AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT
By Vicki Ellis Griffis
War changes men. Audie Murphy was no exception. He confessed to his friend and co-writer of To Hell and Back, Spec McClure, that after his best friend Lattie Tipton was killed, he grew tired of seeing men die who had something to come back home to. Therefore, he fought all the harder to get the war over as quickly as possible. “I could not see the point of risking thirty men when one could do the job,” he said. He was that one.
“Lattie did as much as I,” said Audie. “And all he got was a wooden cross at his head.”
Five years later, Audie dedicated his book To Hell and Back to Tipton and another lost soldier, Joe Sieja. “If there be any glory in war, let it rest on men like these,” he wrote.
Although Audie considered war his time in hell, he never lost his sense of humor. One particular event happened between battles that he often laughed about. While he and his men were searching house to house for snipers at Montélimar in southeast France, several of them entered a big mansion that was thought to be Nazi headquarters. The place appeared to be empty, but they weren’t taking any chances. Audie told it like this,
“Leaping from the sunlight into the dim rooms, we must wait for our eyes to become adjusted to the change. As we stand in the house, the door of a room creaks open. Suddenly I find myself faced by a terrible-looking creature with a tommy gun. His face is black; his eyes are red and glaring. I give him a burst and see the flash of my own gun, which is followed by the sound of shattering glass. The horrible thing I had shot at was the reflection of my own smoke-blackened self in the mirror.”
His buddy Kerrigan kidded him every time he would tell the story,
“That is the first time I ever saw a Texan beat himself to the draw.”
Some said Audie had a feel for war. Audie’s reputation for taking chances to allow family men to go home to their families spread to veterans in the whole division. Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist who was known for his columns as a roving correspondent from 1935 for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain (especially during World War II, when he reported both from Europe and the Pacific) remembered, “If Murphy was on the front lines, we in the rear area went to sleep. When Murphy started to retreat, it was time to clear out!”
Audie contributed his living while others lost their lives to blind luck. He continuously put his life on the line, and his luck stayed with him. As per Don Graham in No Name on the Bullet, Audie was hospitalized in Naples with malaria on January 21 and was unable to participate in the initial landing at Anzio beachhead where eighty-four 3rd Infantry Division lost their lives.
In the area of Genevreuille on September 15, 1944, Audie narrowly escaped death once again. He told the tale, “The mortar shell comes in almost soundlessly. It is practically under my feet before I am aware of it. I have just time enough to think, ‘This is it!’ before the blast knocks me unconscious.”
When he came to, he was sitting beside a crater with his carbine broken in my hands. His head ached, his eyes burned, and he could not hear anything. The taste of acrid, greasy burnt powder filled his mouth.
“Methodically, I run my hands down over my legs. The limbs are still there. But the heel of my right shoe is missing, and my fingers are sticky with blood.”
The sergeant and the young recruit he had been talking to were dead, and three other men were wounded. Audie played down his injury as minor, “After a few days in the hospital, I get myself a new pair of shoes and return to the lines,” but it was significant enough to earn him his first Purple Heart.
During the taking of a rain-drenched hill, Audie hurled a grenade, but it struck a tree, bounced, and exploded. He and Kerrigan wiped the water off their faces and leaned against the rocks to get their breath. “That was a nice little throw you made with the grenade. . .you near slipped us into eternity. To think they wanted to make you an officer on Anzio. If you ever take a commission, I hope you get your ass shot off,” Kerrigan laughed.
Shortly after, while en route to Brouvelieures, a small village north of France, on October 26, the 3rd Platoon of Company B was attacked by a German sniper group. Audie dived for cover, and a shot glanced off a tree and etched a nine-inch line through his right buttock. Audie says, “It is like being struck with a ball bat. The ricocheting bullet digs a channel through my hip and knocks me flat. The sniper throws his camouflage cape back to get a better view and drills my helmet—that is the last mistake he ever makes—my head is not in the helmet.” Kerrigan’s words came back to him, and he had to laugh.
Because of the rain and mud, Audie could not be evacuated for three days. He slept on a cot, while the fever spread through his flesh. When he finally got to the 3rd General Hospital at Aix-en-Provence, France, he had gangrene. The removal of the infection caused partial loss of his hip muscle, and kept him out of combat until January. The injury earned Audie Murphy the First Oak Leaf Cluster for his Purple Heart.
But as his luck would have it. . .he met a pretty nurse and fell in love. . .
To be continued. . . .This is part twelve 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.