The Story of Audie Murphy begins in North Texas, where he was born to poor cotton farmers, forced to drop out of school in the 5th grade, but despite those hardships he would eventually become one of the greatest soldiers our nation has ever seen.
Audie Murphy’s story is the subject of our Veterans Voices Special and it is delivered by our own Army veteran and Native Texan, Gary Ainsworth, as he remembers Americas real Captain America and embodiment of the American fighting spirit.
Audie Murphy’s bravery and heroism during World War II made him the most decorated soldier of the war and an American hero. But if you look at his childhood it’s not hard to understand why he was an exceptional soldier. To do that you have to travel northeast of Dallas, to Kingston, Texas and the farmland of Hunt County.
The childhood of Audie Murphy is a story of struggle, a story of loss and a story of abandonment. He was born to parents barely making their living as sharecroppers, working in the cotton fields of hunt county. When Audie was 14 his father, who frequently would vanish for days at a time, abandoned the family. Leaving a young Audie Murphy and his siblings under the care of their mother until a few years later pneumonia would take her, leaving the children orphaned.
Susan Lanning is the curator for the Audie Murphy & American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas. She says having someone like Audie coming from the tiny Texas community is as uncommon as he was incredible. “For those that don’t know, hunt county is a very tiny county, you know,” she says. “We only have like 80,000 people a little bit more, and they were a sharecropping family, and very, very poor.”
Dr. David Smith is a professor of military history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas and he authored the biography of Audie Murphy, “The Price of Valor.” He says no matter how hard life was for the young boy, Audie’s primary focus was always for those he cared about. “He had an older sister who was 14 years, and she was a great support to him,” Dr. Smith says. “But he felt very, very responsible for his younger siblings, especially three that had gone into an orphanage after his mother died.”
Susan Lanning says Audie’s skills with a rifle provided meat to feed the family, “He helped go hunting to get food for the dinner table. He helped looked after his younger brothers and sisters.”
Young Audie Murphy was a composite of his boyhood experiences; honing his naturally remarkable shooting skills; learning to judge distances to a target while hunting; and a strong sense of leadership and responsibility. All of these would be a foundation he would build his abilities as a soldier on in the coming years. Dr. Smith says the combination of everything in his life prior to world war two… Created the foundation of who he would become. “He was shaped by his boyhood, during the depression, he was shaped by the insecurity of life and counting, you know, he was shaped, but the fact that his father ran off, he was shaped by the fact that he had to look out for his younger siblings.”
On December seventh, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and bombed by the Japanese Navy, igniting the spark for the flame of the United States’ entry into World War II. Young Audie Murphy, only 16-years-old at the time, rushed to join the military and the fight in Europe. However, he was refused by each branch for being too short, too skinny and too young
“As soon as the war broke out, and America got involved. He was like, ‘that’s what I want to do.’”, Lanning says, “but he wasn’t old enough.”
Not one to quit easily and desperately wanting to serve in America’s military, Audie and his older sister created a fake birth certificate making him 17-years-old, and he tried again. But the Navy and Marine Corps both denied him because of his size, believing he was simply too small to be an adequate sailor or Marine. Audie’s last chance was the Army. “He managed to get in the army and finally took him in after the marines turned him down,” Lanning says.
Audie Murphy had achieved his dream of military service and did his basic training not far from home at Camp Wolters, Texas and more training at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland until finally deployment. “He was deployed to North Africa in a replacement battalion and he didn’t see any action in North Africa except guarding German prisoners, which he didn’t want to do,” Dr. Smith says. “He wanted to see the action and he finally did when he came ashore in Sicily.”
“The beach was pretty clear, but this was the first time he had seen a battlefield and he thought it was just incredible and bad. He said there were dead people all over the he’d never seen anything like it before.” Young Private Audie Murphy’s entry into the war was not what he wanted or expected, but over the course of the next two years, the name “Audie Murphy” would become well-known among every American soldier and citizen for heroism even Hollywood would think was unbelievable.