28 May 1971. Almost, 39 years ago today, War Hero, Actor, American Legend, and Victim of PTSD Audie Murphy died in a plane crash.
Sure, you have heard the rumors. You have heard people tell stories about Audie Murphy in a negative light, even talk down about him. Stories about Audie Murphy the Alcoholic, Audie Murphy the Womanizer, or even Audie Murphy the Wife Beater. I say forget the haters. These people have no understanding and no perspective.
Today I want to honor him. This is my version of the story. A story of a veteran, a brother, and one BAMF.
In his 27 months of combat, Audie Murphy was wounded three times, was credited with killing over 240 enemy Soldiers, quickly rose from an enlisted Private to receive a battlefield commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, and earned 33 awards and decorations to include the Medal of Honor, all before he was 21 years old.
Impressive? At what cost? Read what one article said of him, “Although he was wounded three times in battle, his deepest scars weren’t physical. He suffered from terrible nightmares, slept with the lights on and a gun under his pillow, gambled heavily, and found little to interest him after his high-stakes existence on the front lines.”
Those words sound almost familiar and could describe half a dozen men I know today. Let’s see his award citations to understand the type of stuff that he went through:
Citation for Silver Star: First Lieutenant (then Staff Sergeant), Infantry, Company “B”, 15th Infantry Regiment. For gallantry in action. On the morning of 2 October 1944, near CLEURIE QUARRY, France, First Lieutenant MURPHY inched his way over rugged, uneven terrain, toward an enemy machine gun which had surprised a group of officers on reconnaissance. Getting to within fifteen yards of the German gun, First Lieutenant MURPHY stood up and, disregarding a burst of enemy fire delivered at such close range and which miraculously missed him, flung two hand grenades into the machine gun position, killing four Germans, wounding three more and destroying the position.
He described his actions in earning the Distinguished Service Cross as happening in a fit of rage following the death of his closest friend, Lattie Tipton. He gave the award to Tipton’s daughter.
Citation for Distinguished Service Cross: Second Lieutenant, (then Staff Sergeant), Infantry, Company “B”, 15th Infantry Regiment, for extraordinary heroism in action. Landing near Ramatuelle, France, with the first wave of the assault infantry, at 0800 hours, 15 August until halted by intense machine gun and small arms fire from a boulder-covered hill to his front. Leaving his men in a covered position, he dashed forty yards through withering fire to a draw. Using this defiladed route, he went back toward the beaches, found a light machine gun squad and, returning up the rocky hill, placed the machine gun in position seventy-five yards in advance of his platoon. In the duel which ensued, Lieutenant Murphy silenced the enemy weapon, killed two of the crew and wounded a third. As he proceeded further up the draw, two Germans advanced toward him. Quickly destroying both of them, he dashed up the draw alone toward the enemy strongpoint, disregarding bullets which glanced off the rocks around him and hand grenades which exploded fifteen yards away. Closing in, he wounded two Germans with carbine fire, killed two more in a fierce, brief fire-fight, and forced the remaining five to surrender. His extraordinary heroism resulted in the capture of a fiercely contested enemy-held hill and the annihilation or capture of the entire enemy garrison.
Citation for Medal of Honor: Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. 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.
In later years, Audie suffered from what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was plagued by insomnia and depression. His first wife, Wanda Hendrix, often talked of his struggle with this condition, even claiming that he had held her at gunpoint once. During the mid-60’s he became dependent for a time on doctor prescribed sleeping pills called Placidyl. When he recognized that he had become addicted to this prescription drug, he locked himself in a motel room, stopped taking the sleeping pills and went through withdrawal symptoms for a week. One of the lowest points in his life came in 1970 when he was charged with assault after he beat up a man and fired a shot at him during an argument. He was eventually acquitted, but the negative publicity generated by the case proved tough to live down. (He and a friend had become engaged in an argument with the man, after the man abused a dog.)
Adultery and Womanizing? Now, I don’t think I would question the fidelity or virtue of a man in uniform, past or present…So, Let’s look at Audie Murphy the Actor. Audie Murphy starred in over 44 films, and in 1950 was voted the Most Popular Western Actor in America by the Motion Picture Exhibitors. With that in mind, I just want to say; Tiger Woods, David Letterman, Jesse James, and Kobe Bryant. What about his spouse abuse? You need to recognize not only the fact that he suffered from PTSD without the help available today, but the time period in which Audie Murphy lived. Spouse abuse was not recognized as an issue in the 50’s. The women’s movement did not pick up until the late 60’s, and modern attention to domestic violence did not begin until the 70’s. Our own father’s and grandfather’s might have even been guilty of what we would consider spouse abuse today. The husband was considered the provider and his decision was law. I do not condone any form of spouse abuse, but we should take the time period into perspective before we pass judgments.
Always an advocate for the needs of veterans, Audie broke the taboo about discussing war related mental problems after this experience. In a effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Audie Murphy spoke-out candidly about his personal problems with PTSD, then known as “Battle Fatigue”. He publicly called for United States government to give more consideration and study to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to address PTSD and other mental health problems of returning war vets.
Ahead of his time, Audie broke a stigma that Veterans today are still fighting with. Without his example Iraqi war Veterans, Brig. General Gary S. Patton and Gen. Carter Ham may not have come forward with their own battles. Both Generals have sought counseling for the emotional trauma of their time in the Iraq. By going public and speaking out about their own battles with PTSD, Patton and Ham hope they can remove the stigma that many soldiers say keeps them from getting help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
After his death, Audie’s widow Pam Murphy continued to care for Veteran’s for another 35 years.
So, What is my point? Basically Audie Murphy is one BAMF, a Chuck Norris Prototype if you will. If Audie Murphy, the most decorated war hero of our time suffered from PTSD and spoke publicly about it…What shame should we have?
By Bryan H. Reed, Army Veteran OIF 07-09
Much of the information in this post was copied directly from the following sources: