during training at Ft. Sam Houston c. 1940
Note WW I issue helmet
Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham
landed at Normandy on June 7, 1944. He was the number
one man on a B.A.R. team; his ammunition carrier was Elmer
Hanson. Murphy later told about his troop ship being just a
few yards (very close) to the Battleship Texas while they were firing
their huge guns at the German positions. He said that no commercial
fireworks display in the world could compare with the display put
on by these big naval guns. He described it as awesome, fearful,
and beautiful, particularly at night. He said that when the Texas
gave the Germans a broadside, the whole ship moved sideways several
yards from the recoil.
The first major battle they encountered against well-prepared enemy
positions was when they came up against St. George d'Elle.
This hard fought over town was much disputed throughout the next
month and changed hands many times. Five times American Infantrymen
have fought their way into the dozen or so scarred stone buildings
which were the town. Four times German infantrymen and units of
a crack paratroop division have retaken it.
The real battle began June 12th. After that, it became
a long weird time of shuttling across hedgerows and barley fields.
The Americans and Germans were separated by only two feet of matted
hedgerows; a time of fighting by squads and teams of two and three
men. Defensive positions had been well dug in far ahead of the attack,
with underground shelters, gun emplacements and communication trenches.
By June 12, the Division had pushed 25 kilometers inland from the
sea in four days of actual combat. Everywhere, the beautiful Normandy
Hedgerow Country was marred with the terrible destruction of war.
The dead lay all about amid the blooming gardens and the doorways
of the Normandy fields and villages in the balmy June weather.
The Germans had
very favorable defensive positions because of the hedgerows and
terrain. Anyone who fought in the hedgerows realizes that at best
the going was slow, and that a skillful defending force could cause
great delay and heavy losses to an attacking force many times stronger.
Seldom could one see beyond the confines of the field. The terrain
prevented an attacker from using firepower effectively. German counter-attacks
in the hedgerows failed largely for the same reason.
(Click here for a German soldier's
last letter -- A rare and interesting look of what was
going on in the thinning ranks of the demoralized Germans)
About June 13th or 14th Company I was almost wiped
out when our naval artillery fire fell on our own men. Medic
Beecham stated that; When this fire began falling on our men,
I went to the Commanding Officer and told him to hold the navy fire.
In very short order, the fire stopped and reinforcements of all
kinds came pouring in. The new officers and field medics assisted
Company I with trucks bringing in new men and hauling out the dead
and wounded. When the navy stopped firing, some men went to sleep.
The men were so tense that we had to kick them to find out if they
were alive. They had made it to a fresh artillery hole, as they
were trained to do. Some holes had four or five men in them covered
A German counter attack on June 15th drove our forces back slightly.
The Second Division launched another attack early the next morning.
They met strong opposition, but made slight gains that day. St.
George's d'Elle with its lovely stone church was transformed
into a place of evil. The dead, khaki, gray and green were piled
so high in the gullies that a truce was called to bury them. American
and German platoon fought hand to hand for 30 minutes, a very long
time with bayonets and rifle butts.
uprooted old lichen-dappled tombstones in the church cemetery. Infantrymen
dug deep in the graveyard and stirred old bones to escape the rain
of fire. In the draw just south of town the dead and wounded began
to pile up in the tall grass, where rain had made the smell of the
earlier dead heavy and foul. This is where Murphy's best army
buddy Jesse (Punk) Clifford was killed.
Photo Courtesy Maurice Higginbotham
Church, St. Georges d'Elle Normandy where Murphy was engaged
in many firefights. The town was won and lost back to Germans several
times before Americans finally took it for good. Located at base
of Hill-192 on outskirts of St. Lo, France. Soldier in foreground
is Dewey Lee. Lee served with the Army of Occupation in France and
returned to the scene in the 1950s.
Lee said that during the fighting, large stacks of dead American
soldiers were piled on the deck of the church behind where he is
standing. The church was destroyed in the fighting, and the
rebuilt building appears in the photo above.
squad jumped off on an attack, Sgt. Overbaugh the squad leader
was hit in the leg by a ground burst. Murphy stopped for a few seconds
to see how bad he had been hit, then moved on with the rest of the
squad. Elmer Hanson stayed behind and put a tourniquet on
Overbaugh's leg, and marked him for the medics. Norman Rapert,
assistant squad leader took over as squad leader. (He was later
killed on July 27th.) Elmer Hansen went on and found dead and wounded
all over the place. He couldn't find Murphy, so he decided to pull
back and report his findings. He found Murphy with a group of men
and told them what he had found. He said Murphy was "as mad as a
Company "I" had penetrated the German lines, but, met a fierce
German counter attack, and had to withdraw. A second lieutenant
came up about then and informed them that we were going to pull
back to a hedgerow, redistribute our ammunition and prepare for
a counter attack within an hour. We knew our company commander was
dead, and at least two of our lieutenants. The new lieutenant told
us that heavy equipment was in position and ready to fire, but,
he didn't want to lay down artillery fire until they got the wounded
out. The medics didn't know the area they were in, so the lieutenant
wanted someone to guide them. I didn't like the idea at all said
Elmer, but thinking of those fellows out there, I knew I had to
go. I handed Murphy my rifle and shook hands with him, and he wished
me well. The last thing he said was "Damn it, be careful. When you
get back, we have lots of work to do." I was proud to have served
with him. We got along like twins. I remember how he did snore.
I found out one night that we spent in a double foxhole. I think
he had sore ribs in the morning, from me giving him the elbow.
The way we got captured was a damn shame, says Elmer. You know Soforra
and I had to guide those medics. We got one bunch out and loaded
our litters again, when about 20 Jerrys had us surrounded with burp
guns. After we were captured, I had our buddy Punk Clifford
in my arms. He was pretty badly cut up with about four holes in
his belly. He was still conscious and recognized me. I told him
that he wasn't hurt bad, but he should take it easy. He asked how
Murphy was right away. I told him that Murphy was as mad as Hell
the last time I saw him. He laughed a little and didn't say much
after that, but kept getting weaker until he took his last deep
breath. He said he had no pain, but was getting cold from the waist
down. I thought about his wife and twins about then. I remember
how tickled he was in Wales when he found out that they were born.
Sergeant May Mendoza had been shot in the leg twice within
an hour, he said he was hiding in a foxhole when he saw the medics
coming. The medics didn't have a stretcher available on which to
carry Mendoza, so a German sergeant and a blond headed boy helped
Mendoza to the group of medics. The German boy looked at Mendoza
when they were all in a group. Mendoza looked back at him straight
in the eye. The German kid smiled at him and gave him a drink of
cider from his canteen.
An attack jumped off on June 19, but quickly ground to a
halt. All efforts to penetrate the German defense line failed. The
offensive was met head on, and pushed back by heavy machine gun,
mortar and artillery fire.
The next important
strategic position to take was Hill 192. The Germans knew
it was important for them to hold the town of St. Lo and
they threw everything they could muster into the fight. This ugly
eminence dominated and afforded an excellent view of Allied landings
and operations, not only northward to Omaha Beach, but westward
to St. Lo, about three miles away. The hill rising 192 meters above
sea level was honeycombed with massive defensives, both above and
below the ground.
The entire front was ablaze with fire, as the artillery lay down
the mightiest preparatory barrage it had yet been called upon to
deliver. More than 25,000 rounds fired by the artillery hit the
small area occupied by Hill 192. The American infantrymen occupied
Hill 192 by the end of the day.
German soldier's last letter -- Found after the Battle for Hill
192 in Normandy.)
After many tough battles later, Murphy was wounded on August 1,
1944, and eventually returned to a hospital in England. He was wounded
by a German 88mm shell. Victor Barrouk was by Murphy's side
when they heard the shell whistling, and could tell by it's sound
that it would hit nearby. They hit the ground together and both
were wounded. This same shell also killed at least two other men
and wounded several more.
awarded the following medals:
The Bronze Star Medal
"for exceptionally meritorious achievement in performance of outstanding
service against the enemy"
The Purple Heart
E.A.M.E. Campaign Medal with one Bronze Star.
Combat Infantryman's Badge
Oak Leaf Cluster to Bronze Star
Presidential Unit Emblem.
Honorable Service Lapel Button.
W.W. II American Campaign Medal.
W.W. II Victory Medal.
American Defense Service Medal.
Good Conduct Medal.
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