This Man Was the Most Decorated American Soldier of World War II

This Man Was the Most Decorated American Soldier of World War II

Jeanette Lamb - March 7, 2017

At 19, Audie Leon Murphy held off a company of German soldiers for an entire hour, by himself. He followed the event up by launching a counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. When he returned to America, he received every combat award the U.S. Army had to offer.

Murphy was born on a farm in Texas. His father was an unstable man and would vanish only to reappear later. Eventually, he entirely abandoned his twelve children. Murphy was the seventh in line and had to quit school at the age of eight to pick cotton and help the family pay their living expenses. By the time he reached his teenage years, his mother had succumbed to endocarditis and pneumonia. Her death haunted him for years to come. After Murphy’s war service, he reflected on his memory of her and noted that since she died, “she took something” that he was always in search of.

This Man Was the Most Decorated American Soldier of World War II
Audie Murphy. Public Domain

To make up for food shortages, Murphy would pack his rifle and hike into the wilderness to hunt for whatever wild animals he could find. Over time, his hunting and rifle skills were top notch, which did not help diminish the disappointment he suffered when his childhood dream of being a soldier were cut short. He was underweight and underage. His sister finally helped him get acceptance for enlisting after forging his birth date so that he met the minimum age requirement.

It was just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and a lot of soldiers were signing up which allowed the military to be selective. Despite his fake age, Murphy was still denied acceptance to the Navy and Marines. Left with just the Army as an option, he quickly enlisted. Basic training was held at Fort Wolters, where Murphy was noted for his marksmanship with a rifle and his bayonet abilities. Basic training was followed by infantry training at Fort Meade, and then deployment.

He shipped out in time to participate in the Allied invasion of Sicily as a division runner. During that stint, he killed two Italian officers. In September 1943, Murphy was scouting along the Volturno River in south-central Italy. He and two additional soldiers were ambushed by German machine gun fire. One of the U.S. soldiers was killed. Murphy and his companion retaliated by killing five German troops.

Several scrapes with the enemy ended with Murphy coming out on top. His abilities moved him forward in the line of succession. Less than one year into his service, he was promoted to staff sergeant. His service was not without setbacks. Malaria put him in the hospital during the onset of the Battle of Anzio, after which he was again promoted, this time to platoon sergeant.