Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Audie Murphy Day

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

Statue of Audie Murphy outside the
museum that bears his name.

I have visited the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum on several occasions through the years. Once, while researching Murphy for a book – East Texas in World War II (Arcadia Publications, 2010) – I was granted permission to use several photos by Museum Director Susan Lanning. A few months ago Susan invited me to describe Murphy’s military career on the annual Audie Murphy Day, to be celebrated on Saturday, May 14, 2016.

With Museum Director Susan Lanning.

I was delighted. I’ve long admired Murphy, and I lectured about him for nearly four decades during my World War II lessons. Of course, it was a privilege as State Historian to present a program on this iconic Texas war hero. The event was organized by Susan Lanning and the Audie Murphy Day Committee, and there were numerous local sponsors. The morning program, at which I was assigned to speak, took place in the Fletcher Warren Civic Center. Afternoon activities were held at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum.

Karon and I arrived early at the Civic Center, where we saw Susan Lanning and Linda Owens, who graciously had sent a gift basket to our hotel the night before. I introduced myself to as many people as possible before the room filled. Ron Wensel, a member of the Museum Board of Trustees, was Master of Ceremonies for the morning. The uniformed Hunt County Honor Guard impressively posted the colors. There was an invocation, we pledged allegiance to the flag, and the National Anthem was sung a cappella by lovely Adrien Witkofsky. Steve Ramsey, Board President, gave me a kind introduction.

Emcee Steve Ramsey introducing me.
Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II. He was presented 33 decorations, including every medal for valor offered by the United States: the Bronze Star (twice), the Silver Star (twice), the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor. Three times he received the Purple Heart for combat wounds. Murphy was given a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant. He engaged in combat for two years, and day after day he took part in battle with extraordinary courage. Following the war Murphy pursued a movie career, but when war in Korea broke out, he joined the famed 36th Division of the Texas National Guard as a captain. Captain Murphy assisted in training exercises, but when it became clear that the 36th would not be sent to Korea, Audie transferred to inactive status, although later he was promoted to major. The final military event involving Audie Murphy was his burial with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Holding a T-patch of the 36th Division
and my copy of To Hell and Back

Following my program, Linda Owens presented a brief PowerPoint of images of Murphy, backed by martial music. Tommy Cook, who acted in two movies with Murphy, related fond memories of Audie as an actor. The final speaker was Michael West, a grassroots historian (he called himself a “hunter and a gatherer”) who had collected information and interviews from a great many friends and relatives of Audie Murphy.

Actor Tommy Cook

As we adjourned for lunch, I was privileged to meet Nadine Murphy Lockey. The youngest of 12 Murphy children, Nadine is Audie’s only surviving sibling. Indeed, in 2013 she accepted from Gov. Rick Perry the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, presented posthumously through Murphy’s sister. Nadine was sweet and gracious, and I was honored to meet her and her daughters and other Murphy relatives.

Historian Michael West

Karon and I were invited to lunch by longtime friends Carol and Mickey Pierson. Their lovely rural home is in the northwest quarter of Hunt County, where Audie grew up and attended five grades of school and hunted the woods - becoming a crack shot and gaining a feel for terrain, skills that he would bring to the forests of Europe.
With Nadine Murphy Lockey

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