AUDIE BEC0MES A MAN – WHILE STILL A BOY
By Vicki Ellis Griffis
Growing up is hard, but when you have to become the man of the family at an early age, it is harder. Audie described his situation this way in To Hell and Back, “My father was not lazy, but he had a genius for not considering the future. One day he gave up. He simply walked out of our lives, and we never heard from him again.”
Audie’s sister, Corrine told Col. Harold B. Simpson, in “Audie Murphy, American Soldier,” that her father, Emmett Murphy, tried to persuade her mother to go to West Texas with him, where he might could find work in the West Texas Oilfields to earn more money, but she refused to leave the area where she was born, or her aged parents, who lived in nearby Farmersville.
“My mother, attempting to keep her brood together, worked harder than ever. But illness overtook her. Gradually, she grew weaker and sadder. And when I was sixteen, she died,” Audie wrote.
The official cause of death was endocarditis (infection of the lining of the heart), with pneumonia listed as a contributing factor. In five days, his mother would have been fifty years old.
Audie turned to Willie Cawthon from Celeste, Texas, who had taken Audie under their wing during his many difficult times. Audie was friends with her three sons, and stayed at the Cawthon’s as much as he did his own home. Mrs. Cawthon joked, “My kids and him were good friends. When I’d get up every morning, I would count heads to see how many I would have to cook breakfast for.”
During an interview with Mrs. Willie Cawthon filmed by Samuel T. Griffis in 1981, Mrs. Cawthon gave insight into how Audie’s mother’s death affected the boy she had come to think as one of her own.
“When the family moved away, Audie came back. We didn’t beg him to or anything, that wouldn’t have been right. He came back of his own accord. So when his mother got sick, Corrine wrote a card and wanted him to come and help her with their mother, who was calling for him. He said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to go.’
“I told him, ‘Well, you won’t never have but one mother.’ He was a sensitive boy, so I had to be careful how I worded it, so I said, ‘You go on and take care of her. Home will be here when you get back.’ So he did – went and took care of her – till, you know . . . all was over. Then he came back down here. I was out in the country at my sister’s, and he came back there. Didn’t say a word; that was the kind of boy he was; he didn’t tell all his troubles. Just walked in and caught me by the hand, and we walked out on the screened-in porch. That is when he told me that his mother had died and been buried.”
Mrs. Cawthon bowed her head as if remembering that day, “Of course, we cried, both of us.”
Audie went to work at the radio shop in Greenville to help pay for his mother’s funeral expenses. He paid a down payment of $100 for his mother’s funeral with money that he borrowed from William and Jake Bowen, which he paid back by working for them at Bowen’s Radio Repair Shop.
According to Col. Simpson, while Audie was undergoing his basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, he sent $25 to Fielder-Baker Funeral home on the account. Later, they wrote off the balance because they refused to take money from a soldier who was fighting his way across Europe.
Audie’s childhood officially ended with his mother’s death. Audie wrote, “Except for a married sister, who was unable to support us, there was no family nucleus left. The three youngest children were placed in an orphanage (Boles Home). The rest of us scattered, going our separate ways. Boarding out, I worked for a while in a filling station (Snow Warren’s combination grocery store and gasoline station); then, I became a flunky in a radio repair shop. But after the death of my mother, I was more than ever determined to enter the armed forces.”
Spec McClure, a friend who helped ghost write “To Hell and Back,” gave this account of that fated day,
“On the morning of December 7, 1941, Audie Murphy was walking along a muddy country road near Greenville, Texas. He was sixteen years old and had never been more than a hundred miles from his birthplace – – a farm near Kingston, Texas. A rural mailman happened by and told him that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Audie had no notion of where Pearl Harbor was; nor did he immediately grasp the significance of the Japanese attack. But nurtured on stories of World War I, he had since childhood wanted to become a soldier. As America began a frenzied mobilization for World War II, Murphy became frantic. He thought the war might be over before he would have a chance to take part in it.”
But, it wasn’t – and he jumped right in the middle of it – and the rest is history . . .
To be continued . . .This is the sixth 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 courtesy of Audie Murphy Research Foundation
Used with permission and courtesy of the author.