Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

AUDIE MURPHY (1924 – 1971) Most Decorated Soldier in World War II & Actor

In Actors, adventure, American History, Hollywood, People, People from Texas, Trivia, World War II on October 4, 2010 at 3:21 PM

Audie Murphy

When Audie Murphy was twelve, the dream of fighting in the Army was his only relief from the poverty and back-breaking work of his Texas sharecropper family.  He was one of nine children who all worked in the fields as soon as they were old enough to hold a hoe.  While he was tending the crops, Murphy fought many battles, and he was always victorious and unharmed.  Real life did not play itself out so easily.

When Murphy was a young boy, his father left with no explanation and never returned.  His mother died when he was sixteen.  The three youngest children were placed in an orphanage, and the rest were forced to fend for themselves.  Murphy worked in a gas station and radio repair shop, but he had a bad temper and got into fights often.  He preferred to be alone, and only in solitude could he connect with his dreams.

 NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK   On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Murphy was 17 years old and more determined than ever to become a soldier.  The day he turned 18 he went to the Marine Corps recruiting station to offer his services.  He was rejected outright for being too skinny, which only added to his anger.  His second choice was the newly formed paratroopers.  They were a little more encouraging, telling him to come back after putting on weight.  His third option was the infantry, even though he thought they were too ordinary for his ambitions.   They accepted him as he was and shipped him off to boot camp.  During the first close-order drill, Murphy passed out and was immediately dubbed “Baby.”  To add insult to injury, he was transferred to cook and baker’s school.

Refusal to do anything else eventually got Murphy a place back in the rank and file. In 1943 he landed in Tunis, Tunisia and then went on to Italy.  Finally, his dream of being in combat was coming true.

In Sicily, Murphy was moving ahead of his company with the scouts.  Two Italians appeared, and instead of surrendering, they jumped on horses to escape.  Murphy instinctively fired two shots and killed the two enemy soldiers.  Murphy’s company commander made him a corporal.  During a march to Palermo, covering 25 miles per day, he contracted malaria and was in the field hospital for a week. 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SOLDIER    After many more battles, some additional training and two more bouts of malaria, Murphy landed in France.  His company was ordered to neutralize a hill that was an enemy strongpoint.  Murphy and two comrades were bringing up the rear with enemy fire surrounding them.  One of his partners died mid-sentence right next to Murphy, and the other one was killed when standing up to move.  Murphy dove into a ditch and came face to face with two German soldiers.  The split second it took for them to realize who they were looking at was enough of an advantage for Murphy to react, killing both of them. 

While he was making his retreat, Murphy exchanged fire with several Germans in various foxholes until his ammunition ran out.  He found some fellow soldiers pinned to the ground by German fire overhead.  Murphy dragged a discarded machine gun into a ditch and aimed uphill so the enemy had to expose themselves to shoot down to him.  By the time he was ready to shoot, however, bullets were landing within a foot of his body.  He let loose with fire in all directions trying to hit anything he could.  There were cries of agony, and Murphy walked uphill to reconnoiter the area.  He saw several dead Germans and one that he put out of his misery. 

When more gunfire attacked him, he emptied his weapon and waited.  One of his buddies, Brandon, arrived, and as both men started walking in the ditch, they were attacked at point blank range.  A bullet clipped off part of Brandon’s ear, but he was able to kill both attackers.  The two American soldiers dove into a hole already occupied by two Germans, and killed them.  Then Murphy and Brandon raised their helmets, inviting fire to reveal the enemy’s position.  They lobbed two hand grenades toward the sound of the blast, and then there was silence.  Brandon saw a white handkerchief waving and was convinced the Germans were giving up.  Murphy cautioned him against responding to the gesture, but Brandon stood up to capture the surrendering enemy.  In a barrage of bullets, Brandon fell back into the hole.  Murphy was trapped with two German soldiers under him and his best buddy on top.  With single-minded focus, he tried to move his friend, leading the way with a grenade.  He sneaked behind the remaining Germans and made sure they were permanently incapacitated.  Finally, there were no more enemy soldiers to confront.  After removing the personal effects from Brandon’s pockets, Murphy sat next to his friend and cried until he was spent before rejoining his company.

For his courage and commitment in many similar situations during three years of active combat, Murphy received 33 awards and decorations.  He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award given for bravery.  In an attack of six Panzer tanks and 250 infantrymen, Murphy mounted an abandoned, burning tank destroyer and used one machine gun to stave off the advancing enemy.  Even though he was wounded in the leg, Murphy stayed there for almost an hour, fighting off the attacking Germans on three sides and single-handedly killing 50 of them.  After rejoining his company, he organized a counterattack which forced the Germans to retreat.  In addition, he received five decorations from France and Belgium.  He is credited with killing, wounding or capturing over 250 enemy soldiers.  In 1945 Murphy was 21 years old when he resigned from active duty.  He had attained the rank of Second Lieutenant.

LIFE AFTER WAR    James Cagney saw Murphy’s photo on the cover of Life magazine and invited him to go to Hollywood.  Murphy admitted he had little talent, and he struggled to get parts, sleeping in a gymnasium until he got a break and finally a contract at Universal.  He found his niche in westerns and starred in The Red Badge of Courage directed by John Houston. 

In 1949 he published his autobiography, To Hell and Back, which proved to be a bestseller, and he starred in the film version of his story.  The movie set a box office record for Universal that was only surpassed by Jaws in 1975.  He made a total of 44 films.

Murphy’s heart was always in Texas, and he owned a ranch there as well as in California and Arizona.  He owned and bred Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, winning and losing fortunes gambling on them, and playing poker.  He also discovered a talent for songwriting, and he wrote songs recorded by Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold and Roy Clark. 

In 1949 he married actress Wanda Hendrix, but the marriage only lasted a year.  In 1951 he married Pamela Archer, and they had two sons. 

LIVING WITH THE NIGHTMARES     Murphy’s combat experiences haunted him for the rest of his life.  He suffered from “battle fatigue,” now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow.  In order to cope with insomnia and depression he became addicted to sleeping pills.  To break the addiction, Murphy locked himself in a motel room for a week until he finished going through withdrawal.  He advocated on behalf of the soldiers returning from Korea and Vietnam for better health benefits and treatment for mental health issues. 

On May 28, 1971, Murphy, 46 years old, was a passenger in a private plane when it crashed into a fog covered mountain near Roanoke, Virginia.  He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. 

QUESTION:  How do you feel about war?  What ideals do you think are important enough to die for?

To see clips of Murphy in To Hell and Back go to

To see his appearance on the game show “What’s My Line” go to

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Murphy, Audie, To Hell and Back. New York: Holt Rinehart, and Winston, 1949.

YOUNG OAK KIM (1919 – 2005) First Ethnic Minority to Command a U.S. Army Combat Battalion

In American History, Biography, History, Korean Americans, Korean War, Trivia, U.S. Army, World War II on June 7, 2010 at 9:32 PM

Young Oak Kim

Young-Oak Kim was born in 1919, the same year as Liberace, Eva Peron and Jackie Robinson.  Those gained fame by being in the public eye.  Kim’s recognition came from more sacrificial pursuits.

Kim’s parents immigrated to America, and his father owned a grocery store in Los Angeles. That was lucky since Kim had six siblings and there were a lot of mouths to feed.  Kim’s father belonged to “The Great Korean Association,” keeping ties to their homeland strong. 

After high school, Kim decided the future would be more profitable if he worked rather than continue his education.  He dropped out of junior college after one year but had trouble finding jobs because of racial discrimination.  His next option was to enlist in the military, but he was refused by the U.S. Army, again because of racial discrimination.  The outbreak of World War II changed everything, and the U.S. Congress passed a law including Asian Americans in conscription, thereby giving Kim his wish.  He was drafted into the Army in January, 1941, three months before his father died.

A TRUE PATRIOT                                   Kim started his military career as an engineer before admission to Officer Candidate School at age 24.  He was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion, a unit of all Japanese American soldiers. Kim believed his superiors didn’t know the difference between Koreans, Japanese and Chinese.  Since Korea was occupied by Japan at the time, when he reported for duty Kim was offered a transfer, but his national pride was greater than his ethic loyalty.  He refused the transfer saying, “There is no Japanese nor Korean here. We’re all Americans and we’re fighting for the same cause.”  His youth, ethnicity and exuberance were three strikes against him at the beginning, but eventually he won the respect of enlisted men and officers with his cool head and courageous leadership.

A REAL HERO                                            The 100th Battalion was originally sent to North Africa, but Kim and his troops wanted more action.  They were reassigned to Italy where Kim’s leadership skills were evident, especially in the Battle of Anzio.  Before they could proceed, the Allies needed to know the locations of German tanks.  First Lieutenant Kim and Private First Class Irving Akahoshi volunteered to infiltrate German territory to get the information.  The two soldiers crawled to an area near Cisterna, Italy, captured two German soldiers in broad daylight and snuck them past enemy outposts back to camp.  The information obtained from these prisoners led to the liberation of Rome and earned Kim the Distinguished Service Cross.

Not one to rest on his laurels, now Captain Kim also led his battalion in battles at Belvedere and Pisa, which helped the Allies occupy Pisa without any casualties.  In France, he helped liberate Bruyères and Biffontaine.  Kim spent six months in Los Angeles in late 1944 on leave to recover from wounds sustained in fighting at Biffontaine.  By the time he had recovered, Germany had surrendered, and Kim decided to trade the action of military for the relative calm of civilian life.

Kim opened one of the first semi-self-serve “launderettes” on Los Angeles.  Many of the skills that made him a great military leader also made him a successful businessman.  That sustained him for two years until the Korean War started.  He realized that it was action that he wanted and abandoned his business and reenlisted in the Army.

VISITING HIS HOMELAND               All Koreans or Korean speakers were assigned to the Army Security Agency. They were responsible for interpreting enemy communication.  But a desk job didn’t excite Kim as much as being on the front lines.  He denied knowing any Korean, cashed in a favor and was allowed to join the infantry.  He landed in Korea, and was undoubtedly thankful he actually did know the language.    

Then Colonel William J. McCaffrey had to figure out how to make the largely incompetent 31st Infantry of the 7th Infantry Division successful.  By McCaffrey’s special request, Major Kim joined the battalion as the Chief Intelligence Officer and a de facto operations officer.  Colonel McCaffrey’s trust in Kim was well rewarded.   The 31st Infantry subsequently won almost every battle and played a major role in pushing Chinese troops back over the 38th parallel and establishing the current border between North and South Korea.

WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR                   This success had an unfortunate flip side.  During the operation, Kim’s unit made it farther north than seemed possible.  The 555th Field Artillery Battalion, thinking they were enemy troops, erroneously bombarded Kim’s battalion, and Kim was seriously injured by the friendly fire. Kim was saved by doctors from Johns Hopkins University who were in Tokyo, and went back to Korea two months later.

Colonel McCaffrey didn’t want to waste Kim’s talent, so he put him in command of the 1st Battalion.  This distinguished Kim as the first ethnic minority to command an Army combat battalion in U.S. history. In September 1952, Kim returned to the states after almost one year in this position. 

Kim extended his tenure in the Army for another 20 years serving in the U.S., Europe and again in South Korea.  He retired in 1965 as a Colonel.  His exemplary and sacrificial service was rewarded by two Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, a French Croix de la Guerre and an Italian Cross of Valor.  In 2005, Kim was also given France’s highest award, the Legion of Valor and South Korea’s highest military honor, the Taeguk Order of Military Merit.

LIFE GOES ON                                             After settling again in California, Kim finally pursued his education.  He graduated with a degree in history in 1972 and worked as the CEO of Fine Particle Technology.   He was married and divorced twice.  

Kim was a humanitarian as well as a soldier.  While in Korea, his compassion persuaded his battalion to adopt an orphanage ensuring that more than 500 war orphans would receive supplies and monetary aid.  His was the only United Nations military unit serving on the frontline to adopt an orphanage during wartime. After his retirement from the military, Kim served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations including the Japanese American National Museum, the Korean American Coalition and the Go For Broke Educational Foundation which he co-founded.

Kim’s life was ended by cancer at the age of 86.  He’s buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu, HI.

QUESTION:  How could you reach out and make peace between you and someone you don’t like?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved