Rushville Republican

February 15, 2013

Ward: Remembering To Hell and Back

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — I happened to see a part of To Hell and Back with Audie Murphy on the satellite today. Wow, did it bring back memories! When I was taking Basic Training in the 3rd Infantry Division Second Battle Group 7th Infantry we saw that darn movie every week. At the time it seemed it was every day. Murphy was the most decorated soldier in the US Army during World War II. I think he got at least one of everything including the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was turned down by the US Marines because he was not tall enough. I often wondered what they thought of that later on. Murphy was one of those who made officer the hard way, battle field commission. He stayed in the 3rd Infantry Division as they fought through North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Southern France to Germany itself.

Audie Murphy was about as clean-cut an individual that I ever saw in the movies. He made movies his full-time job after the war and did several films prior to his untimely death. I always thought it was funny that he had managed to go all the way through the war and get wounded but not killed then become a civilian movie star and die of an accident (I believe). I do know he died young and way too soon. The movie To Hell and Back was his autobiography and he even starred as himself in it. Frankly, I thought it stunk. It was filmed at Fort Lewis (Washington state) and used American soldiers as German and Italian as well as American soldiers. In the film the tanks, both German and American, were American. Several of those in the film played both American and German soldiers.

Also, every scene had GI’s in starched, well pressed uniforms. Few, if any, were muddy or dirty, nor did they get that way. Some of the scenes were so fake it showed, even to me. Of course, the 90th time you see a film you pretty well have things down as to what is going to happen. I admire Audie Murphy greatly for his heroism as well and persistence in his military career. In a way, he was a lot like Sgt. York of World War I in that he was a crack shot, but from Texas not Tennessee. He worked his way up the ladder from Private to First Louie all because of his combat actions. He had numerous foreign medals and awards as well as everything we had. To be truthful, I thought if he had all his medals on his dress uniform he might have trouble walking around because of the weight as well as area covered by those medals.

The Third Infantry probably made more amphibious landings in the European Theater of Operations than some Marine divisions did in the Pacific. Yet another thing we had drilled into us was the history of Rock of the Marne. If there was a landing, other than D-Day, the Third did it. On June 6, 1944 they were fighting in Italy and then were pulled out to land in Southern France and head up to Germany from the French Rivera. They did this, and one of their units was first on the scene at Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain-top retreat. (Well, what was left of it.) They then were occupation for a time, then returned to the US and deactivated. It was reconstituted to replace the 10th Mountain Division in West Germany in 1957. This was the time I managed to end up in the 3rd Infantry and spent almost three years in Germany (Franconia, to be exact) as part of NATO.

It was fun to see and feel how things went during the war because we were right around where the 3rd ended the war, Bavaria. We were not far from Nuremburg or Munich and I was able to visit them both several times. There were still signs of Nazi power showing while I was there and I basked in the history of the area and of my division. The Germans I met while there were friendly; not one of them fought the Americans, all fought the Russians (yeah, I bet). But they were friendly and kind to most of us and seemed to be as happy as possible that we were in their country.

I did notice that German Army recruits had it much better than American. The barracks were brick and really nice with only three or four at most per room. I managed to make Sergeant so had a room all to myself. We had several Germans and nationless workers on base and they all had stories that were horrific as well as heroic at times. There seemed little if any animosity toward the US and the new German Army, the Bundeswehr, worked well within NATO and with the Americans.

I hated To Hell and Back but loved the 3rd Infantry and feel proud to have been a member of that elite group.