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Remembering Veterans - Audie Murphy Actor and War Hero

Updated on May 22, 2011

He Played Himself in His Biggest Role

Each year on Veteran's Day many TV channels broadcast war movies intended to honor the exploits of our veterans.

Among those shown is the 1955 movie "To Hell and Back" staring Audie Murphy. Unlike most of the war movies that are shown that day, the hero in "To Hell and Back" is played by himself.

The role movie star Audie Murphy played in front of the cameras in 1955 was the same role that he played as a real combat soldier in North Africa, Italy and France a decade earlier.

The big difference was that the first time around the guns were real, there was no script and the ending was not known.

Audie Murphy in Uniform with Medals from World War II
Audie Murphy in Uniform with Medals from World War II | Source

The son of poor Texas cotton farmers with only a grade school education, Audie, like many young men of his generation, was anxious to defend his country.

After being rejected by the Marines and the Navy because of his size and youth, he finally convinced the Army to take him.

Despite his youth and lack of formal education, he quickly became an expert fighter and respected leader in his unit.

During his three years of combat he earned 33 medals and awards.

These awards included a Purple Heart, the Congressional Medal of Honor and numerous other American medals for bravery.

In addition to his American medals he was also awarded five medals from France and Belgium in gratitude for his help to them.

During this same period he rose in rank from Private to Sergeant and ended his military career with a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant.

Despite being a recognized hero after the war, Audie at first had to struggle to support himself with odd jobs. The skills which he had acquired during the war were not transferable to the civilian economy.

However, he got a break when actor James Cagney saw hiss picture on the cover of Life Magazine and invited Audie into his home. Cagney and others got Audie parts in some movies. Audie never claimed to be an actor, but his fame coupled with his easy manner and outgoing personality made him popular with the American public and he ended up having a successful career in movies and television.

Audie Murphy's career was cut short when, on a foggy Memorial Day in 1971, the private plane he was flying in crashed into the side of a mountain in Virginia killing all on board. However, his memory lives on the annals of history and in his movies which can still be seen on TV and DVD.

© 2006 Chuck Nugent


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    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      I remember reading some book about WWII where some veteran made a rather disparaging comment about Audie Murphy being a showoff. Even if he was, I think what he did in Hollywood was important. Even though war movies aren't usually very accurate, they get people like me intrigued to learn more about what really happened. I don't know if I would have ever voluntarily bothered to learn anything about WWII, without "To Hell and Back", "Patton", and "Tora! Tora! Tora!".

      Thank you for a Hub remembering someone who helped many remember his whole generation.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      While He was a mediocre actor he was still a true hero.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Kristine - thanks for the information. However, I checked the family forest link you included in your comment and the relationship between Audie Murphy and Sargent York was rather distant. Actually, most people in the United States or Canada who have an ancestor from the British Isles could probably discover a similar family relationship with one or both of these men.

      Thanks again for the comment and information.

    • profile image

      Kristine 7 years ago

      Here’s a Veterans’ Day question.

      According to the recorded history mapped out and networked in the Family Forest®, and summarized in this computer-generated Family Forest® relationship chart, both Sergeant Alvin York and Audie Murphy are....

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I read "To Hell and Back" when I was just out of high school.Most of us had the draft on our mind although I was a reservist. As I recall, I think he said he lied about his age to get in the Army at 15 years of age.

    • VickeyK profile image

      VickeyK 10 years ago

      Loved this hub--thanks for reminding us of this hero!

    • profile image

      rose 11 years ago

      r a comment this was a very thing to do for Audie he was one of kind he saved alot of amcania lives during the war he was walking where most would never has the guts to go god bless him

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 11 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thankyou. I remember watching as a kid on Saturday mornings in the western that he stared in for a while. Of course, I have seen "To Hell and Back" a number of times. Thanks a gain for the comment and glad you enjoyed the article.

    • profile image

      wajay_47 11 years ago

      Great hub. Audie was my childhood hero. Glad to see such a nice tribute to him.