Command Posts Salutes
Medal of Honor Recipient
2nd Lieutenant Audie Murphy, U.S. Army
January 26, 1945, Audie Murphy engaged a German infantry company to save lives within his own company—actions for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In his book WAR, Sebastian Junger wrote:
Most firefights go by so fast that acts of bravery or cowardice are more or less spontaneous. Soldiers might live the rest of their lives regretting a decision that they don’t even remember making; they might receive a medal for doing something that was over before they knew they were doing it. When Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy was asked why he took on an entire company of German infantry by himself, he replied famously, “They were killing my friends.” Wars are won or lost because of the aggregate effect of thousands of decisions like that during firefights that often last only minutes or seconds.
The decisions Murphy continued to make within those minutes and seconds are the reason he became the most-decorated soldier of WWII.
“He received every medal the Army awards,” recalled HON. Ralph M. Hall, when he addressed the House of Representatives and paid tribute to Murphy. “He earned the Silver Star twice in 3 days, three Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor.”
From Murphy’s Medal of Honor Citation:
2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, 1 of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machinegun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
In his book The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Rick Atkinson wrote:
A fifth-grade dropout, he had picked cotton, worked in a filling station, and fixed radios. Until enlisting, he had never been a hundred miles from the four-room shack in Hunt County that housed eleven children. The Army had issued him a uniform six inches too long in the sleeves and tried to make him a cook. In basic training, he balked at buying GI insurance because “I don’t intend to get killed any way and it costs pretty high.”
“In him we all recognized the straight raw stuff, uncut and fiery as the day it left the still, wrote Bill Mauldin. “Nobody wanted to be in his shoes, but nobody wanted to be unlike him, either. ”
Murphy’s legacy remains strong today.
In 2010, President Obama compared SGT Salvatore Giunta to him:
“Your commander specifically said in his recommendation that you lived up to the standards of the most decorated American soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, who famously repelled an overwhelming enemy attack by himself for one simple reason: “They were killing my friends.”
To read more about Audie Murphy and/or other Medal of Honor recipients, check out:
To Hell and Back, by Audie Murphy; foreword by Tom Brokaw
Audie Murphy: Firsthand Accounts and Rcommendations by Callie Oettinger
Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq, by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and John D. Gresham
Additional articles by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and John D. Gresham, about the Medal of Honor and recipients:
- America’s First Living Medal of Honor Recipient of the 21st Century: Sgt. Salvatore Giunta
- 1st Lieutenant James Phillip Fleming
- The Medal of Honor, Part I
- The Medal of Honor, Part II
- Valor Delayed
- Prejudice and the Medal of Honor
Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Center of Military History, United States Army