I HAVE SEEN WAR AND DO NOT LIKE IT
by Vicki Ellis Griffis
Audie Leon Murphy had fought hard to be able to go overseas to partake in combat. Finally, on February 8, 1943, he boarded the USAT Hawaiian Shipper at Staten Island for the voyage to North Africa.
As per the account by Charles Whiting, the troops were taken like pack animals with their weapons and rifles, and each man was marked with a number chalked on his helmet. The port officials would remain unmoved by these cocky young men, for they knew, The war over there would soon take the piss and vinegar out of them.
Silently, as the ship slipped past the Statue of Liberty and out into the North Atlantic, all we know about Audie Murphy’s first cruise was that he and most of the other soldiers spent the next eleven days battling the waves, for in the wintertime, it was not the calmest of seas. Audie admitted years later that his exhilaration and adventure had quickly turned to a horrible bout of seasickness and “squatters.”
According to Mr. Whiting, Audie saw no fighting in Africa, but did receive some intensive and invaluable combat training. He learned to hike at a rate of five miles per hour for the first hour, four mph for the next two hours, and then marching the rest of the thirty-mile hike at three and a half miles per hour, all the while in hot weather with only one canteen of water.
Ultimately, Audie was assigned as a replacement and joined Company B of the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division near Casablanca.
In his book, To Hell and Back, Audie said finally the great news came that they were to go into action in the Tunis area. They oiled their guns, double-checked their gear, and prayed or cursed according to their natures. But, before they could move out, the order was canceled. The Germans in the area had surrendered. Audie said he took no part in the general sigh of relief, but perhaps later he would react differently.
Audie wrote to his sister Corinne, dated February 26, 1943:
Somewhere in Africa. Will write you a few lines to let you know that I am O.K . . . Well, there isn’t much to write at this time. I hope to see a little action soon . . . .
And again he made the same wish, on March 14, in a letter to Mrs. John Cawthon:
Sun. Mar. 14 – 1943
Somewhere in Africa
I will write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope you are all the same. I have been in Africa since the 20th of Feb. I like it fine. Hope to see a little action soon. I just got through writing Jean a letter. I haven’t got but one since I’ve been here but will probably get some more soon. When you write use air mail as I will get it much sooner. There isn’t much I can write now but will try to write more later on. Tell me all the news when you write and write me every week. I can’t write very often but you can. Tell all the old folks hello for me hope they are all well. Ans soon
With Love Audie
As the saying goes―be careful what you wish for; you might get it. Audie wished for action . . . he got it . . . far more than he could have ever dreamed up back when he was walking down a county road with his best friend, Monroe Hackney, in Celeste, Texas.
During the drive from the coastal township of Licata, Sicily, to the larger town of Canicatti, Audie and his company came upon enemy fire for the first time. He said, the fluttering fluttering roll of an enemy machine gun caused his flesh to creep. He wondered if the enemy know where they were. He felt they could easily.
They were stretched in an open field where the cover was not adequate. In front of them lay a railroad track which the machine-gun crew had dug in. Audie could hear the labored breathing of his men, and he could feel his heart churning against his ribs. They received the order to spread out. They were to go over the track. They were to make a run for it when they got the signal. They were to stop for nothing until they found cover on the other side of the track.
They jumped to their feet and took off. They heard, “Brrrrp . . .” From the corner of his eye, Audie saw two men in the center platoon reel backward and fall. Then he heard the crackle of rifles; the blast of a grenade. He leaped over the track and found a gully, dropped into it, and sprawled out.
The next day, he was ahead of the company with a group of scouts. They flushed out a couple of Italian officers who were getting away, and Audie said he acted instinctively, dropping to one knee, and firing twice.
Audie said it was not easy for him to shed the idea that human life was sacred. If there were any doubts in his mind, it began to vanish in the shell explosion that killed his fellow soldier and friend, Griffin; and it disappeared altogether when he saw the two men crumpled by the railroad track.
He had shed his first blood. It was his job. They would kill them if given the chance . . . that was their job.
The Sicilian campaign had taken the vinegar out of Audie’s spirits. He said,
“I have seen war as it actually is, and I do not like it. Experience has seasoned us, made us battle-wise and intensely practical. But we still have lots to learn . . . .”
To be continued . . .This is part ten of a continuing series on Audie 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.