NURSING A BROKEN HEART
By Vicki Ellis Griffis
Love Is War the song goes. For Audie Murphy, that proved to be true. Except for his childhood girlfriend, Celeste’s own Ardythe Davis McGee, who he remained friends with all his life, little is known if he had a serious relationship with any one woman until he wound up at the 3rd General Hospital in Aix-en-Provence, near Marseilles, France in late October of 1944.
Gangrene had set in after a sniper bullet glanced off a tree and etched a nine-inch line through his right buttocks. The weather had turned nasty; the rain and mud rendering travel impossible. The four day delay of being wet and muddy aided the wound’s rampant deterioration. Penicillin and cutting away the dead and poisoned flesh was a beginning, but the treatments took over two months, the longest spell he was away from the front during his service.
As per recollections in 1973 on http://www.audiemurphy.com, Nurse Carolyn Price Ryan recalled that when she first saw Audie Murphy, he looked unbelievably young. She said, “I suppose if I had to choose a candidate for ‘The Great American War Hero’ from that ward of officers, Murph would have been at the bottom of the list. He had the fresh boyish freckled face of a high school sophomore.”
She supposed the old maternal instinct took over, and she showered him with attention. This caused one of Audie’s fellow officers to warn, “Don’t let that baby face fool you, Lieutenant, that’s the toughest soldier in the Third Division.”
Audie was always plagued with insomnia, so during the night shift, he would come into the nurse’s office to talk to Carolyn when she had the time. She said she always had to chase him back to bed.
He told her stories of his brother and sisters in the orphanage, or his older sister who had taken care of him when his mother died, and his desire to be able to earn enough money to place his brother and sisters in a normal environment. She said, “We talked of many things, but never of combat. He never talked with me about war—this seemed to be a part of his life he could share with no one.”
From Aix-en-Provence, Audie was sent to a convalescent camp several miles from Carolyn, but whenever possible, he would get transportation to pick her up after work, walk home with her, have dinner at her officer’s mess hall, then return to camp.
Carolyn recalled one harrowing incident when Audie’s Irish temper flared. “One afternoon, we went to a small bistro for a glass of wine. We were sitting in a corner booth, while at the bar there were several soldiers drinking. Slowly but surely, we became aware that their attention was directed toward us.” She said they made remarks something like, Any-baby-faced-ninety-day-wonder-with-a-bar-on-his-shoulder could get a date with a nurse. She said, “Murph’s face became grim and white, his eyes grew cold and narrow, and I became frightened. His consideration for my plea that we pay and get out saved us from an ugly brawl.” Thankfully, his respect for her had conquered his famous temper.
After Audie left the hospital, he proposed to her three times, and each time she refused. When Dave Phillips, USMC (Ret.) interviewed her and asked her why she did not marry Audie, her response was, “Honey, I couldn’t marry a Lieutenant that next week might get himself killed, and besides I couldn’t marry someone five years younger than I.” She said he needed a mother, not a wife.
Ironically, she married C. Andrew Ryan on February 23, 1946. He was a soldier in the United States Army, served in WWII and was a POW. They were married until his death on October 15, 2012.
Audie rebounded by returning to Company B as soon as he could. Literally nursing a broken heart, soon Audie’s full-time concern was to keep from freezing . . . .
To be continued . . .Part thirteen 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.