Watching President Trump honoring our fallen vets at the Memorial Day services at Arlington Cemetery was quite interesting, powerful and inspiring. There he stood, humble, grateful, and low key as he praised the Americans in service who gave their lives for our country. It was stirring and heartfelt. In keeping with tradition, the President laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then he spoke for about 20 minutes.
“I believe that God has a special place in heaven for those who lay down their lives so others can live free of fear,” he said. “We can never replace them. We can never repay them. But we can always remember them.” After mentioning the brave who died in all the wars throughout our country’s history, he brought it to present day by acknowledging “a new generation of American patriot” which has defended the United States “from an enemy that uses the murder of innocents to wage war on humanity itself.
“Their stories are now woven into the soul of our nation, into the stars and strips of our flag, and into the beating hearts of our great, great people.” He liberally invoked God’s name throughout the speech, it was beautiful to hear and a welcome departure from the usual secular political correctness we’ve come to expect out of American public discourse of late.
The ceremony made me think of one particular American Hero, a man that many younger Americans may not be familiar with. His name is Audie Murphy.
Audie Leon Murphy was born on June 20, 1925, the son of poor Texas sharecroppers. He rose to national fame as the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. Among his 33 awards and decorations was the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America, for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Murphy also received every decoration for valor that his country had to offer, some of them more than once, including five decorations by France and Belgium. Credited with killing over 240 of the enemy while wounding and capturing many others, he became a legend within the 3rd Infantry Division. He began his service as an Army Private, and quickly rose to the enlisted rank of Staff Sergeant. Murphy was given a “battle field” commission as 2nd Lieutenant, was wounded three times, fought in nine major campaigns across the European Theater and survived the war.
In September 1945 Murphy was released from active duty, promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and assigned to inactive status. His story caught the interest of James Cagney, who invited Murphy to Hollywood. After a string of minor roles he starred in John Huston’s Red Badge of Courage in 1951 and then filmed his own autobiography, To Hell and Back, based on his own 1949 book.
The picture made Audie Murphy a star and was a huge hit, setting a box-office record for Universal that wasn’t broken for 20 years until Jaws finally surpassed it in 1975. His laid-back screen persona and Texas drawl made him a natural for western films; altogether he made a total of 44 pictures, his last released in 1971.
Audie Murphy was a completely believable movie cowboy and his western pictures hold up well today. In addition to acting he bred and raised thoroughbred horses and owned several ranches. Sadly, he suffered from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, haunted by nightmares which many times would wake him up screaming at night.
Knowing firsthand what kind of problems returning vets suffer from, he campaigned vigorously for the government to spend more time and money on taking care of returning Vietnam War veterans. On May 18, 1971, Murphy was killed in a private plane crash with five others. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. According to cemetery records, the only gravesite visited by more people than Murphy’s is that of assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
During Audie Murphy’s three years active service as a combat soldier in World War II, he became one of the best fighting combat soldiers in history.
What Audie accomplished during this period is most significant and probably will never be repeated by another soldier, given today’s high-tech type of warfare. The U.S. Army has always declared that there will never be another Audie Murphy.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.