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Sunday, June 9, 2013
Q: I have been reading some information on the death of Western movie actor Audie Murphy who died in a plane accident near Roanoke back on May 28, 1971. One book states the plane crash was near Galax, and some of the Internet information states it was near Brush Mountain not too far from Catawba. I have heard also it was near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I’d like some information on this to clear up some information about his untimely death.
A: For those who don’t know, Audie Murphy was much more than just an actor in Westerns, though he did appear in more than 40 films.
He was famous for being one of the most decorated soldiers in American history for repeated heroics in Europe in World War II. He was awarded 33 medals for his service.
His biography seems almost hard to believe — it’s pretty astounding that one man could be known for so many different accomplishments. We’ve written about him before, but that’s because he was such a larger-than-life figure, and his death in the area is worth remembering.
He did things like stand up to draw enemy fire in northeastern France, and then when they missed him (except for the shrapnel he took in the leg) he wiped out their machine gun position. He once crawled 50 yards alone and killed 15 enemy combatants and took 35 prisoners. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for commandeering a .50-caliber gun on a disabled tank and holding the Germans at bay for more than an hour.
After going to Hollywood he became much better known and even played himself in the screen adaptation of his memoir, “To Hell and Back.” He also starred as Billy the Kid and fittingly, played the lead in an adaptation of “The Red Badge of Courage.” Most of his other films were Westerns. A 1962 film he narrated called “War is Hell” was the movie Lee Harvey Oswald was watching in the Texas Theater in Dallas when he was captured after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
After World War II, Murphy was reportedly afflicted by what is now called post traumatic stress disorder and used his celebrity to call attention to the plight of others who suffered from it both during and after the Korean War.
He also became a songwriter and is credited with co-writing more than 15 country western songs between 1962 and 1970 with titles like “Dusty Old Helmet” and “Leave the Weeping to the Willow Tree.” Honestly, I don’t think you could make up a life as full as his.
He was living in California when his plane went down right near the spine of Brush Mountain in Craig County. It was foggy and raining with zero visibility, and the pilot, though experienced, did not have his instrument rating. They were on their way to Martinsville on business.
If you are up for a hike, you can visit the crash site where a memorial was erected in 1974. It’s along the Appalachian Trail, which was re-routed in the 1990s to pass the monument.
For readers who’d like to attempt the 7.6 mile trek, Kevin Myatt has written about the hike as part of a series on local trails. I once did it with a bunch of Boy Scouts and can tell you that while it’s not incredibly difficult, it will get your heart pumping if you aren’t in shape. You can also drive to within about half a mile of the monument, but be prepared because it’s a bumpy ride and four-wheel drive is recommended.
Former Roanoke Times reporter Tim Thornton wrote a comprehensive story on Murphy in 2004, and you can read both of them by going to the What’s On Your Mind? blog.
Have a question? An answer? Call “What’s on Your Mind?” at 777-6476 or send an email to email@example.com. Don’t forget to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown.
Look for Tom Landon’s column on Mondays. Read the WOYM blog on roanoke.com anytime.
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