I’d like to tell you the story of Audie Murphy.
I had another post planned for today. But we were out running last-minute errands this afternoon (we leave to Zurich tomorrow!) and ended up driving through a neighboring village named Holtzwihr, which is where I learned about Audie Murphy. (I have gleaned additional information for this post from a Facebook group called “The Giant Killer.”)
Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II. He was born in Texas in 1925–one of twelve children. His father abandoned their family when Audie was young. In 1941, his mother died. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Audie tried to join the Army, the Marines, and the Navy. He was denied by all three branches for being underweight and underage (sound familiar?). His sister lied about his age on an affidavit and he was finally admitted to the Army in 1942.
After basic training, Audie’s military journey took him to Morocco, Algeria, and Italy. During this time he did many courageous things, was promoted many times, earned a Bronze Star, and was part of the group of Americans who helped to liberate Rome.
From the Giant Killer post: “In August of 1944 he participated in one of the first Allied invasions of Southern France. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in battle. He and his platoon were passing through a vineyard when they were ambushed by German machine gunfire. Murphy located a detached machine and turned the weapon on the Germans. He was able to kill two men and wound another. A few Germans deceptively waved their white flag and killed his friend when he went to accept their surrender. Murphy advanced on them by himself and he killed six, wounded two and took eleven soldiers prisoner.”
Over the next few months in France, he would earn two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart for additional acts of bravery.
Which brings us to Holtzwihr, which is where I found this sign today:
This is what it says:
“On this spot, on 26 January 1945 at about 2 pm, the Lieutenant Audie L Murphy, from the B company, 15th regiment, 3rd US Infantry division, held off an counterattack of the German army. The German attack with 6 Jagdpanther tanks and over 100 soldiers was launched from the village of Holtzwihr. The 2 destroyer tanks accompanying Murphy’s troupes were quickly put out of action. Murphy, who had sent his men to take cover, stayed in order to guide the US artillery over the phone. When the German soldiers were only a few meters away he climbed on the TD which was in flames and fired on the enemy with the machine gun thus forcing them to turn back. The Jadpanthers who no longer were supported by the infantry also turned back, so the German counterattack failed. For this heroic action Audie L Murphy was decorated with the Medal of Honor, the highest US military distinction.”
So let’s just recap. Audie sent his troops to safety, stayed behind alone to man the phone, then singlehandedly held off 6 tanks and 100 German soldiers by climbing onto a burning tank and shooting the crap out of them with one machine gun (while wounded and continuing to take fire).
Also, he was 19.
Here is a picture of the memorial at the location where all of this happened.
For a more detailed description of this event, I encourage you to read his Medal of Honor Citation at this link.
What Happened Next
Three days later Holtzwihr was liberated. Audie’s actions stopped the Germans long enough for reinforcements to arrive and push the Germans out of France, across the Rhine River, and back into Germany.
And I just think stories like this need to be told.
More stories about heroes: 25 Reflections: World War II.
I know his story well. My father, who grew up during the war, told us his story often. They made his story into a move, which is stared in. The move is called “To Hell and Back.” In this battel at the end, he was knee deep in the brass from the machine gun. After the war he was in a number of movies. The scars of the war were deep. After the war he slept with his pistol. He did not live to be an old man. He died taking a risk.
Thank you for this comment! I am so glad your father told you his story. I read that he experienced extreme PTSD, which, how could he not? Another heroic thing he did was advocate on behalf of the mental health of soldiers—encouraging the government to fund research. It would be very surreal to try and make a life after everything he went through as a young man. I read he died in a plane crash when he was about my age. So grateful for all he did. So sad that he paid such a heavy price.