Audie Leon Murphy (June 20, 1925 – May 28, 1971) was one of the most famous and decorated American combat soldiers of World War II. He was awarded every U.S. military award for valor available from the U.S. Army, and was also decorated by France and Belgium. He served in the Mediterranean and European Theater of Operations. He was presented the Medal of Honor for his defensive actions against German troops on January 26, 1945, at the Colmar Pocket near Holtzwihr, France. During an hour-long siege, he stood alone on a burning tank destroyer firing a machine gun at attacking German soldiers and tanks. Wounded and out of ammunition, Murphy climbed off the tank, refused medical attention, and led his men on a successful counter assault.
He was born into a large sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas, and his skill with a hunting rifle was a necessity for feeding the family. His father abandoned the family, and his mother died when he was a teenager. Murphy dropped out of school in fifth grade to pick cotton and find other work to help support his family. His older sister helped him falsify documentation about his birth date in order to meet the minimum age requirement for enlisting in the military. He received training at Camp Wolters, Texas, Fort Meade, Maryland and Arzew, Algeria. He first saw action in the Allied invasion of Sicily and Anzio, and was part of the 1944 liberation of Rome. On August 15, 1944, he was part of the Allied Invasion of southern France, where he saw action at Montélimar and the capture of German Brigadier General Otto Richter. He led his men on a successful assault at the L'Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October 1944. Murphy was only 19 years old when he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Colmar Pocket. He always maintained that the medals belonged to his entire military unit. Suffering what would in later wars be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he slept with a loaded gun under his pillow and looked for solace in addictive sleeping pills. The Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio is named for him.
After the war, Murphy enjoyed a 21-year career as an actor. He played himself in the 1955 autobiographical To Hell and Back based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name. Most of his 44 films were Westerns. He made guest appearances on celebrity television shows and starred in the series Whispering Smith. As a songwriter, he penned the successful "Shutters and Boards". He bred quarter horses in California and Arizona, and became a regular participant in horse racing. In the last few years of his life, he was plagued with money problems. He remained aware of his role model influence and refused offers for alcohol and cigarette commercials. Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971, just 23 days before his 46th birthday. He was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.