If you’ve ever seen the classic 1955 film, “To Hell and Back,” then you’ve seen actor Audie Leon Murphy playing himself the most decorated soldier of World War II — and there is a powerful Stephenville connection as there was once a rodeo arena here named after him.
Now a local group is planning to put up a monument to recognize the former site of the Audie Murphy Arena near what is now Stephenville High School. The group made a presentation to the Stephenville City Council Tuesday night regarding the proposal during which they provided background material on the life of Audie Murphy and the arena named after him.
More about that in a moment, but first a little background.
At 5 ft. 5 in. tall, Murphy was rejected by the Marine Corps when he tried to volunteer after WWII broke out, but he was accepted by the US Army as an infantryman — and that proved to be a smart move on the Army’s part.
“Born in Texas on June 20, 1925, Audie Murphy eventually became the most decorated U.S. soldier in World War II,” states Biography.com. “Though he was only 21 years old at the end of the war, he had killed 240 German soldiers, had been wounded three times, and had earned 33 awards and medals. After the war, he appeared in more than 40 films.”
He was awarded the nation’s highest combat citation, the Medal of Honor. His other medals included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts — as well as medals of valor from both France and Belgium.
Born near Kingston in Hunt County, he grew up in poverty in a sharecropper family. When his father abandoned them, he took on the role of father and helped care for his siblings until entering the service.
According to information presented to the city council on Tuesday, in the early 50s Murphy — who was also a famous cowboy movie star — was selling war bonds and stopped into the car dealership of Ray Woods, and the two horsemen developed a solid friendship.
Woods — who would later build a rodeo arena in the DFW area and name it after Murphy — subsequently bought a ranch in Erath County and moved the arena to the land near what is now the intersection of Frey and Dale streets.
“In the mid 1960s the ranch was sold to a west Texas rancher and cotton king Lem and Verna Brock who moved their family and cattle operations to Stephenville,” states the city council presentation document.
“The arena was disassembled and sold to Delbert and Frances Wise who rebuilt it on their property several miles out of town.” [Wise Arena on Lingleville Hwy.]
Murphy died shortly before his 46th birthday in a small plane crash in Virginia.
Stephenville Mayor Kenny Weldon says, “Our community has such a rich and interesting history and to have the unique connection between Stephenvillle, a great American hero such as Audie Murphy, and the sport of rodeo reinforces the reason we're truly the Cowboy Capital of the World."
The public is welcome to a dedication ceremony that is planned for April 23 at 2 p.m. at the site of the former Audie Murphy Arena at Dale and Frey streets.