OC Person, Darius J. 3 June 2012 Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back Book Report Lt. Audie L. Murphy’s name stands as one of the most prominent in American military history. He was a figurehead of leadership and the epitome of the seven Army Values (Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage). He was a model for every soldier to follow, one that overcame every odd that was ever against him and rose to conquer every challenge.
In his personal memoir “To Hell and Back”, he expressed a very personal view of what it takes to embody these characteristics which would eventually encourage anyone who reads it.
In the next few paragraphs I will expound on his leadership and analyze what it really takes to be a leader. His autobiography oddly starts off not in the humble beginnings of a poor sharecropper from Hunt County, Texas. Rather it starts where he was most suited, on the battlefield. Having spent months in Third Infantry Division in N.
Africa (Casablanca, Morocco) training for his big break into the war, he finally got it in the form of orders for his Division to participate in the assault on Sicily on July 10, 1943 and eventually into Italy to drive German forces further to the rear. He expressed every emotion of excitement that a young proud warrior would express entering into battle, but soon these emotions would be replaced with coldness and fear. Nevertheless he rose above every emotion to rise to every occasion and do what was needed.
During his assault on Sicily and the main Italian peninsula he made his first kill. As two Italian officers attempted to escape on horseback he let off two deadly shots, killing both of them. Having carved great marksmanship skills hunting as a young child and building great work ethic from picking cotton, plowing, and garage work, he had been molded for this specific purpose. Throughout the beginning of this book he has several flashbacks alluding to the foundation of his great courage. In order to understand Lt. Murphy, I will detail his years prior to his Army service briefly.
Born Audie Leon Murphy to Emmet Berry Murphy and Josie Bell in the summer of June 20, 1924, Lt. Murphy was the sixth of twelve children and the oldest son. His father abandoned them in 1936, leaving Lt. Murphy the responsibility of dropping out of school in the 5th grade to provide for his family, doing odd jobs. From the days of his youth he was being molded into a leader, having to lead a family by providing food and income from this day on. Wanting to make a difference and provide for his family and being inspired by his veteran uncle he decided to enlist into the military.
Of course he was met with opposition, being only 5’5” and 110 lbs with a “baby face” he had already been turned down by the Marines, the Navy and the Army Paratroopers. But this resilient, persistent young leader with a “never quit mentality” would not take no for an answer. In June of 1942 on his 17th birthday, he handed in a document signed by his older sister stating that he was old enough to enlist into the Army. In this back-story there is a foundation to leadership that I think most people would miss, he had a purpose.
Throughout this book you can hear an endearing love for his mother, who died in 1941, which I believe would motivate him to fight day in and day out. Several characters are introduced throughout this memoir, some were very close friends others he did not care too much for, but he fought for all of them the same; as soldiers. Having performed his duty in Italy he was promoted to a corporal. Shortly thereafter he contracted malaria. Still his loyalty to his mission and to his fellow soldier provoked him to fight through and return to the battlefield before he was fully recovered and against the wishes of all those in authority over him.
Regretting the decision of being in combat, his selfless service caused him to drive on. Serving with him were the animated characters of “Horseface” Johnson (the storyteller), Kerrigan, “Snuffy” Jones (preacher), Mike Novak (the Polish), Valentino, Bergman (blue-eyed Swede), Jackoby (the arrogant kid), Thompson (the deserter), Swope (the Cherokee), Sanchez, Drago (the Italian), Anderson, Cooper, Mason, Ward… etc and of course Lattie Tipton aka Brandon (the close friend).
Personal courage and selfless service were shown by Audie Murphy in all his interactions with these soldiers. To give a few accounts I will start with his actions in Salerno, shortly after Sicily. Murphy and his close band of brothers were ambushed by German soldiers; Murphy quickly took charge and moved the men to cover in a quarry. When the German soldiers pressed in they were stopped by intense machine gun fire. Although Murphy and his men sustained casualties, they killed several German men and captured the rest.
Due to his leadership and actions he was quickly promoted to sergeant. While at the Volturno River, in the cold mountains of Anzio beachhead, he witnessed more deaths of his fellow companions while he displayed more acts of valor teaching the new replacements soldiers the basics of battle and keeping his emotions in check through it all. A pivotal point in Murphy’s tour came after landing in Southern France for Operation Dragoon.
After taking heavy machine gun fire, Murphy and Brandon (who insisted on accompanying him) take higher ground to attempt to take out the machine gunner. When Brandon is deceived into a feign surrender he is shot and killed. Murphy lost it and performed one of the two bravest acts that he did. He single-handedly took out the machine gunner and then, manning the machine gun and using grenades, he eliminated all surrounding threats. This act encompasses all of the Army Values and, although it was accomplished through a rash display of emotion, it showed his true character.
Throughout this memoir Murphy never complained although he is surrounded by complaints and things to complain about. He always followed orders and never quit or failed to complete his mission, even when people around him were deserting, dying and requesting to leave due to minor injuries. Murphy did the opposite; he fought to continue his mission. Through months of sleeping in a foxhole through subzero weather, eating food from tin cans and fighting with blistered feet, Murphy pressed on passed all pain whether physical or emotional.
Many of his close friends fell, including two love interests that he had encountered; one in Italy and one while in the hospital recovering from malaria. Through all of this, he lived one day at a time and never cracked under the pressure. Shortly afterwards he was awarded a battlefield commission from staff sergeant to second lieutenant. During this period of the war, Murphy displayed one of the heroic feats in war history which would earn him the Medal of Honor. In Holtwihr, France after returning from a ten week hiatus rom gunshot wound to the hip, against all requests for him to stay in the rear, he returned to the front and found his unit devastated and many close friends now dead while in contact with German soldiers. He suffered further injuries from a mortar round which killed more soldiers around him. After attempting to suppress the enemy with a barrage of suppressive fire, in an act of selfless service, Murphy sent the remaining few men back to the rear while he manned an abandoned burning tank.
From his new vantage point Murphy abandoned all fear of death and just fired into the fog of smoke where the Germans were last seen. While in the tank (machine gun harness) he used a semi-functional phone to call for fire while assembling all remaining friendly soldiers to route the remaining Germans. After returning to the rear Murphy was relieved from the front and shortly after promoted to a first lieutenant (liaison officer). For his valiant act which won a decisive battle and kept forward momentum for the Allied forces, Lt. Murphy received the Medal of Honor.
Throughout his three year tour, Lt. Murphy amassed an arsenal of awards including the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, French Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre, Belgium Croix de Guerre which stills affords him the label of “the most decorated soldier of World War II”. His book “To Hell and Back” details the gritty, nasty reality of war and the choices that must be made by true leaders. While enduring these trials, Lt. Murphy never left a fallen comrade nor lost his composure or will to succeed.
He always stood ready to “deploy, engage and destroy the enemy” and led soldiers to perform “beyond the average man’s thought of what he / she should be expected to do”. His many heroic acts encompassed all of the Army Values and are motivation for the leaders of today and tomorrow to never quit and to assure them that one man can make a difference. In sum, Lt. Murphy paved the way for every soldier and set the standard for what is expected mentally and physically from us all. It is our duty to do the same. Work Cited Murphy, Audie. To Hell and Back. New York: Picador, 2002. Print.
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