by JAY ROOT
Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, was awarded almost every ribbon and medal available. His name can be found on a commemorative postage stamp, a veterans’ hospital and even the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But Murphy’s home state has never bestowed its highest military award, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. And for the second time in two years, an effort to give him one has fizzled.
Now family members and supporters are wondering if Murphy, who died in 1971, has been forgotten, along with other war veterans from what has been called the greatest generation.
“I’m disappointed,” said Nadine Murphy Lokey, 82, Murphy’s only surviving sibling. “I think they had him in the history books at one time, but they’ve taken him out,” she said. If students do not learn about him “and people don’t talk about him, well, they forget.”
Murphy received at least two dozen military decorations and awards, including the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and several Purple Hearts.
The son of poor tenant farmers from Hunt County, in northeast Texas, Murphy dropped out of school as a teenager to help his family make ends meet. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Murphy tried to enlist in the Marines but was rejected because at about 5 feet 7 inches tall and 130 pounds, he was deemed underweight.
A sister helped him alter his birth records so he could enlist at age 17, and in June 1942 he was inducted into the United States Army, according to published biographies.
Murphy’s daring exploits seem almost like a video game caricature. He is said to have killed more than 200 Nazis.
One of his most heralded acts of bravery, cited when he received the Medal of Honor, occurred in January 1945 near Holtzwihr, France. Under withering attack, Murphy climbed atop a burning tank destroyer, commandeered a .50-caliber machine gun and held off an entire German infantry company as it desperately tried to take him out.
Asked over a field telephone how close the Nazis were to him, he is said to have replied, “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”
Murphy killed about 50 Nazis in that battle and ultimately forced the company to withdraw.
An eyewitness, Pfc. Anthony Abramski, later said: “I expected to see the whole damn tank destroyer blow up under him any minute. For an hour he held off the enemy force single-handed, fighting against impossible odds.” Abramski called it the “greatest display of guts and courage I have ever seen.”
After the war, Murphy became an actor and produced or starred in dozens of movies, including To Hell and Back (1955), based on his best-selling autobiography of the same title.
Murphy was one of the first veterans to speak openly about “battle fatigue,” now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, from which he suffered until he died in the crash of a small plane at age 45.
Murphy had kept a foot in the military after World War II by joining the Texas Army National Guard. It was this final piece of his military career that made him eligible for the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, an award that state lawmakers began presenting in 1997.
A drive to win home-state recognition for Murphy, led by his family and fans, took off in 2011. But that year the medal was awarded, posthumously, to Roy Cisneros, a Marine corporal, for his bravery on the battlefield in Vietnam.
At the time, state law allowed only one medal to be awarded every odd-numbered year — while the Legislature was gathered for its regular session — leading to a backlog of candidates in a state with an oversize military presence.
This year, a bill allowing two people to receive the medal sailed through the Legislature. The legislation sets aside one award for actions that occurred between 1956 and the present, and another for actions before 1956.
In May, the nominating committee that decides who can receive the award chose Murphy for the award set aside for older conflicts.
“He is in a class all by himself,” said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, author of the bill creating the two award opportunities and vice chairwoman of the committee that entered Murphy’s name into nomination last month. “When you read about Audie Murphy, you’re like — was he human?”
But the opportunity to recognize Murphy fell through the cracks at the chaotic end of the regular session.
Perry received the bill in his office on May 20, seven days before the Legislature adjourned. That meant there was time for Murphy to get the award, at least in theory. But that would have required Perry’s immediate signature of the bill creating two awards, plus a separate legislative resolution giving the second one to Murphy.
Neither action was taken.
Perry’s aides said he was never notified about the urgency of signing the bill, one of more than 1,200 he received in the last two weeks of the session. His signature came on June 14, more than two weeks after the session ended.
“Awarding Audie Murphy the Legislative Medal of Honor is long overdue, and the governor was proud to sign this important legislation,” said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry. “Had we been notified about the urgency, we would have gladly expedited it.”
Murphy is sure to be a strong contender to receive the award in the 2015 session, but Lokey, who recently had stents placed in her heart, is afraid she may not be around to see Texas honor her brother.
“We don’t know about tomorrow,” said Lokey, who lives in Farmersville, a small town northeast of Dallas. “If I’m not here, somebody else will carry on.’’
JAY ROOT reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print