Audie Leon Murphy was born on June 20, 1925, in Kingston, Hunt County, Texas; he was born into a large family of sharecroppers of Irish descent. He was the seventh of twelve children born to his parents, Emmett Berry Murphy and Josie Bell Killian Murphy. His father was not a steady influence and eventually left the family; his mother died of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941 when Audie was a teen. His three youngest siblings were placed by Hunt County in Boles Children’s Home. After World War II, Murphy purchased a home for his sister Corrine and her husband Poland Burns in Farmersville, Texas. His younger siblings shared the home briefly.
Murphy attended school until the fifth grade when he quit to pick cotton for $1.00 a day; he also worked at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and service station to help support his family. He was a skilled hunter and provided small game to feed the family. The death of his mother affected him greatly for the rest of his life. He was a “loner with mood swings and an explosive temper.”
Wanting to be a soldier for most of his life, Murphy tried to enlist after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was turned down by the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps for being underweight and underage. Murphy enlisted the help of his older sister, Corrine Burns, who was also his nearest living kin; she signed a notarized a document certifying he was born in 1924.
With this falsified document, Murphy me the age qualification and accepted by the Army on June 30, 1942. All of his military records show a wrong date for his birth, but his California driver’s license indicates he was born in 1925. He attended basic training at Camp Wolters where he earned the Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar and Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar. He attended advanced infantry training at Fort Meade.
Murphy “first saw action in the Allied Invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Anzio.” He was “part of the liberation of Rome and invasion of southern France” in 1944. “Murphy fought at Montelimar, and led his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October. He became “one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, receiving every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. At the age of 19, Murphy received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.”
Hollywood heard of Murphy’s heroism and put him in movies for 21 years. “He played himself in the 1955 autobiographical To Hell and Back based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name.” He played mostly westerns, made guest appearances on celebrity television shows, and starred in the Whispering Smith series. He “was a fairly accomplished songwriter, and bred quarter horses in California and Arizona, becoming a regular participant in horse racing.”
On January 8, 1949, Murphy married Wanda Hendrix, an actress; their divorce was final on April 19, 1951. Four days later he married Pamela Archer, a former airline stewardess, and the couple became parents of two sons: Terry Michael Murphy (1952) and James Shannon “Skipper” Murphy (1954).
Murphy suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before the term was coined. He “slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow and looked for solace in addictive sleeping pills." In the last few years of his life he was plagued by money problems due to his gambling habit, but he refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he did not want to set a bad example. Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia [on May 28, 1971], shortly before his 46th birthday.” He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on June 7, 1971. He previously requested that his headstone “remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier” rather than one decorated in gold leaf as a Medal of Honor recipient. His grave site is “the cemetery’s second most-visited grave site, after that of President John F. Kennedy.”
Pamela Murphy and her two sons moved into a small apartment and worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles as a clerk for 35 years. “In 1975, a court awarded Murphy’s widow and two children $2.5 million in damages because of the accident.”