Ode to a Lost Warrior
is the poetic expression of the myth that Audie Murphy personified to me. Although it appears at the beginning of the book, I wrote the poem after I had finished writing the book, because the book was a technical explanation of the myth, but didn't express it in a mythical way. Once I started writing "Ode...", it wrote itself, the way poetry often does. You can read the entire poem on my website if you don't have my book. This stanza expresses my perspective of what was happening that day:
Too soon back at the front the orders
come through: "Hold the road at all costs."
(the cost already having taken
four-fifths of the one hundred-plus men
under his command. Their only support
two useless tanks, one already in flames.)
Those left looked to him with eyes
too much like siblings and school boys so that
when he saw the enemy - over two hundred
strong with six lumbering tanks approaching -
ten times outnumbered, the phone he used
to call in distant artillery not enough - he jumped
upon the useless burning tank,
shoving bodies aside,
ignoring "smell of burning flesh"
to fire the tank's machine gun, raking
repeatedly the approaching enemy - next time
they'll get me for keeps and body bags
the only honorable escape and so mr. artillery man
what are your post war plans?
Surprised to find himself alive as the enemy
retreats, the boy-warrior
gathers up his men....
The line,"Surprised to find himself alive..." expresses my answer to your question. This is an abbreviated version of the same scene in my book:
(The Making of a God)
“Centered on the Alsatian city of Colmar," wrote Edward F. Murphy, “south of Strasbourg, on the eastern slopes of the Vosges, the German bridgehead west of the Rhine poked eighty miles wide and deep into the Allied territory.” The 3rd Division was given the job of getting rid of this last pocket of German resistance in France. A two-pronged attack on the Colmar Pocket began Jan 22, with the French I corps moving up from the south and the 3rd Division down from the north. On the 24th, Lt. Murphy's legs were peppered with schrapnel from an exploding shell, but he attended the lacerations himself, and continued fighting. It was a bitterly cold winter. Several inches of snow lay on the ground. The men tried to hack shallow foxholes, but to little avail. The most value they gained from the attempt was that of keeping slightly warmer. On the morning of the 26th, Murph woke to find his hair frozen to the side of his foxhole. He did not know at the time, but his actions this day would soon bring him what Campbell calls the hero's “gift of life.”
What happened that morning is reminiscent, in all reports, of the annals of such heroes as Ulysses, King Arthur, and Murphy's fellow Irish hero, the mythical Cuchullain. And it demonstrates, once again, that Murph's heroism was not a self-centered act of a glory seeker who loved battle, but a caring leader wanting only to protect the men in his charge. The fighting had been devastating; some of the worst in the war, and at this point, Lt. Murphy's company had been decimated from nearly 150 down to about twenty men. As the only remaining officer, he had been made company commander. He and his men had been ordered to hold a road leading toward the town of Holtzwihr. Another force was to move up to attack the city, but had been held up. During the early afternoon, Lt. Murphy spotted two reinforced infantry companies and six tanks headed north from the town toward his position. Knowing his men couldn't hold them off; he ordered them back to safety and began calling coordinates to his artillery support. Several pages still exist in Murphy's own handwriting, of his first draft of To Hell and Back, and despite their roughness, show an immediacy that is lacking in the other reports of what occurred, including even the finished book. “I direct the artillery, & the first big Barage came in on the nose god, I loved that artillery…" he begins.....
On this particular day, however, even though the artillery was slowing down the enemy advance, especially of the tanks, the infantrymen kept coming. The two tank destroyers that had been assigned to him were both disabled, but he noticed that one of them still had a .50 caliber machine gun intact on its turret. It was also on fire, but that fact did not detain Murph. Carrying the field phone with him, he climbed onto the tank destroyer and began to rake the approaching Germans with it. In between bursts, he continued to call artillery in, closer and closer to his own position, responding to the headquarters lieutenant's anxious questions with humorous barbs. When asked how close the enemy was to his position, he responded, “Hold the phone and I'll let you talk to one of the bastards.” When the TD received another direct hit, and Murphy was silent for a moment, the Lt. called over the phone, “Are you still alive?” Murph responded, “I'm fine, what are your post-war plans.” Of his own feelings about the action, he wrote, “I am conscious only that the smoke and the turret afford a good cover, and that, for the first time in three days, my feet are warm.” The full citation would read
[The official citation for the MOH is quoted here.] “I had been on the tank turret for an hour,” he wrote for the Dallas Times Herald, “and my ammunition was gone. So I dropped over the side and sat down in the snow. I was puzzled: How come I’m not dead?
“After a few minutes of wondering I returned to my company and began reorganizing the attack. We succeeded in clearing the woods and taking the position.” Murphy, Edward F. 263
Murphy, Edward F.267
"Interview with Charles L. Owens" Audie Murphy Research Foundation Newsletter Winter 1997 2
Murphy, Audie. To Hell 241
Reprinted from Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website http://www.audiemurphy.com
Murphy, Audie Dallas Times Herald reprint 7
The article he wrote for the Dallas Times Herald
was closer in time to the actual event than the book, To Hell and Back
, having been written during the summer of '45 shortly after he returned to Texas. It has a feeling of immediacy that makes it very real. He did not expect to survive the incident. He knew the tank might explode at any minute, but stayed there and kept shooting anyway. The lives of the remaining men in his company were at stake.
"He endured the shame of being sent home a living trophy to the blood and death of too many friends"A Myth in Action: The Heroic Life of Audie Murphyhttp://www.annjoiner.com