The military veteran is a natural celebrity, whether only to his or her local community, or to their whole nation. It’s impossible not to honor a fellow human being who puts their life at risk for others.
For all of history all cultures have accorded status to warriors. When those warriors return home, and tales are told of their deeds, they receive the honor they have earned, and often more in having their names known throughout history, becoming models for perfection in human achievement. They are celebrated with ticker tape parades, often sitting up on the backs of chauffeured limousines, so they can be seen by their fans.
Following is a brief history of two of those revered veteran celebrities, and how they were catapulted to fame.
Major Audie Murphy – WWII
All baby boomers in America grew up knowing the name of Audie Murphy, the most decorated veteran of WWII. At the tender age of 19, having already had been awarded two Silver Stars and the Distinguished Service Cross, he was sent from Italy to participate in the amphibious invasion of Southern France.
After landing on the beach, a German soldier set a trap by pretending to surrender. When the American soldiers came forward to meet the German, hidden snipers opened fire on the Americans, killing Murphy’s best friend.
The enraged Murphy opened fire and brought down all the Germans in sight, then located their hidden machine gun nest, and on his own, dispatched them all. He then grabbed a German machine gun, found and dispatched two more nests and two snipers.
That was only one of a long string of dramatically heroic acts Murphy did during WWII. One suspects the Marine recruiter who turned him down because he was “too small,” always regretted sending him to try for the Army. By the time the war was over, Murphy had received 33 awards, with several from France and Belgium. These include:
- Congressional Medal of Honor,
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Two Silver Stars
- Legion of Merit
- Two Bronze Stars
- Three Purple Hearts
- U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal
- Good Conduct Medal
- Two Presidential Unit Citations
- American Campaign Medal
After he returned to civilian life, his celebrity led to a career as a respected actor. Between 1948 and 1969 he made 40 films, mostly Westerns, and one TV series. To Hell and Back, his autobiography, was made into a movie. After much deliberation, he was convinced to play himself. It became Universal Studio’s biggest hit in history at that times. The public couldn’t seem to get enough of this great war hero. Tragically, on May 28, 1971, Major Murphy was killed in a plane crash when he was only 46. He continues to be awarded medals posthumously.
Sergeant Alvin York – WWI
Sergeant Alvin York, born in 1887 in Tennessee to a very large and very poor family on a backwoods farm in a two room cabin; he grew up as a gentle, young man. He only attended school for nine months, and then quit to help his father support the family. His father died in 1911 and he took on supporting his big family, especially with hunting for meat.
He was a devout Christian and his church objected to all forms of violence and had refused to support slavery during the Civil War. When WWI began, he is quoted as saying, “I was worried clean through. I didn’t want to go and kill. I believed in my Bible.” Not a likely candidate to become a decorated war hero!
When he received his enlistment papers, he returned them, stating he was a conscientious objector. However, at that time, that status did not provide freedom from service; rather they were inducted and given duties that did not conflict with their beliefs.
So York finally registered with the draft when he was 29, in 1917. From the moment he registered, he voluntarily relinquished his status as a conscientious objector, and he entered the Army. He had a long dialog with his commanding officer about his conflicting beliefs, and was given a 10 day leave to return home and confer with his family. He returned convinced God had called him to serve as a soldier. Fortunately for history, he kept a meticulous daily diary, allowing us to follow his remarkable career.
Sgt. York was caught in an attack in Germany. York, led 17 men to take out a German stronghold. They overcame that group of Germans, but soon they were under heavy attack from German Forces. York left 11 of his men in charge of the captives (six had died in the battle) and went to engage with the enemy.
He was able to confront 17 German machine gunners using the gun skills he gained from hunting as a child to support his family. He took down 7 out 17 German Machine Gunners via sniping, and is credited with killing 7 soldiers who charged him with only his pistol. Astonishingly, York was able to bring in 132 German soldiers as prisoners.
York gained such celebrity he was memorialized in a painting by Schoonover, Alvin C. York. Then in 1941, Gary Cooper played York in the movie, Sergeant York. Even today, 75 years later, the movie has a 7.8 rating on IMDB. The term “Sergeant York” has come to mean a fearless warrior. Now that’s celebrity!!