This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories and we tell stories about everything here on this show. From the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between. Including your stories. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com They're some of our favorites. And our next story comes from a Colorado listener.
Let's take a listen. My name is Patty Kingsbaker and I grew up in Miami. My dad was the boxing coach for the University of Miami. But they discontinued boxing in 1954, I believe.
But at the time, I mean, he had two jobs. He worked for the Coral Gables Fire Department and he was the boxing coach for the University of Miami. So when they discontinued boxing, he started refereeing. And so as when I was growing up, I'm not sure how old I was when he started taking me to the fights, but I feel like I was at least seven. So every Friday night, I was over on Miami Beach with my dad and going to the fights. So I grew up knowing all the boxers and growing up in that world. I mean, I just love boxing. So we found out that the Johansen-Patterson Heavyweight Championship fight was going to be in Miami. And of course, you know, I was like, my dad's going to referee, you know, but they really they don't find out who's going to referee a fight until like five minutes before the fight.
They come over and get tagged, you know, to do it. So long story short, my dad, there was one other referee that I knew was probably had enough experience or that it was between my dad and this other guy. Well, and his name was Cy Godfrey and my dad was Billy Regan.
And but Cy refereed a 10 rounder right before the main event. And so I knew I knew that my dad was. So I hit it.
You know, I just was headed down towards to see my dad, you know, to go, yeah, you're going to get this fight. And I was behind the bleachers, but they were holding the crowd back. And all of a sudden I looked up and like 10 feet in front of me is Frank Sinatra. And he's standing there with that, you know, he had his finger on his coat over his shoulder. He had the hat on. And I was stopped in my tracks.
I was like, oh, my God, that's Frank Sinatra. So I never made it down ringside to talk to my dad before the fight. But he did, in fact, referee the fight.
And it was when Patterson regained the title from Johansson. And so when I found my dad after the fight, of course, the first thing I said to him wasn't you got to referee the fight. It was like, Daddy, I saw Frank Sinatra, you know.
So anyway, the story had kind of circulated through the fighters and Chris Dundee, who was the promoter at the time. And, you know, everybody gave me a hard time for not getting his autograph. And I was like, I was just scared.
I didn't know what to do. So it was a few months later, I think. And I was at the fights with my dad and Chris Dundee came up to me and he goes, all right, Frank's coming in tonight. And he's going to come in through that door over there.
All right. At nine o'clock. So you keep your eyes peeled and you go get your autograph this time. So sure enough, at nine o'clock, that door open and in comes Frank and I'm ready.
And so I go hauling over there. They're taking him to a seat. But the thing was, is Chris forgot to tell security to let me through.
So they're not letting me through. And again, can't get his autograph. So I was just so disappointed because I felt like I had a clear path that night. Anyway, I went home and I ended up writing him a letter and he was performing over the fountain blue at the time. And I wrote him a letter and I explained everything. I explained that my dad had refereed the championship fight, that I had been standing 10 feet, you know, with a clear path to him, but was scared. And that Chris had told me he was coming in the other night and that, you know, I had my paper and pen ready, but then security wouldn't let me through. And I said, so now it looks like I'm never going to get your autograph.
You know, if you could just send it to me that I would really appreciate it. So, and I mailed the letter off to Frank Sinatra at the fountain blue hotel. So it was a few days later, maybe, I don't know, but my dad called me chuckling and he said, I got the strangest phone call today. And he was working at the fire station at the time. And he said, this guy calls me and he goes, are you the Billy Regan, the referee, the handsome Patterson fight? And he said, yeah. He said, Oh God, thank God.
Frank's been driving us nuts. Your daughter wrote him a letter. Somebody threw away the envelope.
He doesn't have an address and he wants to send her a picture. So my dad gave him the address and I have my autograph picture from Frank Sinatra from that. And you've been listening to Patty Kingsbaker and she has another story about Elvis Presley and look, if you've got stories like it, send them to our American stories dot com. Brushes with greatness or a celebrity or a star you really love or care about. Tell us those stories again.
Send them to our American stories dot com. And I could just picture it. I mean, and Frank was always working on that image no matter where he walked. That coat was over his back, just like on so many of his records in that hat, that signature hat was always there.
And there was a day when he played little places like the fountain blue. By the way, that hotel is still there and still has top line entertainment. And if you want to get a taste of the old Miami, it's still there. And South Beach is still a great place to go and and have some fun.
Listen to some great music and enjoy the sun. Patty Kingsbakers story, her story of her encounter, well, her almost encounter with Frank Sinatra here on our American stories. You're in our American stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith and love stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.
But we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories in America like we do, please go to our American stories dot com and click the donate button.
Give a little give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories dot com. And we continue with our American stories and we're about to tell you one of the quintessential American stories about one of the most esteemed of our American vets. Yet chances are many of you have never heard this man's name before.
And now let's go to the story of Audie Murphy. He had over 250 kills in World War Two. He is America's most decorated soldier, having received every award, citation and decoration the Army could give, including the Medal of Honor. All before he turned 20.
Though he looked 14. He became a movie star and wrote 17 songs which were recorded by guys like Dean Martin, Eddie Fisher, Porter Wagner, Jimmy Dean and Charlie Pride. He wrote a best selling autobiography and starred in its film adaptation, which became Universal Studios highest grossing film for 20 years until Jaws broke its record in 1975. His grave is the second most visited at Arlington National Cemetery.
JFK's is the first. Yet this five foot five, 110 pound baby faced hero is practically unknown in America today, which is astonishing considering just 50 plus years ago, he received more fan mail than any other celebrity in Hollywood. To find out more about this American hero, let's take a listen to the man who wrote the book. Dr. David A. Smith is an American history professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He wrote The Price of Valor, the life of Audie Murphy, America's most decorated hero of World War Two.
I asked him, who is Audie Murphy? It's interesting because nobody else in American history combines these two sort of archetypal roles as he does. I mean, he's the most decorated soldier from the biggest war we've ever fought. And at the same time or right after he was a movie star at a time in Hollywood when movie stars had a cultural cachet that they would never have again. And one of the things that I find so fascinating about him is that he brings these roles together. He brings together the role of genuine hero and celebrity. And they don't match.
They don't match at all. I mean, a hero is a very particular thing. A hero is an important cultural element within any culture. A hero is how we learn what virtue is. I mean, a hero is someone who for a small amount of time embodies a particular virtue.
I mean, a virtue is an idea and we have trouble relating to it until we see it in the flesh. And that's what a hero is. And that's what he was first.
Selflessness, determination, duty, patriotism, that whole bit. And then, gosh, then he becomes a movie star. And he hated being a movie star. He didn't like movie stars. His first wife, to whom he was married for just a year, wanted to be a movie star badly.
And that's what she was in Hollywood for. And that's what drove them apart because he hated Hollywood. He hated the phoniness of celebrity. And he disparaged his own talents. He refused to hang around other actors, mostly.
When he was on the set, he would hang around with the horse wranglers and the stuntmen and the props guys. And it's fascinating to me that here, in this one person, you have extreme heroism and extreme celebrity trying to mix. And his story is a story of how we've confused them today.
In mythology and legend, a hero is a man of divine ancestry who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for his brave exploits and favored by the gods. In reality, Audie was all these things. But as to the part of ancestry, it was far from divine. Here's Joanne Mattern, author of Audie Murphy, Fact or Fiction.
Audie Murphy was born on June 20th, 1925. And he was born in a little town called Kingston, Texas. His parents were sharecroppers. And that means that they picked cotton in fields. But they didn't own the fields. The fields were owned by someone else. And in return for working, all they got was a little shack to live in and a tiny little bit of the money that they earned. Everything else went to the owner of the field. The house they lived in was no more than a little shack.
It had no running water, no bathrooms, no electricity. They had 12 children altogether. And as soon as the kids were old enough, maybe four or five years old, they went to work in the cotton fields with their parents. Audie later said that he just worked and that it was a full-time job just existing. In fact, when Audie was born, his mother, Josie, couldn't take time off to take care of the baby. So she put him in a baby swing and took him out in the cotton fields with her. Audie's father, his name was Emmett.
And Emmett, he was pretty lazy, more interested in gambling and having a good time. And the only time they got any meat to eat was if Audie and his brothers went out and hunted them. A neighbor once lent Audie his gun and it had eight bullets in it. And Audie went hunting and came back with four rabbits and four bullets still left in the gun. That's how good a shot he was.
Here's Audie's sister, Nadine Murphy. He got a little old.22, I don't know where, but he was really good at it. He could kill a rabbit on the run. Well, that's how we lived then.
That's how we ate. He would go out and kill squirrels, rabbits. And I guess we could say we're alive today because of him. He was my hero even then before he ever did anything great. He was great to me then.
Here again is Dr. Smith. One of the things that defines him throughout his entire life is his sense of duty to the people who are depending on him. He felt his duty toward his younger siblings in a profound way. Times were beginning to unfold that would shape his destiny forever.
The country was in the throes of the Great Depression. And at one point, things got so bad for the Murphys that they moved into a railroad boxcar. When he was 13 years old, father left the family and he never came back.
So now, Audie had to step up and be the man of the house. And in order to do that, he had to quit school. So he never got farther than the fifth grade. But the person that was hardest hit in the family was his mother, Josie. And in 1941, she died of pneumonia. And he said her early death was not unusual in the story of a sharecropper family, particularly when the sharecropper himself runs off, leaving his wife to take care of their children. Anyway, so Audie was only 16. He had younger sisters and a brother to take care of and he couldn't take care of them because he had to work. So they were sent to an orphanage. And then everything changed.
Everything changed. Here's Murphy historian Michael West. Well, the time that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, December 7th, I believe Audie Murphy and Monroe Hackney were actually on a double date at a movie theater.
And after they returned from the movie theater, they learned, of course, of the bombing. Well, immediately, all the young men, or a number of the young men, chose to join. Well, that included Audie Murphy as well. Well, at that time, Audie was only about 17 and a half years old.
Plus, he was plagued with that baby face. And immediately, the recruiter recognized that he's too young. He tries Marines. They virtually laugh him out. He has visions of joining the paratroopers.
Well, that never works out. So finally, he is just simply run off, in essence, and he doesn't join. So Audie's older sister, Corinne, got him a false birth certificate that showed he was a year older than he was.
So after he turned 18, as it said on his birth certificate, he was actually only 17, he went back and joined the Army and he was accepted into the infantry. And what a story so far. I'd been a fan of the movie, but just didn't know. Just didn't know the circumstances, my goodness. Losing a father and a mother, and then having kids orphaned, living out of a boxcar. And when we come back, more on the life of Audie Murphy. This is Our American Stories. And we return to Our American Stories. We're telling the story of Audie Murphy. And if you've never seen the movie To Hell and Back, it comes on TV all the time.
This time, don't skip it. It's terrific, and it should be a remake. His life story should be a remake, too, so everybody today knows who Audie Murphy is. Let's return to Greg Hengler and Audie's story. The Army infantry was the most accepting of recruits who appeared to possess the least amount of skills needed for combat. Audie Murphy attended two boot camps before seeing any action, and in both camps, the Army tried to protect the little recruit they nicknamed Baby.
They tried to put him in their post office and then their kitchen, but Audie would have none of it. Nobody pushed him around. I mean, he was impressively tough from the very beginning.
And he would literally push himself until he collapsed. The guys he met there at boot camp remembered that he was clearly in his element, even though he was small in stature, even though he was baby-faced. And his superiors wanted to find some place for him that he might be a better fit, because honestly, he wasn't a good fit in the infantry until you got to know him. And he said, absolutely not. I want to be in the infantry.
I want to march with this pack that's as big as I am, and I'm going to do it. And his superiors reluctantly let him stay, but they made a good decision. Audie was assigned to Company B, the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division. No one could know that this poor tenant farmer's son would one day help to cause the demise of Hitler's promised 1,000-year Reich by performing such wondrous deeds in battle that they seemed almost mythological.
Here's one of them. The first time he goes into combat with the 3rd Division is in the invasion of Sicily. And Laddie Tipton is a soldier in his company, and they are extremely close. Laddie has an estranged wife and a daughter, and Audie Murphy, I don't know if I want to say envies him for this, but Audie Murphy realizes how special this is to have a wife and a daughter, because he doesn't have much in the way of family.
And he talks to Laddie about his daughter all the time and says, you know, you're going to get back to see her, you're going to get back to her, you're going to be a great father. And then they come ashore in France together in August of 1944, and they're fighting their way up this hill. He and Laddie, they're working their way up this hill in the face of a whole repeated series of German machine gun emplacements. And they get one German foxhole to surrender to them, and they wave a white flag. And Laddie says, okay, they're surrendering, we can go get them. And Audie says, no, no, no, stay down, there are other people up there. And a German sniper from someplace else up on the hill hits Laddie in the head with a bullet, and he collapses right down into Audie's lap. And he sort of, I don't want to say goes nuts, but he grabs a gun and just charges up this hill in and out of draws and in and out of foxholes, and then he gets a German gun and goes after other foxholes, and he clears out that entire hillside. And everybody says, oh, that was the most courageous thing I had ever seen. And he says, that wasn't courage, that was just me being mad. And he goes back to Laddie, to where his body is, and he cries over him. It's just a heartbreaking scene, but it wins him his Distinguished Service Cross. The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military award after the Medal of Honor.
And that was one of the only two moments in Audie's life he openly admitted to crying, the other being the death of his mother. Here's Dr. Smith with the heroic act that would earn Audie Murphy the Congressional Medal of Honor in the respect and love of the United States of America. The story of his Medal of Honor is probably the most impressive story that you may hear from World War II. He's in France, he's coming up to the German border.
It's wintertime, there's snow on the ground, it's icy cold. And he's leading a couple of tanks and a platoon of soldiers southward toward a town. And from the town toward him comes a company of German soldiers, maybe more, maybe of Italian, and two tanks. What he has with him are a couple of things that look like tanks, but they're called tank destroyers.
They're faster and they're lighter than tanks, and they're meant to be able to shoot tanks and then get away. But both of those things, both of those tank destroyers, are knocked out of commission really early on in this firefight. And he realizes that without those tank destroyers to give his men cover, it's going to be incredibly hard for them to continue their push south across this snowy field. And he orders his men to start to fall back toward the forest. And he stays out at the front point of the position because he has a radio, and he's calling in artillery from the rear. And he's telling where to drop the artillery rounds, and he was always very good at this, which serves him very well. And he's starting to pull back, and both of the tanks that are with him have been knocked out. And he realizes that if the Germans overrun this position that he has, they will go straight into the woods and straight to the headquarters of his company and overrun their entire position.
And he realizes he's got to stay there as long as he can. And as he's yelling into the radio, yelling coordinates, and he's sort of backing up, and then he realizes that over to his right, the tank that's been knocked out of commission and that the men inside are dead, he realizes that the.50 caliber gun up on the top of it, up on the turret, is still operable. And he climbs up on this tank, and he trains the gun on the Germans coming across the field toward him. And the tank is burning, so it's producing a lot of smoke, and it masks his position. It gives him cover.
It's like a smokescreen. And he swivels back and forth with this.50 caliber, shooting at these German soldiers that are coming across the field and getting really close. Later he said, I remember being up on there, and the thought I had was this is the first time my feet have been warm for three months.
And across the radio comes the question, how close are they to your position? And his response is, if you'll just hold the line, I'll let you talk to one of them. And it gets to the point where the shells coming in and hitting are jarring him and kicking him around, they're hitting so close to him. And finally they begin to pull back, and he realizes that the Germans are withdrawing. And he climbs down off this tank, and he's shaking.
And he walks over to a tree, and he leans against a tree, and he just slumps down to the ground. And right about that time the tank he was standing on explodes, and it blows that turret way up into the air and off into the woods. And the people who watched this, the people who filled out the reports for him, the eyewitness reports for him to get the Medal of Honor, said they had never even seen anything like it. They couldn't believe it, and they saw it.
They couldn't believe it, and they saw it. And when we come back, more of this remarkable story, Audie Murphy's story, here on Our American Stories, the final segment of this remarkable life, this remarkable man. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith, and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.
But we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories and America like we do, please go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button.
Give a little, give a lot. Help us keep the great American Stories coming to you. Help us keep the great American Stories coming.
That's OurAmericanStories.com. And we continue with Our American Stories. Let's return to Greg Hengler and the final part of the Audie Murphy story. If you happen to end up in a foxhole with Audie Murphy, he was going to talk to you.
And what you might hear is not what you'd think. A little, a guy who's just scared to death all the time finds himself sitting in a foxhole with Audie Murphy. And Audie says to him, you know, don't be afraid to be scared. There's going to be times when you're scared to death. And then Audie tells this kid, I'm always scared when I'm at the front. And it's, the irony is that everybody else in the division says when we hear that Audie Murphy's in the front, the rest of us in the rear can go to sleep and sleep well.
But Audie tells this kid, you know, there'll be times when you want to cry and it's okay to cry. I mean, Audie transforms very much over the course of his time as a soldier from someone who has nothing but disdain, you know, sort of like Patton style for people who can't take it and who break under combat to somebody who understands intimately how harrowing it is and what it can do to somebody. With attendance in the thousands, Murphy received his Medal of Honor in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Now this is in May of 45.
It's at an airfield just outside of Salzburg. He has this survivor's guilt already. Yes, he's a brave soldier, but the guys who were killed and he's always going to say this. Those are the ones who deserve the medal. Those are the ones who deserve the honor. When you see the photographs of him standing there, you think, this guy's just a kid.
Well, he sort of is. Thanks to Life magazine putting Audie on its cover, he returned an American hero. I asked Dr. Smith to put into context what it meant to grace the cover of Life magazine in the 1940s. There's nothing today, and I think about this sometimes, I can't think of anything today that is analogous to Life magazine in 1945.
There's nothing that has the cultural centrality. There's nothing that in one magazine, in one photograph, can make you a national icon, but Life magazine was like that. And Life magazine had heard about him coming back to Texas, had heard about the ceremonies that he had been through, and they sent a photographer to do a photo essay in the little town of Farmersville in Greenville where he lived. But if you get that Life magazine, you open it up, you look through it, and you see a photograph of him getting his hair cut with a bunch of farmers looking in at him. But it's this cover, and it shows him fresh-faced, looking like a high school football quarterback in a military uniform. He's evidently young. He looks, and I think this is important, he looks completely unscarred by his past.
He looks as fresh-faced as if he was fresh out of high school, and of course he's not. And you can't tell at all by looking that this guy killed 250 soldiers. This guy was shot repeatedly.
This guy was 50% disabled according to the U.S. Army. And this guy's carrying around, already carrying around, some terrible emotional baggage that's keeping him from sleeping at night. But there he is on the cover of Life magazine looking like a Norman Rockwell figure come to life. One of Hollywood's biggest movie stars saw Audie Murphy on the cover of Life magazine and picked up the phone.
Here again is Joanne Matter. There was a famous actor named Jimmy Cagney, and Jimmy Cagney saw all the press about Audie, saw his picture, and said, hey, this guy should be in the movies. So he invited Audie to come to Hollywood and try to be a movie star.
And Audie even lived with him for a while. But his acting career didn't really take off, so he ended up sleeping in a gym that a friend of his owned and kind of bounced around a little bit. But then in 1949 he wrote a book called To Hell and Back, and that was all about his experiences in the war. And the book was a huge bestseller and kind of got Hollywood's attention again. So he ended up making a few movies, mostly westerns, and he didn't care for westerns.
He felt like every movie had the same plot as the last movie he did. And one of my favorite quotes, he said that in westerns, the faces are the same and so is the dialogue, only the horses are changed. And what happened, though, after he was doing these movies and kind of plugging along, To Hell and Back was a huge bestseller, and Universal Studios decided to make it into a movie, and they wanted Audie to star as himself.
And Audie said no. He said, I don't want the public to think I'm trying to be famous by saying, look at me, I'm a war hero. But eventually he changed his mind because he felt that he could show how brave all the soldiers were who had fought and who had died and kind of do a tribute to them through the movie. And he also wanted to make sure the movie was as realistic as possible. And starring in it meant that he could have some say in how the battles were staged and the uniforms and how the actors behaved as the soldiers.
So he ended up doing it. The movie came out in 1955. It was a huge hit.
It was actually Universal Studios' highest-earning movie until 1975 when the movie Jaws came out. And it was the high point of Audie's acting career. He went on and did some movies and some television after that, but that was really the high point. But while all this was going on off-screen, it was very difficult for him. Nowadays we would understand that he had post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in battle, but during the 50s and the 60s, that term didn't exist yet, and people weren't really aware of it. So Audie actually in the 60s, he started to speak out about how he felt that he had trouble sleeping. Every time he heard a loud noise, he would jump.
He slept with a gun under his pillow. When he went out in public, when he was driving down the road, he was constantly looking for danger, looking for something to jump out at him. And he said during the 60s, when he was speaking out, he said, to be trained to kill and then come back into civilian life and be alone in a crowd, it takes an awful long time to get over it. But he tried to help others through his experiences. Here's Audie's friend, film director Bud Baedeker on Audie's struggle with PTSD. He called me one day, and he said, I'm sitting here with my.45.
The picture's in good shape. Don't worry about a thing. I'm going to blow my brains out. And I had two seconds, and I said, that's really great. He said, what do you mean? I said, why don't you do that? He said, what do you mean? I said, do it for every kid in the country who thinks you're the greatest fellow who ever lived.
That'll make everybody in the United States go ahead and pull the trigger. He said, you son of a. Audie's life clearly defined who he was and what he stood for. His death was no different. In 1971, Audie Murphy was flying on a small plane, and the plane crashed, and he was killed.
He was 45 years old. And because he was a war veteran and a hero, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. And generally, if you are a Medal of Honor winner, your gravestone at Arlington, the lettering is done in gold trim. It's very sparkly.
It's very eye-catching. And Audie didn't want that. He just has a plain gravestone, and it just lists his name. It's very plain, very brief. Doesn't really give any indication of what a hero he was. And he's the second most visited grave at Arlington Cemetery, the first one being President John Kennedy's grave is the most popular, and Audie's number two. American news anchor Tom Brokaw wrote the introduction from Murphy's autobiography to Hell and Back.
Here's how he concludes. I was first aware of Murphy as a war hero. He was on the cover of Life magazine when I was a youngster. Not long before his untimely death in an airplane accident, I was working in California when Audie Murphy came back into the news. A woman friend of his had sent her dog to a trainer, and she wasn't happy with the results.
As I recall, she asked Audie to intervene. He visited the dog trainer who then complained to the police that Murphy had shot at him. The local police brought Murphy in for questioning, and when Murphy was released without charges, a large number of reporters were outside the police station. Murphy agreed to take a few questions. One of the reporters asked, Audie, did you shoot at the guy? Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat veteran of World War II, stared at his interrogator for a moment and then said in that familiar Texas voice, if I had, you think I would have missed? I loved that moment and all that Audie Murphy stood for as a citizen, a soldier, and a hero. And great job on that, Greg. And again, 250 confirmed kills, one man, humble beginnings, humble in birth, and humble in death. This is Lee Habibi, Bonnie Murphy's story, here on Our American Stories. 🎵
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