Our buddy, Bud Roach writes:
This is the first installment in a series of (I’m not sure how many) about 12. Written by Vicki Griffis. These articles were printed in the Celeste (Texas) Tribune. Kingston is a community that today consists of one store and a small cluster of houses. It was a thriving farm community until the late 1880s
(Shortly after the Civil War) the railroads crossed about three miles away and most people moved to the community that grew at the crossing, Celeste. The community was named for Celeste Ewing, the daughter of a railroad executive. For the record, when we met in San Antonio in 2012 we stayed in the Crockett Hotel. Across the street was another historic hotel, the Menger. In the lobby of the Menger hangs a portrait of Celeste Ewing.
All of this to describe that Audie Murphy was born and raised in rural north Texas during the depression. His family was sharecroppers so they moved often and his dad eventually abandoned the family. His story of poverty was not unusual for the depression years—everyone was penniless. However, sharecroppers were the poorest of the poor. The barber in this story, John Cawthon, was my barber until the army provided one for me.
Now the rest of the story.
A HERO IS BORN
by Vicki Ellis Griffis
I was talking about Audie Murphy Day, an annual celebration at the Audie Murphy Cotton Museum in Greenville coming up in April, when I looked over at my ten-year-old granddaughter and saw the blank look on her face.
I asked her, “Do you know who Audie Murphy is?” I was tickled when she said, “Yes,” but my heart dropped when she said, “He is that Ken soldier doll on your shelf.”
I have an Audie Murphy action figure, in full military regalia, as a part of my collection. What the heck? After all, I have been fascinated with the life and times of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, who just happened to be born and schooled in the Kingston/Celeste area, for as long as I can remember.
I have researched everything I could get my hands on. Had she not been listening to all my talk about him? Or was it the ranting’s of a grandmother that grandchildren just turn off? This incident got me to thinking that there may be others in our quaint town of Celeste, Texas who may think Audie Murphy is just the name of our memorial garden, kept so neatly by Curly Combs, that runs alongside Highway 69 just inside the city limits, or the stretch of the same highway which bears his name, or just somebody their grandparents talked about who used to live here.
They may not know who he really was, or anything about the Celeste he grew up in. Lest that be the case, I dare to embark on a series of articles I hope will enlighten the masses to the most famous character that ever was reared in and around Celeste, Texas. (I use the term reared because Ms. Mildred Roach always taught us, “You raise cotton, you rear children!”)
But back in those days, children were born as farm hands, and there was a whole lot of raising going on. My facts are only as good as the resources I will credit, and many have been bantered about for years as for authenticity. So, I will tell the story as correctly as I can. But, the important thing is, as Congressman Ralph Hall put it during Audie Murphy Day 2000, “Audie will live as long as we don’t forget.”
Audie Leon Murphy was born into a sharecropper family. Sharecroppers were assigned a plot of land to work, and in exchange, owed the owner a share of the crop at the end of the season, usually one-half. At the time of Audie’s birth, the landowner was W. Foster Boles in Kingston, Texas. The nine of them lived in a three-room clapboard house. The rooms were heated by a wood burning stove on which the cooking was also done.
Coal oil and kerosene lamps lighted the home. The water for washing clothes in a wash tub and rubbing them on a scrub board was carried in buckets from wells or nearby ponds and heated on the cook stove. Bath water was acquired the same way. Once a week or less, every man, woman, and child, from the oldest to the youngest, bathed, using the same bath water. By the time the last child was bathed, the water would get so dirty, if a baby slipped out of your hands and went under, it could not be seen. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Bathrooms were dilapidated sheds a distance from the house. Inside was a seat made of wood in which a hole was carved out in the middle for the convenience of doing your business. It was not uncommon to use corn cobs or leaves for cleaning up after—just had to make sure the leaves weren’t poison oak or ivy.
Milk was a staple, and the Murphy family owned but one cow, which followed them from move to move. This was the type of life Audie’s mother and father, along with the six children born before him, were living at the time he came into their world. As Audie put it, “Every time my father couldn’t feed his kids, he had another one.”
As Harold B. Simpson related in his book, Audie Murphy, American Soldier, “Doc (Dr. P. S. Pearson) welcomed most of the babies born during the first third of the present century to Texas. Audie was no exception. Doc was just sitting down to supper on June 20, 1924, when he received a call from Emmett Murphy that his wife, Josie Bell, was ‘about ready for the doctor.’ Pearson’s Model T, a familiar sight in that part of the county, was not long in arriving from the White Rock Community, where he had established his office and residence.
Emmett, “Pat,” as he was called for his Irish lineage, several of the Murphy children, and two neighbor ladies, Mrs. S. H. Adams and Mrs. Jack West, were ‘looking after’ Mrs. Murphy and met him at the door.
At 7 P.M., the Emmett Murphy’s had their third son and seventh child, Audie Leon Murphy.” It is commonly thought Audie was named after a neighbor, Audie West, who helped out the family on more than one occasion, and Leon, picked by his oldest sister, Elizabeth Corinne, who chose it for no special reason other than it was different and sounded nice.
Speculation about Audie’s true birthdate: Audie Murphy was born June 20, 1925, as it is believed he was seventeen when he enlisted in the army. Many sources incorrectly state he was born June 20, 1924. The error is based on confusion created by a falsified birth certificate Audie Murphy filed at the Hunt County, Texas Courthouse, with the help of Corrine (who later admitted this to various sources), so he could join the military before he was legally of age.
Audie himself, later admitted, on more than one occasion, that he fudged about his age, as per the Audie Murphy Research Foundation. Also given for proof is his driver’s license, found at the scene of his fatal plane crash which read: Birthdate, 6-20-25. Thomas B. Morgan, who interviewed Audie in 1967, wrote: “Murphy acknowledged that he had been nineteen years old at the end of his combat career, not twenty as the Army records showed.
At age seventeen, in 1942, he had lied about his age, enlisting one year before he should have been eligible for service.” Corrine Burns, Audie’s oldest sister, remembered the day of her famous brother’s birth very well. In an interview in the June 1954 issue of Photoplay Magazine, she stated: “I sure do remember. I was fourteen years old when Audie was born. He was the cutest baby I’ve still ever seen.
Big eyes—that laughed at you all the time. I gave him his middle name, the Leon—in AUDIE LEON MURPHY, for which my brother has never forgiven me. But I thought they sounded nice together. Audie wasn’t the oldest boy in our family of nine, but from the time he was a kid, he always took all the worry and responsibility and looked after the family as best he could.
Audie was Mother’s favorite—she tried to hide it, but she never quite could. Audie was always teasing. He could always make her laugh. And there was little enough for any of us to laugh about.
Mother had so much faith in him even then. I remember she was always saying, “If Audie just had a chance he’d make something of himself someday. . . .” A mother’s prophecy more than fulfilled.
To be continued. . . . This is the first in a series on Audie Leon Murphy, born in Kingston, Texas, reared in Celeste, who grew up to become the most decorated soldier of World War II.
Used with permission and courtesy of the author.