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65 Years Ago: Audie Murphy earns the Medal of Honor

65 years ago yesterday, Audie Murphy earned the Medal of Honor. From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.'s This Week in American Military History series at Human Events:

Jan. 26, 1945: U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Audie L. Murphy’s B Company, 15th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division is positioned on the outskirts of Holtzwihr, France, when suddenly the company is attacked by six tanks and at least 250 snow-white camouflaged German infantrymen – members of the elite 2nd Gebirgsjaeger (Mountain Hunter) Division.

Murphy, the ranking officer (previous fighting had decimated the officer ranks), immediately orders his men to fall back. He remains forward on the command post telephone directing artillery fire against the enemy. When an officer on the other line asks how close the advancing enemy is to Murphy’s position. Murphy replies, “If you just hold the phone a minute, I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”

According to his subsequent citation for the Medal of Honor, “With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2nd Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer [the tank destroyer located behind Murphy which had just taken a direct hit], which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver.”

The fighting continues for at least an hour. Murphy is wounded. At one point the Germans close to within 10 yards of his position. When his ammunition is exhausted, Murphy leaps off the tank destroyer (the vehicle explodes shortly thereafter), limps and crawls back to his company, organizes a counterattack, and drives the remaining enemy from the field.

For his actions, Murphy is awarded the Medal of Honor. That and previous decorations make him one of the most-decorated American soldiers in history (He is widely recognized as “the most decorated American soldier of World War II.”). Murphy becomes a post-war Hollywood film star, and is killed in a plane crash in 1971.

You can view Audie Murphy's Medal of Honor citation here.

A list of Murphy's decorations:

  • Medal of Honor
  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Silver Star with First Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Legion of Merit
  • Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device and First Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Purple Heart with Second Oak Leaf Cluster
  • U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • Presidential Unit Citation with First Oak Leaf Cluster
  • American Campaign Medal
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with One Silver Star, Four Bronze Service Stars (representing nine campaigns) and one Bronze Arrowhead (representing assault landing at Sicily and Southern France)
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal
  • Combat Infantry Badge
  • Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar
  • Expert Badge with Bayonet Bar
  • French Fourragere in Colors of the Croix de Guerre
  • French Legion of Honor, Grade of Chevalier
  • French Croix de Guerre With Silver Star
  • French Croix de Guerre with Palm
  • Medal of Liberated France
  • Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 Palm