Thursday, June 06, 2013

The War Never Ended for Audie



While first V-E Day, then V-J Day, meant that the Second World War had come to an end, sadly, for Audie Murphy the war would never end.  Though his bravery on the battlefield had earned him numerous medals (and ultimately a place in Arlington National Cemetery) and brought him home as a hero and the most highly-decorated soldier of the war, the horrors he had witnessed in battle had scarred him for life. "Shortly after the end of the war, when Audie was asked if he had gotten over the war, he responded, "I don't think you ever do." In short, though peace had come, Mr. Murphy would not know peace for the remainder of his too-short life; to not acknowledge this---and to talk only of his heroics---minimizes the enormous price he paid for his commitment to the cause of freedom.

Images of the war continually filled Audie's mind, making him edgy, tense, irritable, and paranoid.  He developed painful ulcers and depression, suffered from occasional blackouts, and his sleep patterns fluctuated between being disrupted by traumatic nightmares and an inability to sleep at all.  In an effort to get a few hours of rest a night, he began taking a prescription drug, to which he ultimately became addicted. After realizing  that his addiction had caused him to "live in a daze for three years, he locked himself in a Florida hotel room for several days" and, in true warrior fashion, endured the agonizing process of withdrawal.


Audie's struggle with what we now know to be the very real disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), contributed to the break-up of his first marriage.  Wife Wanda Hendrix claimed that he "constantly re-fought the war in his sleep and that his painful ulcers made him irritable and critical."  Hardly more than a year after getting married, the couple divorced.  While Audie would remain married to his second wife, Pam, for the remainder of his life, that marriage, too, suffered the stresses of the most-decorated soldier's battle with PTSD.

Although he would never find relief from the effects of the war, Mr. Murphy would fight for relief on behalf of future veterans. Despite the fact that discussing war-related mental problems was taboo, "in an effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, he spoke-out candidly about his problems with PTSD.  He publicly called for the government to give more consideration and study to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to address PTSD and other mental health problems of returning war vets."  Also, his widow, Pam, would spend most of the remainder of her life---until she was 87 years old---working on behalf of veterans in a V. A. hospital.



Thankfully, more is known today than it was back then about the emotional effects of war on the men and women who fight them, and, thus, those afflicted are now able to receive better treatment.  We now know that what was once referred to as "battle fatigue" or "combat nerves" is not anything to be taken lightly.  It is a very real, very serious, disorder, and those suffering from it deserve our respect, support, and understanding...and, of course, our deepest thanks. Audie Murphy and his family---and countless other men and women and their families---have paid (and continue to pay!) much for the cause of freedom!

Having Audie as star of the month is totally appropriate for June, as June is PTSD Awareness Month.  The National Center for PTSD, through the United States Department of Veterans' Affairs, has a webite (HERE), which provides a wealth of information about a disorder many of our friends and loved ones are experiencing.

NOTE:  All information and direct quotes are derived from American Hero, The Audie Murphy Story, by Peggy Caravantes, Avisson Press, Inc., 2004, and from The Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE)

All photos used in this post were taken from The Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website.

25 comments:

  1. Oh, Patti! I LOVED Audie Murphy when I was a young girl. I thought he was so cute and such a good actor. And when I found out he portrayed himself in "To Hell and Back," I was really amazed! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Becky, had I heard of Audie when I was a young girl, I would have had the same reaction you did. I'm sure every girl in America had a crush on him! He was such a cute teenage boy, but as he got into his mid 30's and early 40's, his looks matured, and though he still had a youthful look, he wasn't quite so boyish-looking. He definitely grew into a handsome man.

      I think he was a very capable actor. He gave a solid performance in every film I've seen. Not sure why people always criticize him.

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  2. Patti, the way you seamlessly move from the man "every girl in America has a crush on" to the tormented -- I grew up with the term "shell-shocked" -- returning soldier is a deft piece of writing indeed. Bravo!

    To stay with the returning veteran theme, Audie Murphy fought in the best of the honorable conflicts in which America waged war in this century. Francis Coppola rivetingly shares the plight of returning Vietnam vets in his film Apocalypse Now Redux (2001), based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899). (Indeed, I know stories of men who moved directly from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the Florida Everglades, never re-entering American society.) For many, the just was no America to return to.

    Again, stellar writing, with a real punch.

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    1. Thanks so much for your encouraging words, Jim. What I most wanted to do in the post was to pay homage to a man who is SO deserving of our honor, respect, praise and thanks.

      While talking about Audie's battle with PTSD may seem dishonoring, I think it serves to make us realize just how high of a price he paid to uphold the cause of freedom. To just talk of his heroics minimizes the cost. He and his family would never live a "normal" life because of the devastating effects of the war.

      I would like to think that if Audie could know what I wrote, he would feel honored and loved.

      At any rate, this post was a labor of love, not only for Audie, but for a dear friend, who is struggling with the effects of PTSD in her own soldier’s life. Seeing the broken man he is now, versus the vibrant man he was not long ago, reminds her that freedom isn't free!

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  3. Patti,
    This was very touching and I admit that it brought a tear to my eye.

    You've written such kind things about Audie and boy did he deserve every award, accolade he received during his life.

    The one film I do my best to watch every Veteran's Day is "To Hell and Back". I'm sure I've seen it at least 20 times now but that doesn't make it any less moving or powerful.

    As someone who has served in the Navy and coming from a long family of Navy and Marine Vets, I thank you for putting your heart into this post. You've certainly moved me and I do hope others find this article and take the time to read it.

    Have a great weekend!
    Page

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  4. Lovely and wise post. I have a friend struggling with PTSD, and she was a noncombatant. I can't imagine what the warriors must go through. Audie was doubly a hero for having the courage to talk about what so many wanted to ignore.

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    1. Oh, Hamlette, I feel for your friend and her family. That is so sad.

      There was such a stigma back then about discussing these kinds of issues---and there still is a bit, in my opinion. Oh, we may say we understand, but, often, those with mental and emotional hurts are kind of looked at like "You look fine, so just get over it."

      Anyhow, the stigma was much more prevalent back then; in fact, it was very taboo to talk about those kinds of things, so Audie is definitely to be commended for speaking of his experience, in an effort to help other veterans. Just one more reason to honor him.

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  5. A wonderful post Patti ! Imagine Audie Murphy living through the real war and then reliving it on screen in his movies ? It must have been so hard since most Vets from that era never talked about the war after returning home. What a lifelong struggle for him and his family with PTSD !!! A true American hero and one of our favorites ;)

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    1. Hi Nonna, thank you for stopping by. I have missed you here in blog land!

      You know, according to Audie's bio, he did not want to play the part of himself. Saying, he "didn't want to act it out again," he suggested that Tony Curtis play the lead. Universal, however, insisted that "no one could play Audie Murphy as well as Audie Murphy." So he agreed, and it was the first time a national hero portrayed his own life story.

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  6. Ohhh, poor Audie, my heart goes out to him completely. Three of my male relatives (g-grandparents generation) fought in WW2. Only two made it home and both were affected by the horrors of their memories and PTSD in much the same way.

    Touching, deeply important post, dear Patti, thank you very much for writing so frankly about what Audie endured.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thank you, as always, Jessica, for your kind and encouraging comments. Thank you, also, for sharing of your own family members' battles with the emotional effects of war.

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  7. Being "of the age that I am".....very VERY olden.....I so remember Audie Murphy. My daddy was in WW2, along with my uncles and cousins. They all kept good and bad memories of those times.
    I didn't realize AM had such a hard time...bless his heart.

    I am linking up to follow you because I don't ever want to miss any of your movie star posts again. :)
    Come over to see me when u can.
    xo bj

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    1. Hi BJ, thank you for visiting.

      "Bless his heart"...you are a Southerner for sure! I LOVE that term!

      I'm not surprised you didn't know Audie struggled with the mental and emotional effects of the war. A plastic smile covers a lot. I call it "smiling through the tears." Even today, we often mask the hurts within.

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  8. O, and just to say that I quit signing up for FOLLOW ME BY EMAIL because my inbox gets too full....HOWEVER, with THAT being said, I DID sign up to follow YOU by email....LOVE YOUR BLOG.

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    1. I generally post 3 or 4 days a week (S,M,W,Th), so your inbox shouldn't be getting too overloaded on my account. Occasionally, I may post on other days---like if the birthday for the month or the month-end wrap-up falls on one of those days.

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  9. Patti, what a wonderful way to highlight PTSD Awareness and honor a war hero and dependable Hollywood star. Kudos to you and your insight post (I knew much less about Audie Murphy than I thought I did).

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Rick. I actually very much enjoy writing tributes (if there was such a career as a tribute writer, I would pursue that!). This post was a true labor of love, not only for Audie, but for a dear friend's soldier son who is suffering with PTSD.

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  10. Audie Murphy, seems like such a quiet, happy man. The more I read about him the more I appreciate what he did for our country. After reading your post, his performances in his movies seem that much more impressive.

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    1. You never really know what is actually behind the surface of a smile, do you, Dawn? Especially in Hollywood!

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  11. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in combat or have to deal with the crippling after-effects. I'm glad Audie Murphy publicly talked about PTSD, and I'm glad you're focusing on it, too, in this excellent post.

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    1. Thanks, Silver Screenings, this was a post I NEEDED to do. When I made my blog schedule for the year and decided to focus on Audie in June, I didn't even know it would be PTSD Awareness Month. How's that for things working out the way they're supposed to!

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  12. Great post! I never knew that Audie Murphy suffered from PTSD or campaigned for recognition and treatment of PTSD in other veterans. It took a lot of bravery for him to speak out when it was not so well understood.

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  13. I don’t think anyone who has been involved in a war ever can get it completely out of his mind for the rest of his life. I was in Vietnam, but was fortunate not to have seen much action. Still, when I first came home I was on edge, jumpy for a while. The sound of rockets landing so close that you can hear them whiz by before exploding is never forgotten. Certainly minor compared to what Audie Murphy and so many others have gone through, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. My point is war is an unnatural act and it affects those who have experienced it for the rest of their life. You have written a fabulous piece here. Excellent job!!!

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    1. John, thanks so much for your kind words about this article. It was definitely heartfelt and written with passion and love...not only for Audie, but for so many others who are struggling with the ugly ramifications of war.

      I am about 10 years too young to have known people involved in Vietnam when it was happening. As an adult, though, I know plenty of men who were there, and like you, they remember it like it was yesterday.

      I'm so thankful I have never been in combat. As stupid as it sounds, even a dead dog on the side of the road, renders me to pieces. I can't imagine the horror of seeing people killed in front of my eyes. I don't know how it couldn't affect a person for life.

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  14. How sad that it wasn't acceptable to speak out about their experiences. Although, I've heard of many WWII men who refused to speak about it. It's amazing that Audie Murphy gave so much of himself during the war and then went on to become an actor...talk about night and day!

    BTW, your blog looks fantastic!

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