The late Audie Murphy is revered on two continents for performing a single act of extraordinary heroism.
He has been dead now for nearly 50 years, but two communities – one in eastern France and the other in Northeast Texas – have linked up in a relationship intending to honor the heroism that Murphy performed in January 1945, near the end of the world’s bloodiest conflict.
Farmersville has formed a Sister City relationship with Holtzwihr, France. Audie Murphy listed Farmersville as his hometown when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Holtzwihr is where the young Texan became a legend back home and in the community where he single-handedly wiped out a German armored and infantry unit as World War II was coming to an end.
The Sister City relationship is still in its formative stages, said Misty Wiebold, president of the Farmersville Heritage Museum. The communities hope to cement the relationship as time marches on and as they both continue to honor the heroism and the life of a humble young man.
Wiebold hopes Farmersville will be able to continue to tell Murphy’s story through this still-budding relationship with Holtzwihr. “We have an exhibit here in the museum that is fairly extensive. The museum is devoted 50 to 60 percent to Audie Murphy,” she said of the Heritage Museum, “with the rest of it honoring others who have contributed to the life of Farmersville. We certainly highlight his service during the war, but we also put a lot of focus on his family life in the area.”
Wiebold noted that Murphy’s sole surviving sibling, his sister Nadine Lokey, still lives in the area and is “keeping Audie’s story alive.” Lokey and her sister, Corinne, lived in an orphanage when their brother Audie went off to war. He made them a promise that when he returned, he would “give them a home,” Wiebold said. “He didn’t know of course when he made that promise that he would become a national hero,” she said. He bought them a home in Farmersville, Wiebold said.
Henry Bodden is a historian who lives in Tulsa, Okla. He focuses mainly on World War II history and he came to Farmersville to look more deeply into Audie Murphy’s life, Wiebold said. Bodden asked if he could tour the museum, so Wiebold obliged, showing him the exhibit dedicated to Murphy’s memory.
Bodden visited Holtzwihr early this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle that earned Murphy the Medal of Honor. He returned and delivered a program in Greenville about the commemoration. Bodden said he approached the curator of the Cotton Museum in Greenville – which also honors Audie Murphy – about forming a Sister City relationship with Holtzwihr. “Then I went to Farmersville and met Misty,” he said. “We talked about forming a partnership with Holtzwihr and we got it started right away,” he said.
It turned out that Bodden has a relationship with a Holtzwihr resident, Patrick Baumann, whose daughter is the deputy mayor of Holtzwihr. Baumann expressed an interest in becoming a Sister City with Farmersville. Thus, the movement was put in motion. Bodden said Baumann has agreed to send a piece of the tank destroyer that Murphy stormed during the fire fight to Farmersville, where it eventually will be put on display at the Heritage Museum.
Wiebold’s husband, Farmersville Mayor Bryon Wiebold, asked the City Council to approve a Sister City resolution, and this past month the council entered into the arrangement with a unanimous vote.
Holtzwihr honors Murphy every January with a day to commemorate what he did in early 1945. Murphy received the Medal of Honor for his actions in a fire fight that occurred on Jan. 26, 1945, when he stormed a German tank, killing several enemy soldiers and taking several more prisoner. He was asked later why he would risk his life in that manner and he responded, “because they were killing my friends.” Murphy received the Medal of Honor in a ceremony in Salzburg, Austria; draping the medal around his neck was Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch, commanding officer of the 7th Army Division. Indeed, Murphy became the most highly decorated soldier in U.S. history and was honored as well by France with its Legion of Honor, the highest medal that nation gives for heroism.
Farmersville has named a portion of U.S. Highway 380 the Audie Murphy Parkway and Holtzwihr also has named a street in memory of the man who liberated the community from enemy occupiers. Bodden wrote a book, “In the Footsteps of Valor,” which he said contains about 30 pages to Murphy, his life and the heroics he performed in Holtzwihr. “I lead tours to various battlefield sites in Europe,” Bodden said, “and Holtzwihr is one of the places I visit regularly.”
Sister City programs are designed to produce mutual benefit for the cities that form these partnerships. Farmersville would work to “keep Audie Murphy’s story alive,” said Wiebold. “We will be able to share things about Audie and to tell the world who he was as a man.”
Murphy’s life was cut short by tragedy. He died in a plane crash in 1971 at the age of 45. He had become a film star, portraying himself in an autobiographical film “To Hell and Back,” which tells the story of the action that earned him the Medal of Honor.
Misty Wiebold hopes to visit Holtzwihr. “I really would like to see that part of the world,” she said, adding that she has “extended the welcome mat to them to come here.”
She added: “Patrick Baumann has said it would mean a great deal for him to visit the place where Audie Murphy walked.”
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.