Once enlisted in the U.S. Army, Murphy was assigned to the 15th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa. After training in Morocco, Murphy became a very well known soldier and rose through the ranks rapidly, reaching 2nd Lieutenant, and fighting mostly in the European Theater. During his service in countries such as Italy and France, Murphy had 240 confirmed kills and was a part of many notable battles.
In southern France near the city of Holtzwihr, Murphy and his company were tasked with overtaking a nearby forest. On the mission to secure the forest, Murphy spotted a large German battalion approaching, climbed aboard a burning tank with a .50 caliber machine gun on top, and began to use the weapon to eliminate the approaching battalion. Over the night of the battle, over 102 of the 120 German infantry men were killed before getting into position. Murphy’s most successful mission, his actions won him the Congressional Medal of Honor. This was not Murphy’s last medal awarded. Over Murphy’s 15 years of service he earned every medal offered by the U.S. Military while also collecting a number of French and other European medals as well, making Murphy the most decorated soldier in U.S. history.
Following Murphy’s military service, he returned to the United States and began taking small roles in Hollywood in smaller war films. Over time, Murphy worked his way into the spotlight and began taking lead roles in films such as The Red Badge of Courage and the film adaptation of his autobiography, To Hell and Back. While Murphy also performed in many westerns, none reached the popularity of To Hell and Back. During the late 1960s, Murphy began to suffer from PTSD and started struggling with his own personal health. However, it was not years of military service that took Murphy’s life. The decorated soldier and actor died in a private plane crash in Virginia in 1971.
Though an unexpected tragedy took Murphy’s life, his legend lives on and is celebrated in towns such as Celeste. This historical marker was placed in the small town in 1973 to commemorate the soldier's heroics, though focuses on the first 18 years of Audie Murphy’s life.