Scenes at Holtzwihr

Audie Murphy was sitting in freezing weather along with 40 US troops on a snow-covered area near Alsatian town. It was 26 January 1945, and the place was in Holtzwihr, France. They had orders to hold off the enemy’s movement until the reinforcements arrive. The reinforcements were late, and the battle-weary soldiers were shivering in the cold to defend the roadway. Time was around 2 pm when all of a sudden, German tanks and 250 troops appeared from the woods. When the 19-year-old soldier saw the enemy’s movement, it sent chills down his spine due to panic. 

Murphy’s background

Audie Murphy was America’s most decorated soldier who rose from the rank of private to staff sergeant within a year due to his bravery and leadership skills. He was inducted into the army just ten days after his 17th birthday. By the age of 19, he had already won two silver stars and a distinguished silver cross. He was now leading men who were older and more experienced than him on the battlefield. Due to his experiences in the battlefield in France, Italy and Africa, Murphy knew that they stood no chance against a large number of enemies at Holtzwihr. He knew it was a “Do or Die” situation for his team. 

Gallantry of the young boy

When the enemy started firing, most of his troops retreated to defensive positions, but Murphy stayed behind and called for an airstrike on his field telephone. He risked his life amidst the firing from the enemy tanks and troops. He could only provide his coordinates before the enemy went all guns blazing. One shell hit the tank destroyer near him and set it on fire. But Murphy showed courage and kept trying to call for air support. Meanwhile, he also kept firing at them with his rifle. When he emptied his rifle, he took cover on top of the burning tank destroyer. 

While on top of the tank destroyer, Murphy saw a .50 caliber machine gun, which he quickly grabbed and started firing at the advancing German troops. The smoke and fire provided him cover, which he used to keep firing at the German troopers. He continued firing while also using the field phone, providing coordinates of advancing troops. In this whole heroic act, Murphy killed dozens of German soldiers. According to the fellow soldiers, they were in shock and awe hiding behind the tree line while watching Murphy being a hero. No one came near him because they feared that the tank destroyer under him might explode at any time. 

Murphy single-handedly attacked and killed many German soldiers with his wounded leg, which was injured by sharp shrapnel. Murphy did not care about his leg wound and kept firing at the enemy. Eventually, he ran out of ammunition and walked to his men with a limping leg. According to his mates, it was the best and most heroic act they had seen in their whole lives. He single-handedly fought the enemy for about an hour and killed almost 50 German troopers. Murphy’s heroics gave courage to his fellow-soldiers as they initiated a counter-attack against the Nazi army. German soldiers had to retreat to the woods. 

Murphy’s honors and distinction

Upon returning to the homeland in June of 1945, Audie Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for his impressive display of guts. Thousands of people and news reporters welcomed him. His face made the cover of top magazines of that time, and he was hailed as a national hero. Murphy received 21 other awards and medals in addition to the Medal of Honor. But he did not stop there. Due to his handsome looks, Murphy got multiple offers from Hollywood. 

On-screen heroics

He then started his journey as a movie actor and also made multiple successful movies. He has dozens of movies at his credit. Murphy’s blockbuster movie “To Hell and Back” was released in 1955. It was based on his semi auto-biography. It was not an easy task to relive the terrifying moments of the war, but Murphy did it with great success. When the movie was being shot, Murphy not only worked as an actor but also a technical advisor to the production team.

He emphasized that the movie’s script should highlight the efforts and experience of all army men, not just his. Murphy’s Army buddy wrote the story with his assistance. The movie remained Universal studio’s most grossing movie for 20 years until “Jaws” was released in 1975. 

Death of the hero

Audie Murphy grave - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
By-Tim1965(Wikimedia Commons)

Despite winning multiple medals, including the Medal of Honor, Murphy did not like to be called a hero. He insisted that it was his job to stay alive, which he did like anyone else would have. On 28 May 1971, Murphy was on his way from Atlanta, Georgia, to Martinsville, Georgia. Due to heavy fog and bad weather, the plane crashed into a mountain, and he died along with other passengers on board. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with complete military honors. His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington. 



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