Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America's Most Decorated Hero of World War II

Author:  David A. Smith
Genre:  Biography/War/Film/History

Hardcover; Ebook; Audiobook; MP3 CD
Regenery Publishing
256 Pages; 258 Pages; 6 Hours
$21.32; $15.99; $24.99 Amazon
April 20, 2015

Five Stars

When he was seventeen years old, Audie Murphy falsified his birth records so he could enlist in the Army and help defeat the Nazis.  When he was nineteen, he single-handedly turned back the German Army at the Battle of Colmar Pocket by climbing on top of a tank with a machine gun, a moment immortalized in the classic film To Hell and Back, starring Audie himself.  In the first biography covering his entire life - including his severe PTSD and his tragic death at age 45 - the unusual story of Audie Murphy, the most decorated hero of WWII, is brought to life for a new generation.


Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II.  This in itself is worth mentioning; but worth mentioning even more is the fact that he was only nineteen years old when he left the Army.

I have always loved all and anything about Audie Murphy, from the first time I saw him on screen as an actor, watching him in an old Western on television.  I thought, and still do, that he was one highly attractive man, with a distinct Texas drawl, slow walk, and had a habit of looking down whenever he was speaking with a woman, but looking the men directly in the eyes.  It entranced me then and entrances me still today.  I suppose you could say I had quite a crush on this man.

I'd already known about his war record since I'm diligent about seeking information on subjects I'm interested in.  I thought, erroneously, that I'd known nearly everything about this man until I opened the pages of this book.  Mr. Smith gives us the full picture on Audie Murphy, and what a picture it is - both the good and the bad.

His upbringing was the humblest of humble:  he was born to a tenant farmer who could barely survive, and they were so poor there wasn't even electricity in any of their homes until he was around nine.  He learned to shoot - and hit his target on the first try - as a matter of survival.  In the words of Audie himself: "If I missed, we didn't eat."  This ability stood him well during the war.

His early years were some of the hardest I've ever read about, and it amazes me that he survived them without being bitter.  He tried at first to join the Marines as a sniper, but being small (5'5") they weren't interested.  Eventually he was accepted into the Army, but even that wasn't easy.  They didn't think he was cut out to be an infantryman, and wanted him to make another career, but Audie had more determination and grit than anyone knew and he refused.

He faced all major battles and received the highest honors possible including the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving his entire platoon.  This, my friends, is the stuff only Hollywood can dream up:  He climbed atop a German tank, manned the gun and took out the enemy with their own weapon.  It not only earned him that award, it earned him the notice of Hollywood itself.

The great actor James Cagney saw his picture and knew of his exploits and invited him to come to Hollywood.  While it never went anywhere with a partnership between them, he stayed and made movies anyway.  Not all great pictures, none of them Oscar-worthy.  But worth watching, in my opinion.  I dare anyone to see No Name on the Bullet and not see the type of person Audie was, in this, his best performance.  Yet he had a darker side - a temper he could never get rid of, a gambling habit, among others.  It was these things that kept him from becoming the star he could have been.

Because of the war and everything he had been put through he was never the same again.  He had what we now term as PTSD, and would wake up with night terrors on a regular basis.  He slept with a gun under his pillow.  He lived with the guilt of seeing many of his platoon die while he lived, and never got over that guilt.  He wrote an autobiography, To Hell and Back, about his experiences in the war, although he insisted the book was about everyone in his platoon, not himself.  This book was later made into a highly-regarded movie that broke records at the box office.  

Audie carried that guilt into his daily life and became a person who never shared with anyone.  He kept things 'close to the vest,' as it were, and it anyone shared his friendship, it was rare indeed.  He died at 45 in a plane crash in Virginia, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.  His casket was pulled by six black horses.  

Audie Murphy was a larger than life hero, although he would probably balk at my saying so.  He never considered himself as such.  I have always believed, and after reading this book that belief is only reinforced, that Audie was numbed to the world after he returned home from the war.  He had endured so much, pushed himself so hard, that he could never find a way to gain anything from life again that would make him feel content.  

In The Price of Valor, Mr. Smith informs us that it doesn't come easy, nor lightly.  Unfortunately, in Audie's case, it came at a cost that was too high to pay.  For all his small stature, he was a giant of a man and there will never be another like him.  Highly recommended.

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1517374018


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