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Remembering Veterans - Audie Murphy Actor and War Hero
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.
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