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Friday, November 11, 2005

Veteran's Day 2005
by Chuck

Audie Murphy – American War Hero

Today is Veteran's Day. A day set aside to honor the veterans of America's wars. It was originally known as Armistice Day to commemorate the official ending of hostilities in World War I - which occurred at "the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" in 1918. Following the second major war of the twentieth century, World War II, the name was changed to Veteran's Day so as to include the veterans of World War II and other wars. But the November eleventh date was kept (except for a few years when Congress attempted to assign variable dates to most holidays so that they could fall on Monday in order to create a three-day weekend. However, popular opposition forced them to make an exception for Veteran's Day and the Independence Day back to their original dates.)

On television today there will be a slew of war movies intended to honor the exploits of our veterans. Among these will be the 1955 movie To Hell and Back (which is also available on DVD) staring Audie Murphy. Unlike most of the war movies being shown today in which the exploits of both real and fictional heroes are portrayed by well known movie stars, the hero in "To Hell and Back" is played by himself.

The role movie star Audie Murphy played in front of the cameras in 1955 was the same role that he played as a real combat soldier in North Africa, Italy and France a decade earlier. The big difference was that the first time around the guns were real, there was no script and the ending was not known.

The son of poor Texas cotton farmers with only a grade school education, Audie, like many young men of his generation, was anxious to defend his country. After being rejected by the Marines and the Navy because of his size and youth, he finally convinced the Army to take him. Despite his youth and lack of formal education, he quickly became an expert fighter and respected leader in his unit. During his three years of combat he earned 33 medals and awards, including a Purple Heart, Congressional Medal of Honor and every medal for bravery as well as five medals from France and Belgium. During this same period he rose in rank from Private to Sergeant and ended his military career with a battlefield commission as 2nd Lieutenant.

Despite being a recognized hero after the war, Audie had to struggle to support himself with odd jobs after the war. A break came when actor James Cagney saw Audie's picture on the cover of Life Magazine and invited him into his home. Cagney and others got Audie parts in some movies. Audie never claimed to be an actor, but his fame coupled with his easy manner and outgoing personality made him popular with the American public and he ended up having a successful career in movies and television.

Audie Murphy's career was cut short when, on a foggy Memorial Day 1971, a private plane he was flying in crashed into the side of a mountain in Virginia killing all on board. But his memory lives on the annals of history and in his movies which can still be seen on TV and DVD.

Copyright © 2005 by Charles J. Nugent Jr.

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