I LOVED THE DAMN ARMY
by Vicki Ellis Griffis
Audie Murphy once confessed to a West Coast writer that he had never played sports, and in fact, did not know the basic rules for baseball, basketball, or football. When he was growing up, he had little time to play them as he had to work after school and on Saturdays. Besides, he would rather hunt and fish than play team sports.
Athletics were encouraged in the army during basic training at Camp Wolters, not only as a part of the physical fitness program, but as a means of developing leadership. Walter Black, “Blackie,” as he was called, was one of the oldest recruits at thirty-one. He enlisted Audie for his baseball team to play against another company in the battalion. The first time Audie came to bat, he hit a home run and didn’t stop talking about it for days.
Audie completed his thirteen weeks of basic training in early October, 1942. He visited his sister, Corrine, and her family in Farmersville. Corrine said of that first visit after basic,
“Audie took to the army like he was born in it. The crease in his trousers was so sharp that it looked like a person could cut their hand on it.”
Jane Wilkie, in “Memoirs of a Small Texan,” Modern Screen, July 1955, quoted Audie as saying,
“In the army, I met men. I had good food, and I had good clothes. Sure, they were army clothes, and sometimes didn’t fit me. But I knew enough about things to know that the wool in my uniform was real wool, and that my shoes were made of good leather, and it seemed to me that the men I met in the army were real men. More than anything else, I wanted to be one of them.”
Later, he would tell a reporter, “I have to admit, I love the damned Army. It was father, mother, brother to me for many years. It made me somebody; gave me self-respect.”
According to the Fort Meade website, on October 18, 1942, Private Audie L. Murphy arrived at Fort Meade to begin advanced infantry training. He was assigned to Company K, 385th Infantry Regiment, where he learned the skills that would come to serve him so well in combat. Always a good shot, Murphy spent hours on Meade’s ranges, improving his marksmanship to a science. At a shooting gallery near the base, Audie, using a .22 rifle, shot out five red dots on a playing card at thirty feet.
Even though the cold was something the southern men were not used to, his fellow soldier, Blackie, recalled, “It was a heck of a lot easier digging foxholes in the sandy soil of Maryland, even when frozen, than it had been in the sun baked clay of Texas.”
Then came the time when Audie Murphy, now known as “Murph,” had two more weeks left in the United States. On January 23, 1943, he was posted with the men who had trained with him to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, waiting for a shipment overseas.
As Charles Whiting put it in his book, HERO, The Life and Death of Audie Murphy, “Behind him, Murph left a cozy, comfortable America, whose concept of the war was so fashioned by the media that the men and women who stayed behind would never even begin to comprehend what Audie Murphy and his comrades went through. Much of it was the patriotic, small-town America that responded so naturally to Kate Smith singing, “God Bless America” on the radio; where Andy Hardy still reigned, as did Dagwood, Blondie, and Baby Dumpling; a land that was all sweetness and light and happy endings; where Norman Rockwell still interpreted America to itself on the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
“Uncle Sam was now engaged in a straightforward melodrama made up of heroes and villains, and Uncle Sam was the knight in shining armor, mounted on a white charger, come to save the fair damsel of democracy.”
It was a dream Audie Murphy had been practicing for half his young life. But war was a game changer, and the reality was to be very different . . . .
To be continued . . . This is the ninth 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.
Photo used with permission Audie Murphy Research Foundation
Used with permission and courtesy of the author.