Recently, I found out that I am related to Audie Murphy, who was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers in World War II. As it turns out, he is my 7th cousin 3 times removed, on my dad’s side of the family. We share the same grandfather, Thomas Fuller, who is my 9th great grandfather, and Audie’s 7th great grandfather. Audie became an actor in 1948 and 1969, during which time he was beloved by many people, including my parents. I think they would have been very excited to find out that he was actually related to them, but then I guess they already know it by now. While his acting was impressive, it was his military career that always impressed my parents.
Audie Leon Murphy, was born on June 20, 1925 to Josie Bell Killian and Emmett Berry Murphy in Kingston, Texas. He was born into a large family of sharecroppers. Before long, his father abandoned them, and then his mother died when he was a teenager. Murphy left school in fifth grade to pick cotton and find other work to help support his family. He was a skilled rifleman, and hunting became a necessity for putting food on the table.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Murphy’s decided that he wanted to help, but he was too young. His older sister helped him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military, because he was only 16 at the time. He was turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, so he enlisted in the Army. He first saw action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944 he participated in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and the invasion of southern France. Murphy fought at Montélimar and led his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October. He received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. Murphy received the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrated at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.
After his acting career ended, Murphy, like many actors without work, experienced money problems, but still, he refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials, because he did not want to set a bad example. He never let Hollywood take away his high moral standards. Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971, shortly before his 46th birthday. Such a sad ending to an amazing life. He was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His grave is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery.
Growing up, my sisters and I watched lots of westerns. It wasn’t so strange really, because westerns were the in thing back then. Everyone loved watching them. One show I remember watching was The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It all seemed like it took place so long ago, and to many people I guess it was. Still, when you think of the fact that Wyatt Earp, a frontiersman, marshal and gambler, who got into a feud in Tombstone, Arizona, that led to the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral passed away quietly in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929, it doesn’t seem so long ago anymore. I guess that in Wyatt Earp’s case, old gunfighters never die, they just lose their fight. Wyatt Earp was born on March 19, 1848, and that seems long ago. The gunfight took place on October 26, 1881…and Wyatt Earp survived. He had led such a wild life, that the thought of him ending up dying quietly in Los Angeles seemed…well, just too tame, and just too much a part of modern times to be right. Nevertheless, it was right. He did live in modern times, and in fact was a friend of John Wayne’s.
I’m not sure why that whole scenario struck me as odd. Wyatt Earp was 80 years old at the time of his passing…not an overly excessive amount of years…average, in fact. Since he was born in 1848, his passing in 1929 would be right. I guess that the thing that seemed strange to me was the fact that when Wyatt Earp passed away, my own dad was five years old. Yes, he was an old man, and my dad a young boy, but for those five years, their life spans occupied the same space in history. And yet, my dad’s life had no connection to the time of Wyatt Earp, or to the man that he was.
Wyatt Earp was a boy in search of adventure, and ran away from home twice after the Civil War broke out when he was 13. He went to join up with his two older brothers, Virgil and James. Each time he ran away, he was caught before he could reach the battlefield, and he was sent back home. Finally, at the age of 17, he left for good. His family had moved from the Illinois farm to California, but Wyatt wanted adventure, so he headed out to seek his own idea of life. He worked many different jobs, most notably as a lawman, and of course, a gambler. Life was not kind to Wyatt Earp. At a point when he was finally ready to settle down with the woman he loved, he married Urilla Sutherland, the daughter of the local hotel owner. The couple married about 1870, built a house in town, and were excitedly awaiting the birth of their first child. Then, life hit him with it’s most cruel blow. Within a year of their marriage Urilla contracted Typhus and died, along with their unborn child. Wyatt went off the deep end and became wild again. Eventually, he would be suspected of killing one of the suspects in his brother, Morgan’s death.
Unfortunately…or maybe fortunately, the west began to settle down. Wyatt was getting older. He settled in Los Angeles and hoped to have the Old West and his own legacy portrayed in film, but Hollywood wasn’t interested until after his death. I suppose it was then that Westerns moved into the forefront of television and movies. Westerns would then have a long run of popularity in the homes of many people…ours included.
Since man first learned to fly, there have been many kinds of planes. It seems like everyone is trying to improve on them. Hollywood producer, Howard Hughes was one of the people who wanted to do something new with planes, so he founded Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932. He tested cutting-edged aircraft that he had designed and in 1937 broke the transcontinental flight-time record. He then broke the world record in 1938 by flying around the world in 19 hours and 14 minutes. Those were amazing feats, but it was another of his planes that caught my dad’s interest.
After the United States entered World War II, the government asked Hughes Aircraft Company to build a large flying boat capable of transporting men and materials very long distances. The concept had originally been that of Henry Kiser, but he dropped out and Howard Hughes took over. The plane was built mostly of birch, but also of spruce, due to wartime restrictions on the use of steel. The wood was laminated with plastic and covered in fabric. The design gave the plane a gray/white color, and since spruce was used in the design, the plane was dubbed the Spruce Goose. The plan was for it to be able to transport 700 men at a time. The plane had a wingspan of 320 feet and it was powered by eight propeller engines and was designed to take off and land on the water. It’s first and last flight was on November 2, 1947. It wasn’t originally intended to be a flight, but just a taxi trip on Long Beach Harbor. Howard Hughes decided on a whim to fly it. It flew 70 feet over the water for one mile before landing successfully.
Since me dad had built planes at Douglas Aircraft Company before going into the service during World War II, the Spruce Goose really intrigued him. It was such a novelty…whether it was supposed to be or not. When Mom and Dad were in McMinnville, Oregon, they finally had the opportunity to visit the Evergreen Aviation Museum and see the Spruce Goose for themselves. I can just hear the thoughts going through my dad’s head the moment he saw it. I’ll bet it was all he could do, not to jump up and down with excitement. I’m sure it was an awesome moment.
I don’t know if Dad ever saw the video of the first and only flight of the Spruce Goose or not, but I have had the chance to see it. It was amazing to see a plane with a wingspan that was longer than a football field actually be able to get in the air. To me though, it seemed like that flight took a lot of effort. I don’t think I would have wanted to trust it to fly the long distance flights to Europe and such. Still, it flew, and it is the largest plane, and no one can take those things away from the Spruce Goose.