Thursday, December 27, 2012

To Hell and Back

A book review of the autobiography of Audie Murphy by JC Sullivan

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie by the same title in which Audie Murphy, America’s most highly-decorated WWII soldier, portrayed himself.  I did and was impressed with it. It was my introduction to who he was. However, I later read the book on which the movie was based and found it to be much more interesting because of the details of his life and military experiences that were not in the movie.

Why, you might ask, am I reviewing a book published in 1949? Aren’t book reviews for newly-published books? Yes, they are, of course. But I am doing it because of my belief that new generations must be aware of the sacrifices that have been made by flesh and blood individuals.

Murphy, who died with five others in a 1971 plane crash in Virginia, had been the recipient of America’s Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Legion of Merit. He was not aware of his specific hero status until he returned from the war in 1945. At that time he wrote “War is a nasty business to be avoided if possible and to be gotten over with as soon as possible. It’s not the sort of job that deserves medals.” Asked if he remembered the specifics for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor he replied, “Like a nightmare.”

Born dirt poor in north Texas, his alcoholic sharecropper father Emmet disappeared early on in his life and his mother died when he was sixteen. He became a sharpshooter, helping to feed his family with squirrel and rabbit he had shot. When World War Two broke out he attempted to enlist in the Marines but was declined due to his youth and slight stature.

According to Times writer Paul Houston, “A friend once calculated that the slightly built Murphy had killed, wounded or captured 240 Germans.” The autobiography is full of dialogue that one would expect from GIs bantering back and forth amongst themselves as they trudged the roads and fields of Italy, France and Germany. The dialogue is so realistic it is as if he actually had total recall of those days.

The fact that he actually survived the war is unimaginable. Three Purple Hearts confirm that. He relates being in southern France when a mortar shell fell as he was attempting to call a jittery newcomer private to the front. When he awoke from the explosion the private and his sergeant were both dead.

 In another specific act of the war he single-handedly sought out a sniper that was killing GIs from a hidden vantage. They spotted each other simultaneously and Murphy was quicker on the trigger. He described the face of the German as evil.

Throughout the chapters of the book Murphy’s fondness for his fellow infantrymen of the 3rd Infantry Division is evident. He dedicated the book, for example, to Private Joe Sieja, KIA, Anzio and Lattie Tipton, KIA, France. Men such as Kerrigan, Snuffy, Novak and Horse Face were brought to life by Murphy’s remembrances. He wept after Brandon foolishly stood up and was killed, having believed the entire enemy in the immediate area had been eliminated.

While we all know that Murphy went on to a post-war movie career, that’s a story for another writer.

Sullivan is an internationally-published writer residing in northeast Ohio. He is a veteran of U.S. Army service with the 2nd Armored Division in the U.S. and Europe.  He has visited Murphy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemeter

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