Audie Leon Murphy (20 June 1925 – 28 May 1971) was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, receiving every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. At the age of 19, Murphy received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.
Murphy was born into a large sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas. His father abandoned them, and his mother died when he was a teenager. Murphy left school in fifth grade to pick cotton and find other work to help support his family; his skill with a hunting rifle was a necessity for putting food on the table. Murphy's older sister helped him to falsify documentation about his birth date to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military, and after being turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps he enlisted in the Army. He first saw action in the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Anzio, and in 1944 was part of the liberation of Rome and invasion of southern France. Murphy fought at Montélimar, and led his men on a successful assault at the L'Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.
After the war Murphy enjoyed a 21-year acting career. He played himself in the 1955 autobiographical To Hell and Back based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his films were westerns. He made guest appearances on celebrity television shows and starred in the series Whispering Smith. Murphy was a fairly accomplished songwriter, and bred quarter horses in California and Arizona, becoming a regular participant in horse racing.
Suffering from what would today be termed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow and looked for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In the last few years of his life he was plagued by money problems, but refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he did not want to set a bad example. Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971 shortly before his 46th birthday, and was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.