American Portraits

The Most Decorated American Soldier of World War II: Audie Murphy, World War II, and Courage

In this lesson, students will consider the courage of Audie Murphy, who became the most decorated American soldier of World War II. They will also consider how to cultivate and apply courage in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

In May 1943, under the blinding North African sun, Private Audie Murphy was frustrated. He was stuck guarding German prisoners from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Africa Korps who had recently surrendered. Murphy had not been in combat yet and was itching to get into the fight. As novelist and war correspondent John Steinbeck wrote, “No man there knows whether he can take it, knows whether he will run away or stick, or lose his nerve and go to pieces, or will be a good soldier.” Murphy was eager to prove he was courageous….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can your courageous actions help to advance freedom in your life and the lives of others?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear in order to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will consider the courage of Audie Murphy, who became the most decorated American soldier of World War II. They will also consider how to cultivate and apply courage in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will evaluate Audie Murphy’s courage during World War II.
  • Students will analyze how courageous acts can promote progress.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of courage to their own lives.

Background

Audie Murphy was born and raised in rural Texas, where his parents were poor itinerant farmers who struggled to put food on the table. He generally lived in shacks without electricity or running water. His family was poor in 1925 when he was born, but the Great Depression caused cotton prices to plummet. This made finding work even more difficult for his father, who increasingly turned to alcohol and eventually abandoned his wife and children when Audie was fifteen. Murphy did not attend school until he was nine and left to go to work at thirteen. He became a crack shot with a rifle and often hunted to help feed his family. Murphy later admitted that he was angry with his father because “I hate anyone who quits.” Murphy admired courage as a young man and wanted his father to battle even against great odds.

Murphy bounced around low-paying jobs during the Great Depression, trying to learn a skill and send some money home to his mother and siblings. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the thin young man tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps but was rejected because of his diminutive size. After several attempts, he was finally accepted into the U.S. Army and found his purpose. Murphy enjoyed the order and stability of army life in basic and advanced infantry training at various military bases. He easily earned his marksmanship badge because of his expert skill with a rifle.

On February 8, 1943, he shipped out to North Africa, where the United States and its allies had invaded in Operation Torch. The allied effort would continue with the invasion of Sicily and then Italy in 1943. In June of 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy and pushed the Germans out of France before a massive German counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge in December and January 1944. After defeating the German onslaught, the Allies entered Germany, and the Nazis surrendered on May 8, 1945. Murphy fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany and his courageous actions made him the most highly decorated American soldier of World War II.

Vocabulary

  • Pearl Harbor
  • Diminutive
  • Marksmanship
  • Battle of the Bulge
  • Private
  • Platoon
  • Corporal
  • Valiantly
  • Sergeant
  • Malaria
  • Amphibious
  • Beachhead
  • Stealthily
  • Influenza
  • D-Day
  • Pillbox
  • Meritorious
  • Audacious
  • Reconnaissance
  • Carbine
  • Mortar strikes
  • Foxhole
  • Valorous
  • Congressional Medal of Honor

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What contributions did Audie Murphy and the other American soldiers make to the advancement of freedom through their demonstration of courage in World War II?
  • In what ways did Murphy’s courage contribute to his ability to lead his men in World War II battles?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Hastings, Max. Warriors: Extraordinary Tales from the Battlefield. New York: Vintage, 2007.
  • Murphy, Audie. To Hell and Back. New York: Owl Books, 2002.
  • Smith, David A. The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America’s Most Decorated Hero of World War II. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2015.

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