Audie Murphy is remembered by fans as ‘what everyone should be’ | Local News
When “The End” flashed across the screen at the end of the film, the audience erupted in applause.
The approximately 75 customers of the Texan Theater had just seen their hero, Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of the Second World War, save the day again.
In the audience, Larry Winters, 79, had previously used his handkerchief to wipe away tears at least once during the screening of To hell and back, the 1955 film adaptation of Murphy’s War Memoirs.
“Every time I see this movie, I rock it,” he said.
Sitting nearby, Betty Tate, 82, said Murphy – an uneducated Texas farm boy who later became a movie star and national icon – is “what everyone should be.”
For men and women of a certain age, Murphy means a lot of things, most of them good. Most of them are gone. But in a world where a boy from Texas can come back from a hellish war and still spark inspirational tears 50 years after his death, the name still strikes a chord in a corner of the American psyche.
Calling his autobiography and the film that followed made it a “big story,” Tate said the Murphy’s legend is about something that no longer exists – “What America once was. Honor, patriotism, altruism. We no longer have this America. Now we have hatred, division, fear.
She and dozens of others gathered in Greenville – where Murphy, who was born nearby, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 – to pay tribute to a Texan who survived the carnage of combat and reached the greatest peaks of fame, only to stumble when the guns fell silent and the director shouted, “Cut”.
Last weekend was the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Audie Murphy-American Cotton Museum in Greenville and the 50th anniversary of Murphy’s death. Now seemed like a good time to think about what Murphy meant, said Charlotte Thompson, a longtime fan, who is almost 70 years old and who made the long trip from Maryland to Texas to attend the celebration.
“He defined what America was like back then,” she said of Murphy. Calling today’s youth the ‘me, me, me’ generation, she wonders how many of them would willingly sacrifice as much as Murphy and his generation did, both on the war front and on the the home front.
“He was just an amazing man,” said Thompson, who carried an Audie Murphy tote bag, an Audie Murphy face shield and an Audie Murphy iPhone case. At home, she says, she has an Audie Murphy blanket and an Audie Murphy shower curtain.
“He deserves to be remembered,” she said.
But as time goes on and World War II and its heroes fade away, will future generations care about a man whose actions spoke to America in a way that seemed distant, almost alien?
Winters is not so sure. “The sad thing is that his legacy is fading,” he said. “These kids today don’t know who Audie Murphy was.”
Murphy’s historian Mike West, 72, doesn’t disagree. “I have a feeling that apart from a few die-hard historians it will become a footnote,” he said.
To hell with it, but not back
Lightweight, sickly, and showing no particular inclination to do anything special, the 5-foot-5 Murphy – an elementary school dropout – has joined the ranks of young Americans keen to defeat the Axis Powers once. that America entered World War II.
It was what we expected, what we needed.
Under near constant fire in Europe, Murphy, an infantryman, quickly became adept at three things: lead, survive and kill. He was still leading attacks, shooting down German snipers, throwing grenades and taking machine gun nests. His military career – and the film version of his life – ended with him aiming a machine gun at a burning tank destroyer and slaughtering countless advancing German soldiers.
This act earned him the Medal of Honor and, it seems for a moment, immortality.
He started the war as a soldier, ended it as a lieutenant. By the age of 20, he had earned all of the military honors and medals the US military had to offer. His memoir, first published in 1949, remains one of the most realistic and honest printed representations of combat. Murphy skillfully balanced long passages of concrete dialogue between soldiers with precise and almost clinically cool descriptions of the battle and its emotional, physical, and mental consequences.
It is a book full of courage, blood and vomit mixed with humor, hope and courage – written by a man who, in the last pages of the book, makes it clear that he has come to trust to a clean, loaded gun more than to any friend or lover.
Hollywood, captivated by its image and fame, called. A few months after the book’s publication, Murphy made his first Western film, The Texas Child, a aptly titled B-frame in which Murphy played Billy the Kid as a crazy kill misfit.
In less than a decade, he appeared in about twenty films, including prestigious duds like that of John Huston. The red badge of courage (1951) and Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1958 adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American.
But it was the bread and butter westerns he was best known for, movies like Tumbleweed (1953), Get out of Diablo (1954), Night passage (1957) and the cult classic No name on the ball (1959).
It was on the big screen that some attending the Greenville ceremony first met Murphy, and many agree. No name on the ball was his best western because he played himself. Not Audie Murphy, military hero, but a hired gunman with a job to do: kill.
“Audie Murphy’s film par excellence,” West said of the film.
Incredibly, despite being an icon, a hero and a star at the same time, Murphy’s life has deteriorated as it seems that his career, or at least his life, should continue to rise. He continued to make films, but most of them were not good. He wrote songs and poetry about love, life and death. He battled PTSD through it all, using a real handgun to shoot imaginary German soldiers who attacked him in his nightmares.
By the end of the 1960s he was broke, destitute, a man trying to maintain himself in a world that no longer saw war as something noble, something to be won with dignity. The futility and unwavering loss of life in the Vietnam War, all played out on the evening news, made Murphy a relic of a long lost era.
Even though he was in his forties, on the wrong side of the generation gap, Murphy understood the trauma and confusion that war brought to an America that adjusted to change even as it clung to long-held values of the past.
In a July 1968 speech at the Alabama War Memorial, Murphy – who then looked like an aging businessman rather than a movie star – spoke of the need to hear the worried voices of the younger generation and answer their tough questions about the war.
“If we give them a better world than the one we have been given, I know they won’t let us down,” he said.
Death did not scare him. “All men are born to die, and if one man has to circle the earth a few times earlier than the other … what has he really lost?” he said in that 1968 speech.
A distant hero in NM
Although Murphy played Billy the Kid, his actual ties to New Mexico were tenuous at best. He’s never made a movie in the state. Oddly enough, a few days before his death in May 1971, he traveled to the Clovis area to discuss opening a branch of a plastics factory he was involved in.
By this time Murphy, who had also become a high-stakes player with a tendency to lose on the circuits and at the poker table, had become more of a businessman than an artist, striving to find a way to stay afloat financially.
Still, many military veterans in the Santa Fe area have fond memories of Murphy. Gilbert Romero, US Army and Vietnam War veteran, Santa Fe-based Foreign War Veterans Station Commander, said Murphy was “one of our best heroes.” He didn’t go to war to win medals, but he won them all.
Romero, who admired Murphy as both a soldier and movie star, plans to mention Murphy during the Memorial Day celebration scheduled for Monday.
“He represented America with the highest honors,” he said of Murphy. “He was a patriot.”
Longtime Santa Fe schoolteacher and historian Kermit Hill, who is working with others to put together a veterans legacy project that will include poems and other writings by veterans in the trenches, said he thought that over time more and more people would forget. Murphy’s Achievements.
“I think today if you were to go out there and ask a few thousand Americans to name a great WWII hero who became a movie star, I would say a very high percentage would say John Wayne, which is absurd because he was not used. in the military, ”Hill said.
“As far as I’m concerned, Audie Murphy is a true American hero. But that’s a sad commentary on how we approach this question of the heroes and veterans we forget.
Having survived multiple confrontations with danger during World War II, one would think that Murphy – who married twice, divorced once, and had two sons – would have died a peaceful death.
No. Murphy was on a business trip when a private plane he was in crashed in the rain in a hilly area of Virginia on May 28, 1971. He was 45 years old.
It was a mountain, not the German army, that claimed the life of Audie Murphy.
“We don’t want to think of heroes dying this way, but they do,” West said.
Back in Greenville, Winters finds Murphy’s death ironic.
“Why did this guy go through what he went through and die like he did?” He asked. “It puzzles you.”
He said he “hopes” that Murphy will continue to be honored by future generations.
If a meeting with a waiter at a Red Lobster restaurant in Greenville during Audie Murphy’s celebration is any indication, that sense of hope may be in vain.
“Do you know who Audie Murphy is?” the man, who appeared to be in his twenties, was questioned.
“Audie Murphy? he has answered. “No. But I know who Eddie Murphy is.