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A VETERANS DAY REFLECTION

November 11, 2018

Sunday, November 11, is Veterans Day. I have reflected on how we as Americans will honor those who have served our country. Scout troops and veterans will march together in parades. Some will hold flag retirement ceremonies. Our national leaders will mark the day with pomp and ceremony. People of faith will gather for worship and will remember those who died in service to our country and their families. Many will simply breathe a silent prayer. I will conduct a graveside funeral for a ninety-seven-year-old man who served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.

Five of my uncles served our country during World War II. Two were in the Navy, two were in the Army Air Corps, and one was in the regular Army. Uncle Buzz was in the Normandy invasion. Uncle Bill was assigned to the Pacific. Two were in bombers that were shot down over Germany. Uncle Bury parachuted into Switzerland. Uncle David was taken as a prisoner of war.  Uncle Robert endured the harsh life of an infantryman and then was captured as a prisoner of war. From these uncles, I learned a major truth. In war, there are no soldiers without wounds.

November 11 is designated as a day of gratitude for the brave.

Mark Twain wrote, “The patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.”

This serious quote from a great humorist speaks an important truth. November 11, Veterans Day, soldiers and the citizens join in a time of remembrance. Elmer Davis said, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice ending World War I between Germany and the Allied nations went into effect. The treaty signed at Rethondes, France, ushered in an era of peace.

In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed that Armistice Day, November 11, should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory”. There were parades and public meetings.  Business activities were briefly suspended at 11:00 A.M.

In 1926, the United States Congress declared that the anniversary of the armistice should be commemorated with prayer and thanksgiving. The flag of the United States was to be displayed on all Government buildings. On November 11 observances were to be held in schools and churches, or other suitable places.

This day was originally intended to honor veterans of World War I.  In 1954, by an act of Congress, November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans. The day became Veterans Day.

Traditionally a two-minute silence is observed on November 11. It is two minutes well spent because we too easily take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

I remember playing Army with my friends when I was a boy. Our battlefield was usually Dead Horse Canyon, over the creek and through the woods behind our house. One of my buddies insisted that he play the part of Audie Murphy in every skirmish. I didn’t know who Audie Murphy was until much later. I can understand now why my friend wanted to play the part of the World War II hero.

Audie Murphy was the son of a poor Texas sharecropper. The farm boy earned fame as the most decorated United States combat soldier of World War II. Among his 33 awards was the Medal of Honor, the highest military recognition for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.

He also received every United States military medal for valor, some of them more than once. He was recognized with five awards by France and Belgium. Credited with killing over 240 of the enemy while wounding and capturing many others, he became a legend within the 3rd Infantry Division.

Beginning his service as a teenage Army Private, Audie quickly rose to the enlisted rank of Staff Sergeant. He was given a battlefield commission as Second Lieutenant. Murphy fought in nine major campaigns across the European Theater. He was wounded three times.

During his three years of active combat service, Audie became one of the best fighting soldiers in history. Many believe that his accomplishments will never be repeated by another soldier, especially given today’s high-tech warfare.

On September 21, 1945, at the age of 21, Audie was released from the U. S. Army. His picture appeared on the cover of Life magazine.

Actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood. The next two years were hard times for Murphy. He slept in a local gymnasium until he began receiving token acting parts.

In 1950 Murphy got a contract with Universal-International where he starred in 26 films. Most of those films were Westerns.  His 1949 autobiography To Hell and Back was a best seller. Murphy starred as himself in a film biography released by Universal-International in 1955 with the same title. The movie, “To Hell and Back,” held the record as Universal’s highest grossing picture until 1975 when it was finally surpassed by the movie “Jaws.”

Murphy married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. They were divorced in 1951. He then married former airline stewardess Pamela Archer. Pam was the love of his life. They were parents of two sons.

Despite his success in Hollywood, Audie never forgot his rural Texas roots. He returned frequently to the Dallas area where he owned a small ranch. He also had ranches in California and Arizona. He was a successful thoroughbred and quarter horse owner and breeder.  His films earned him close to 3 million dollars in 23 years as an actor. But Audie loved to gamble. He was an avid high stakes poker player. He won and lost fortunes.

Murphy wrote some poetry and was successful as a songwriter. Dozens of his songs were recorded by Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Porter Waggoner, and Roy Clark. His two biggest hits were “Shutters and Boards” and “When the Wind Blows in Chicago.”

Audie suffered from battle fatigue, now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After the war, he was plagued by insomnia and depression. During the mid-60s he became dependent on prescription sleeping pills. When he recognized that he was addicted to the prescription drug, he locked himself in a motel room, stopped taking the sleeping pills, and went through withdrawal symptoms for a week.

Audie was always an advocate for the needs of veterans. After his addiction, he broke the taboo about discussing war-related mental problems. In an effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Murphy spoke candidly about his personal problems. He publicly called for the United States government to give more attention to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to include the mental health problems of returning war vets.

While on a business trip on Memorial Day Weekend, 1971, Murphy was killed at the age of 46. He was a passenger in a private plane flying in fog and rain that crashed into the side of a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia.

On June 7, 1971, Murphy was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Pam Murphy, wife and widow of Audie Murphy, established her own distinctive 35-year career working as a patient liaison at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration Hospital. Every soldier who was a patient in the hospital was treated with respect and dignity by Pam Murphy.

“Nobody could cut through VA red tape faster than Mrs. Murphy,” said one veteran. “She was our angel.”

When Audie died, he was broke, having squandered millions on gambling, bad investments, and other women.

“Even with the adultery and desertion at the end, he always remained my hero,” Pam said.

Pam Murphy died on April 8, 2010. She was ninety years old.

One year Dennis McCarthy of the Los Angeles Times asked Pam to be the focus of a Veteran’s Day column for all the work she had done. Pam declined. “Honor them, not me,” she said. “They’re the ones who deserve it.”

Let’s do as Pam Murphy said and honor our veterans.

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