This day in history, January 26, 1945, the most decorated man of the war, American Lt. Audie Murphy, was wounded in France.
Born on June 20, 1924, Murphy served three years of active duty, beginning as a private, rising to the rank of staff sergeant, and finally winning a battlefield commission to 2nd lieutenant.
He was wounded three times, fought in nine major campaigns across Europe, and was credited with killing 241 Germans.
Murphy won 37 medals and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star (with oak leaf cluster), the Legion of Merit, and the Croix de Guerre (with palm). He received every U.S. military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army for his World War II service.
The battle that won Murphy the Medal of Honor, and which ended his active duty, occurred during the final stages of the Allied victory over the Germans in France.
Murphy acted as cover for infantrymen during a last desperate German tank attack. Climbing atop an abandoned U.S. tank destroyer, he took control of its .50-caliber machine gun and killed 50 Germans, stopping the advance but suffering a leg wound in the process. He only stopped firing when he ran out of ammunition. When asked why he took on an entire company of German infantry he replied, “They were killing my friends.”
When he returned to the U.S., he was invited to Hollywood by Jimmy Cagney, who saw the war hero’s picture on the cover of Life magazine. By 1950, Murphy won an acting contract with Universal Pictures. In his most famous role, he played himself in the monumentally successful “To Hell and Back.”
He publicly admitted that he suffered severe depression from post traumatic stress syndrome, also called battle fatigue, and became addicted to sleeping pills as a result. At the age of 46, Murphy died in a plane crash while on a business trip in 1971.