Among some of his less-remembered acts as governor, George W. Bush declared June 20th an official Texas state holiday back in 1999, honoring Audie Murphy. From meager beginnings as a North Texas plowboy to World War II's most highly-decorated American soldier, Murphy led a life of immense acclaim as a war hero turned Hollywood star, but the demons of combat followed him for the rest of his often tragic, short life which ended in a plane crash in 1971 at the age of 46. The city of Farmersville - one of several small farming communities in North Texas that Murphy called home before enlisting in the Army in 1942 - holds an annual celebration, with festivities this year on June 23.
It's a complicated story with blood, glory and celebrity, set to a country music soundtrack. There are pills, medals and Hollywood scripts, all culminating in a fiery crash. It is the inexplicable story of a simple North Texas boy who ended up "just like the movies."
As the story goes, on August 15, 1944, Murphy - who had already distinguished himself in combat, rising quickly through ranks as an enlisted soldier - commandeered a German machine gun, almost single-handedly wiping out an entire company of German infantry.
Per this biography, for his service, Murphy received "33 awards and decorations was the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America, for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." He also received every decoration for valor that his country had to offer, some of them more than once, including 5 decorations by France and Belgium."Upon returning home to Dallas, Murphy was lionized as an American hero, met with ticker-tape parades and high public honor. He made the cover of LIFE magazine, and was contacted by James Cagney regarding a movie career. Murphy starred in 44 motion pictures, including a version of his best-selling book, To Hell and Back, which "held Universal Studio's record as its highest-grossing motion picture until 1975."
QuentinTarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009) notably inverts Murphy's storyline - unflinchingly questioning the definitions of valor and heroism, by presenting a charming, bright-eyed boy soldier turned glorified movie star in Nazi propaganda films.
Murphy became a successful country music songwriter. After a life-long struggle with night terrors, sleeping-pill addiction and gambling, Murphy was killed in a plane crash at 46.