Audie Leon Murphy, war hero, Hollywood actor, and songwriter, was born near Kingston, Texas, on June 20, 1924. He was one of twelve children of Emmett Berry and Josie Bell (Killian) Murphy.
At the time of his death Murphy was the most decorated combat soldier of World War II. He enlisted in the United States Army at Greenville, Texas, in June 1942, around the date of his eighteenth birthday. After basic infantry training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and advanced training at Fort Meade, Maryland, he was assigned to North Africa as a private in Company B, Fifteenth Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division. He later served as the commander of Company B. During his World War II career Murphy received thirty-three awards, citations, and decorations and won a battlefield promotion to second lieutenant. He received every medal that the United States gives for valor, two of them twice. On January 26, 1945, near Holtzwhir, France, he was personally credited with killing or wounding about fifty Germans and stopping an attack by enemy tanks. For this act of bravery he received the Medal of Honor. After the war's end, Murphy also received several French and Belgian decorations for valor. He fought in eight campaigns in Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany; participated in two amphibious assaults, in Sicily and southern France; and was wounded three times. He was discharged from the United States Army at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, on August 17, 1945.
He subsequently pursued several careers—as a successful movie actor, a lyric writer for country and western songs, an author, and a poet. He appeared in forty-five motion pictures and starred in thirty-nine of them. His best-known films were The Red Badge of Courage (1951), To Hell and Back (1955), Night Passage (1957, with James Stewart), and The Unforgiven (1960, with Burt Lancaster). In 1955 Murphy was selected one of the year's most popular Western stars by United States theater owners, and in 1957 he was chosen as the most popular Western actor by British audiences.
He wrote the lyrics for fourteen songs and collaborated on three instrumentals. Two of his songs, "Shutters and Boards" and "When the Wind Blows in Chicago," were recorded by such top-ranking vocalists as Dean Martin, Porter Wagoner, and Eddy Arnold. Both were in the Top 10 songs on the Hit Parade for several weeks. With David McClure, Murphy wrote the best-selling book To Hell and Back (1949), the story of his World War II exploits, which went through nine printings and was made into a successful motion picture by the same name, starring Murphy.
In 1950 Murphy joined the Thirty-sixth Division of the Texas National Guard as a captain, hoping to fight in the Korean War. The division, however, was not called to active duty. Murphy remained with the Thirty-sixth "T-patchers" for several more years, eventually attaining the rank of major. In 1957 he was assigned to inactive status. He transferred to the United States Army Reserve in 1966, where he remained until his death.
Murphy married movie actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949, and their marriage ended in divorce two years later. In 1951 he married Pamela Archer, a stewardess for Braniff Airlines (see BRANIFF, THOMAS ELMER); they had two sons. Murphy was killed in an airplane crash on May 28, 1971, near Christiansburg, Virginia, and his body was not found until three days later. Two funeral services were held for him on June 4, 1971, one at Hollywood Hills, California, and the other at the First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas. Murphy was buried with full military honors near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery on June 7. An Audie L. Murphy Memorial is located at Farmersville, a statue of Murphy stands at the Veterans Hospital in San Antonio, and a Murphy collection is housed at the Texas Heritage Museum at Hill College. A new veterans hospital in San Antonio was dedicated in 1973 and named the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in his honor.
On June 20, 1996, the Texas Legislature declared his birthday as "Audie Murphy Day." That same year Murphy was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Each year the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas, hosts the Audie Murphy Days Celebration. The museum houses a large collection of Audie Murphy memorabilia. Audie Murphy was posthumously awarded Texas's supreme military honor, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, on October 29, 2013, by Governor Rick Perry in Murphy's hometown of Farmersville, Texas. The award was presented to his sole surviving sibling Nadine Murphy-Lockey.