for a movie career. The inexperienced actor didn't strike box office gold right away, but his acting skill increased over time.When his autobiography, To Hell and Back, was made into a movie – with Murphy starring as himself – his cinematic legend was cemented.
Murphy went on to star in dozens of movies, and also launched a successful songwriting career, with such stars as Dean Martin and Porter Wagoner recording his compositions. He also helped fellow veterans by speaking out about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), then a taboo subject despite its prevalence among returning soldiers.
When Murphy died in a plane crash May 28, 1971, the 45-year-old left behind two teenage sons and wife, Pamela. She would go on to honor her husband’s memory by devoting 35 years to helping veterans at the VA hospital in Los Angeles. As for Murphy, he was proud of his military service and accomplishments, but he didn't want any special treatment. Before his death, he requested that his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery be plain and simple – like that of any other soldier. We're always proud to salute our nation's service members, and that goes double for super soldier Audie Murphy.
Written by Linnea Crowther