Letters from Audie
In the summer of 1942, at the age of 18, Hunt County resident Audie Leon Murphy left home to serve his country. In 1945, he returned home a hero, and the most decorated soldier of World War II, after courageously stopping a German attack near the French village of Holtzwihr. That same year, The Farmersville Times published several articles about 1st Lt. Audie Murphy, including his Congressional Medal of Honor award, among others, and the announcement and subsequent story of his “Welcome Home” ceremony on the square in Farmersville. While reviewing these stories one day, I also discovered five letters written by Murphy that were published in the July and August 1945 issues of the Times. I made the decision to reprint four of the letters exactly as they appeared over 75 years ago. The fifth letter — in which Murphy writes about his war wounds — was withheld due to lack of space. Sonia Duggan, Editor
First Lt. Audie Murphy tells how he became most decorated infantry soldier of World War II
Farmersville, Texas, July — I’d rather return to the Colmar pocket in France than face another “welcome home” or review another parade. That’s what I wrote my commanding officer, Col. H.D. Edson, shortly after I returned from France, and after thirty days of leave and with a thirty-day extension ahead of me, it still goes.
But you can’t say “no” to people who are honoring you and I appreciate all that has been done for me. It’s just that I have so little time to myself.
I was awarded every combat medal an infantryman can win. There were jobs for my unit to do, and it was easier for me to do them than to ask for volunteers and take a chance on some of them getting killed.
Anyway, I’m lucky. Even our mess sergeant was wounded three times before I got a scratch, and you know how far behind the lines he’d be. My luck was running out, though. In the six months before VE-Day, I was wounded three times. My right hip still bothers me, but my right heel and left leg are O.K.
My medals are the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters. There are seven campaign stars on my European theater of operations ribbon. There are two French medals, the Croix De Guerre with palm, a unit citation, and the Croix De Guerre with Silver Star, and individual citation.
The ribbons representing those medals make a nice color combination on my chest, and I’m proud of them. I wouldn’t part with any of them for anything. But in spite of that, they aren’t worth what I went through. My birth certificate says I’m 21 years old but I’m actually much older. You’ll understand when you know more about the last few years of my life.
I enlisted in Greenville, Tex., June 30, 1942. That was ten days after my eighteenth birthday. I had quit school at the end of the eighth grade and worked in a radio repair shop and other jobs for four years before that.
After basic and advanced training, I landed in Casablanca in February,1943, as a private in a bunch of replacements for the 15th regiment of the Third Infantry Division. We were moving up to the front for action when Afrika Corps gave up.
After amphibious training, I landed with the first wave on Sicily on D-Day, July 10, 1943. In that campaign I was promoted to corporal.
Then we moved on to Salerno in Italy, after the 36th Division had established a foothold. During the advance toward Cassino I was promoted to sergeant. We were pulled out of the line again and given more special training for the landing at Anzio.
I was in the hospital with Malaria and my new staff sergeant stripes when my outfit landed at Anzio January 22, 1944. Five days later I recovered and returned to action – just before hell broke loose.
We tried four attacks. All were stopped with heavy casualties. So, we dug in, determined to hold. I’ve never seen so much rain and mud.
To forget the monotony of the raid, some of us volunteered for patrol duty on our off hours.
The night of March 2, I was leading six other guys on patrol along the front. We spotted a German tank that had been damaged. Because I thought that some of the Krauts might have slipped up to repair the tank in the dark, I left my men in a ditch 200 yards from it and crawled slowly through the mud toward the tank.
I was afraid to make any noise. No, that’s not right. I was just plain afraid. Anyone who tells you he isn’t scared in a spot like that is a liar. I was wishing my shirt didn’t have any buttons so I could get closer to the ground.
When I was within fifteen or twenty yards of the tank, I set up a grenade launcher, fired and scored six hits. The Nazis didn’t like that. They opened fire from all directions, converging on the tank and its immediate vicinity. I could see tracers criss-crossing a few inches from the ground and not nearly far enough away.
I didn’t worry about making noise then. I jumped up and got out of there probably the fastest 200-yard sprint in history.
As soon as my men and I had returned to safety – as safe as anyone could be at Anzio that is – we had a lot of laughs over the whole thing. But for the half hour I was crawling toward that tank and firing at it, there wasn’t anything funny about it.
That was how I got the Bronze Star. “Valorous conduct in action” the citation calls it. I think I was lucky.
First Lieut. Audie Murphy the world’s most decorated combat soldier tells second story
Farmersville, Texas, July 26 — “The perfect landing” military officials call the invasion of Southern France. Maybe it was, strategically, but there was nothing perfect about it where I was.
After we broke through the Anzio beachhead and chased the Krauts to Rome, the Third Division was moved back to Naples for more amphibious training for the southern France invasion.
Company B, my outfit, landed near Ramatuelle, on the Riviera, at 8 a.m. August 15, 1944, with the first wave of the assault. Since I’ve been home, I’ve heard a lot of people say the landing in southern France were soft. That’s not true. We had plenty of trouble and the fighting was tough, at least until we had established a hold.
As my rifle platoon and I moved inland from the beach, we were halted by machine gun fire from a rocky ridge ahead of us. We dropped to the ground and crawled quickly to cover.
There was only one thing to do, and I couldn’t ask any of my men to do it. I made another dash – this time for forty yards with bullets whizzing all around me – to a ditch and returned to the beach. There I found a machine gun squad and borrowed one of their weapons. Another trip through the ditch and another 40-yard dash, the longest forty yards I’ve ever run.
I told my men I was going to crawl ahead of the platoon and see what I could do about that Kraut installation.
“I’m going, too,” Pfc. Lattie Tipton, 33, of Ewin, Tenn., said.
Lattie and I had shared foxholes ever since the invasion of Sicily. He had turned down a sergeant’s rating so he could stay with me as my runner. That day he had been shot through the left ear, and was bleeding a lot. But when I ordered him back to the beach for medical treatment, he refused. I knew he wouldn’t pay any attention if I told him to stay with the platoon now. I should have made him stay.
“O.K. Lattie,” I said. “Let’s go.”
We crawled out of the ditch and inched our way seventy-five yards up the side of the hill. There we found another ditch, and set up the machine gun.
As we prepared it fire, the Krauts let up in their shooting, and we saw a white flag waving at the top of the ridge.
“This looks funny,” Lattie said, “but I’m going up and get them. Keep me covered.”
He crawled out of the ditch and stood up. There was a burst of machine gun fire, and Lattie fell back in the ditch on top of me.
He was dead.
I must have gone crazy then. I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I remember using a German machine pistol I picked up somewhere, maybe from the Kraut whose lower jaw had been shot to bits and every time he tried to scream a stream of blood spurted out. I wish I didn’t remember that.
The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, my only way of knowing exactly what happened, says:
“In the duel which ensued, Sergeant Murphy silenced the enemy weapon, killed two of the crew and wounded a third. As he proceeded, two Germans advanced toward him. Quickly destroying both of them, he dashed alone toward
the enemy strong point, disregarding bullets which glanced off rocks around him and hand grenades which exploded so close as fifteen yards away. Closing in, he wounded two Germans with carbine fire, killed two more in a fierce, brief fire fight, and forced the remaining five to surrender.
“His extraordinary heroism resulted in the capture of a fiercely contested enemy-held hill and the annihilation or capture of the entire enemy garrison.”
About those five who were “forced to surrender” – we didn’t take any prisoners except those wounded men. Don’t let anyone tell you the American soldier is soft. When he gets mad he is as rough as any of them. I figured every Kraut I killed put me a mile or so nearer Texas.
After the hill was taken, I was tired and mad and sad. I couldn’t forget Lattie’s 12-year-old daughter. He had read me parts of nearly every letter he had received from her.
1st Lt. Audie Murphy tells of experience
Farmersville, Texas Aug. 2, 1945 — After the breakthrough near Ramateulle, France, it was mostly a matter of marching. The Germans didn’t have time to establish a line of defense – just delaying action and roadblocks while they fled to the Belfort Gap.
Near Montelimar, the 1st Battalion of the 15th Infantry received a unit citation from President Roosevelt for being “mainly responsible for destroying German resistance south of the Drone and east of the Rhone rivers,” to quote the citation.
My part in that action was small. As we approached Montelimar, we caught the German artillery by surprise. We were within 400 yards of them before they noticed us, and 200 yards before they could get their guns ready. Then we were safer going ahead and retreating because they couldn’t deflect their guns low enough to fire at us.
I fired my bazooka at them eight times before I scored a hit in the ammunition dump. Explosions and fire broke out all over, scaring the Germans and causing the installation – about 150 men – to surrender.
Later, while we were searching the houses of Montelimar, several of us entered a big mansion that must have been Nazi headquarters. The place appeared to be empty, but we weren’t taking any chances.
I found one room with a closed door, readied my tommy gun and pushed the door open. Across the room stood someone with a tommy gun pointed at me. I fired – and shot the hell out of a full-length mirror. The fellows kidded me a lot about a Texan beating himself to the draw after that.
We drove on to near Vesoul. It was September 15, 1944. We were marching along a road when we came upon a German roadblock. The Krauts opened up. A mortar shell hit near me, killing two and wounding six men, including me. But my luck held out.
A fragment of the shell struck my right heel, tearing off the heel of my boot and cutting a deep gash across my heel and ankle. It was only a slight wound, but I got the Purple Heart and spent two weeks in evacuation and convalescent hospitals before rejoining my outfit late in September.
October 2 we were entrenched on a hill overlooking Cleurie. The Germans were putting up a battle for that town, and casualties had been heavy. We had taken off from the top of the hill so often the fellows were thinking of applying for flight pay. Each time we were driven back.
Col. Mike Paulick, Col. Keith L. Ware and Capt. Paul G. Harris, our company commander, several other men and myself were on reconnaissance when a German machine gun opened up on us from the rear. The Krauts must have been asleep when we walked by because they were between us and our lines when they started firing.
Two members of our patrol were wounded. The machine gun was only thirty-five yards away. We dropped and crawled to cover. The only way we could ever get out of there was to silence that gun so I began working toward it.
When I was about fifteen yards away, I stood up so I could do the job right. The machine gunner swung his weapon around and fired. But the gun caught in a bush as it was turned, and the Kraut missed me. My luck was still good.
Meanwhile, I had thrown two hand grenades into the position. The grenades killed four Germans and wounded three. One short, fat Kraut lived through the explosions. He jumped up and started running toward our lines. He ran like Donald Duck. Someone fired, and down he went.
For “destroying the position” I was awarded the Silver Star.
That was some of the hardest fighting I saw. We were in the Vosges Mountains. The ground was rough, rocky and woody. You might go into a patch of woods with thirty men and come out with only fifteen. It took us three days to advance two and a half miles.
It wasn’t anything spectacular to the folks back home – just constant fighting for each inch of ground. But the foot soldiers who did it will never forget it.
Hero tells of Congressional Medal honor
Farmersville, Texas August 23, 1945 — After we had taken Holtzwhir and moved across the Rhine we were relieved by French Troops and sent back for training to crack the Siegfried line.
I never returned to combat. I do not want to.
When I was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor I was withdrawn from my outfit and made a liaison officer behind the lines. There were times when that was worse than fighting.
February 22 I was promoted to first lieutenant.
On the day of the German surrender I was on the way to Cannes for a rest on the Riviera. June 2, I returned to Salzburg, Austria where I received the Congressional Medal and the Legion of Merit.
Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch. Seventeenth Army commander presented the awards.
“I wonder if you are as nervous as I am,” General Patch asked as he pinned on the medals.
“I’m afraid I’m more so, sir,” I replied, and he laughed.
The Legion of Merit award was based on “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and “Outstanding services” in France and Italy, from January 22, 1944 to February 18, 1945 they told me.
“Lieutenant Murphy’s personal bravery,” the general continued, his skill in imparting his own knowledge of enemy tactics to his men, and his voluntary assumption of hazardous patrols and missions have benefited his unit to an immeasurable degree.”
That makes me sound like superman, but there are a lot of things that can make a man brave. Wanting to go back to Texas, lack of sleep, anger, disgust, discomfort and hate — those things won me my medals, and they’ve won medals for many other guys.
There are fellows over there who wanted to come home more than anything else who will never get back. Those are the guys who should get the medals, not me.
June 10, I left Paris by Plane and June 14 I reached San Antonio. They gave us a great reception there, and there was another big one in Farmersville the next day. I’ve been to military dinners, receptions, military reviews and other events since then.
I’ve even had a birthday since I got home. That was June 20. Now I’m old enough to vote.
All I want to do is loaf and fish and sleep and see my friends for the next thirty days. I have a lot of public appearances scheduled, but I don’t mind if I think I’m really helping someone. Just so I get some time to do what I want to do before reporting at Fort Sam Houston, Tex., August 15.
I don’t know what I’ll do then. I have 146 point toward a discharge, but if the army has something for me to do that will help them, the army comes first. I won’t be sent into combat again unless I request it. And I won’t.
I’m not a fighting man. From here on, I want to be like everybody.
Copyright 1945 – King Features Syndicate and The Farmersville Times/C&S Media