The classic bestselling war memoir by the most decorated American soldier in World War II
Originally published in 1949, To Hell and Back was a smash bestseller for fourteen weeks and later became a major motion picture starring Audie Murphy as himself. More than fifty years later, this classic wartime memoir is just as gripping as it was then.
Desperate to see action but rejected by both the marines and paratroopers because he was too short, Murphy eventually found a home with the infantry. He fought through campaigns in Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. Although still under twenty-one years old on V-E Day, he was credited with having killed, captured, or wounded 240 Germans. He emerged from the war as America's most decorated soldier, having received twenty-one medals, including our highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor. To Hell and Back is a powerfully real portrayal of American GI's at war.
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About the Author
Audie Murphy was the most decorated American soldier during World War II. He went on to a long film career, starring in The Red Badge of Courage, The Quiet American, and his own To Hell and Back. He was killed in a plane crash in 1971 at age forty-six.
Read an Excerpt
ON a hill just inland from the invasion beaches of Sicily, a soldier sits on a rock. His helmet is off; and the hot sunshine glints through his coppery hair. With the sleeve of his shirt he wipes the sweat from his face; then with chin in palm he leans forward in thought.
The company is taking a break. We sprawl upon the slope, loosen the straps of our gear, and gaze at the blue sky. It is my first day of combat; and so far the action of the unit has been undramatic and disappointingly slow.
Just trust the army to get things fouled up. If the landing schedule had not gone snafu, we would have come ashore with the assault waves. That was what I wanted. I had primed myself for the big moment. Then the timing got snarled in the predawn confusion; and we came in late, chugging ashore like a bunch of clucks in a ferryboat.
The assault troops had already taken the beach. The battle had moved inland. So for several hours we have tramped over fields and hills without direct contact with the enemy.
It is true that the landing was not exactly an excursion. There was some big stuff smashing about; and from various points came the rattle of small arms. But we soon got used to that.
Used to it!
A shell crashes on a nearby hill; the earth quivers; and the black smoke boils. A man, imitating Jack Benny's Rochester, shouts, "Hey, boss. A cahgo of crap just landed on Pigtail Ridge." A ripple of laughter follows the announcement. "Hey, boss. Change that name to No-Tail Ridge. The tail go with the cahgo."
The second shell is different. Something terrible and immediate about its whistle makes my scalp start prickling. I grab my helmet and flip over on my stomach. The explosion is thunderous. Steel fragments whine, and the ground seems to jump up and hit me in the face.
Silence again. I raise my head. The sour fumes of powder have caused an epidemic of coughing.
"Hey, boss. The cahgo–"
The voice snaps. We all see it. The redheaded soldier has tumbled from the rock. Blood trickles from his mouth and nose.
Beltsky, a veteran of the fighting in North Africa, is the first to reach him. One glance from his professional eye is sufficient.
Turning to a man, he says, "Get his ammo. He won't be needing it. You will."
"Who me? I got plenty of ammo."
"Get the ammo. Don't argue."
Snuffy Jones does not like the idea at all. A frown crawls over his sallow face; and beneath a receding chin, his Adam's apple bobs nervously. With shaky fingers he removes the ammunition from the cartridge belt. One would think he was trying to neutralize a booby trap.
"Who is he?" asks Brandon.
"He was a guy named Griffin," Kerrigan answers. "I got likkered up with him once in Africa. Told me he was married and had a couple kids."
"That's rough." Brandon's eyes are suddenly deep and thoughtful.
"He could have stayed out, I guess. But he volunteered. Had to get into the big show."
Novak, the Pole, has been listening with mouth agape. Now his lips curl savagely. "The sonsabeeches!" he growls to nobody in particular.
Unfolding a gas cape, Beltsky covers the body with it.
"That'll do him a lot of good now," says Brandon.
"It's to keep the flies from blowing him," explains Horse-Face Johnson soberly. "Flies go to work on 'em right away. Fellow from the last war told me they swell up like balloons. Used 'em for pillows out in No-Man's Land. Soft enough but they wouldn't keep quiet. They was always losing wind in the dead of the night. Such sighing and whistling you never heard."
"For chrisake, shut up," says Kerrigan.
Johnson's blue eyes twinkle sardonically. His long, lean face stretches into a grin. And his laugh is like the soft whinny of of a horse.
"Don't let it get you down, son. Used to be skittish myself till I worked as an undertaker's assistant out in Minnesota. Took my baths in embalming fluid. Slept in coffins during the slack hours. Grave error. Damned nigh got buried one day when I got mistook for the late departed."
"It's the dying truth, son."
"Then why didn't you get hooked up with a body-snatching outfit? You look like a natural for the buzzard detail."
"Why, you know, son, the army wouldn't be guilty of giving a man a job he knowed anything about. Got tired of the racket anyhow. Couldn't argue with the late departeds. Whatever I said they was always dead right."
"Oh, for chrisake," mutters Kerrigan pleadingly.
"Okay, men," says Beltsky. "You've seen how it happens. Maybe you know now this game is played for keeps. Everybody on your feet. All right there, what's the matter with you?"
"Me?" drawls Snuffy. "I'm gittin' up. Just give me time. Snapped-to once so fast that I mislocated my backbone."
"Would you like to be carried on a stretcher?"
"Okay. Okay. Let's move across Sicily."
"He was just sitting there on the rock," says Steiner, his face filled with awe. "I was looking at him just a minute before."
"So what?" snaps Antonio irritably. "He shouldn'ta been makin' like a pigeon. He oughta kept his head down." He taps himself on the chest. "You didn't see me givin' out wit the coos, did you?"
"How could he know it was coming?"
"Aw nuts! You could hear it comin' a mile."
As we plod over the hills in sweat-soaked clothes, the uneasiness passes from my stomach to my mind. So it happens as easily as that. You sit on a quiet slope with chin in hand. In the distance a gun slams; and the next minute you are dead.
Maybe my notions about war were all cockeyed. How do you pit skill against skill if you cannot even see the enemy? Where is the glamour in blistered feet and a growling stomach? And where is the expected adventure? Well, whatever comes, it was my own idea. I had asked for it. I had always wanted to be a soldier.
The years roll back; and in my mind, I see a pair of hands. Calloused and streaked with dirt, they looked like claws; and they shook as they cupped around the match flame. He puffed on the cigarette. And as I waited, all ears, he bent over in a fit of coughing.
"It's that gas," he explained. "Nearly eighteen years, and it's still hangin' on."
"But you knowed where they were," I said.
From the shade of the tree, he gazed over the cotton fields.
"Of course, I knowed where they was," he said. "Any ijiot would have. It was still early mornin'; and when they crawled through the field, they shook the dew off the wheat. So every blessed one of 'em left a dark streak behind. That give their positions away."
"So what did you do?"
"What would you done? I lined up my sights on the machine gun and waited."
"A machine gun?"
"Yeah. It's the devil's own weepon. When they got to the edge of the patch, I could see 'em plain. There was nothin' to it. I just pulled the trigger and let 'em have it."
Fascinated, I glanced at the hands again, picking out the trigger finger. "You killed 'em?"
"I didn't do 'em any good."
"Did they shoot at you?"
"Now what do you think? This was war. But I kept my head down and got along all right until that night they thowed over the gas. We didn't get the alarm until I'd already breathed a lungful."
"What was they like?" "The Germans? I never took time to ast 'em. They was shootin' at
us; so we shot at them."
"But you whipped 'em."
"We whopped 'em all right, but it wasn't easy. They was hard fighters. Don't ever kid yourself about that."
"Some day I aim to be a soldier."
"A sojer?" he said disgustedly. "What fer?"
"I don't know."
"If you want to fight, start fightin' these weeds." He coughed again, spat out a gob of phlegm, and muttered, "A sojer." He was still shaking his head when he gripped the plow handles and said, "Giddap," to the mules.
Steiner is a soldier, but you would never see his kind on the recruiting posters. Short and pudgy, he has the round, innocent face of a baby and a voice as gentle as a child's. He cannot get the knack of the army, though he tries hard. His gear is forever fouled up. It drips from his body like junk. Now he stumbles and falls. It is the third time he has tripped today; and Olsen, a huge, blond sergeant, is fresh out of patience.
"What's a-matter? What's a-matter?" he snarls. "Pick up your dogs."
"It's the legging strings. They keep coming unlaced."
"For chrisake, paste 'em on if you ain't got enough sense to lace 'em. Aw right, come on. Snap to it."
"Whyn't you let him alone?" says Antonio. "De kid can't help it."
"Keep your big nose outa this."
"Okay. Break it up," says Beltsky. "You'll soon have a belly full of fighting."
No, it was not the least bit like the dream I had as a child. That afternoon in Texas I had followed the veteran of World War I into the field. The sun beat down and the rows of cotton seemed endless. But I soon forgot both the heat and the labor.
The weeds became the enemy, and my hoe, a mysterious weapon. I was on a faraway battlefield, where bugles blew, banners streamed, and men charged gallantly across flaming hills; where the temperature always stood at eighty and our side was always victorious; where the dying were but impersonal shadows and the wounded never cried; where enemy bullets always miraculously missed me, and my trusty rifle forever hit home.
I was only twelve years old; and the dream was my one escape from a grimly realistic world.
We were share-crop farmers. And to say that the family was poor would be an understatement. Poverty dogged our every step. Year after year the babies had come until there were nine of us children living, and two dead. Getting food for our stomachs and clothes for our backs was an ever-present problem. As soon as we grew old enough to handle a plow, an ax, or a hoe, we were thrown into the struggle for existence.
My mother, a sad-eyed, silent woman, toiled eternally. As a baby, I sat strapped like a papoose in a yard swing while she fought the weeds in a nearby field.
Our situation is not to be blamed on the social structure. If my father had exercised more foresight, undoubtedly his family would have fared much better. He was not lazy, but he had a genius for not considering the future.
One day he gave up. He simply walked out of our lives, and we never heard from him again.
My mother, attempting to keep her brood together, worked harder than ever. But illness overtook her. Gradually she grew weaker and sadder. And when I was sixteen she died.
Except for a married sister, who was unable to support us, there was no family nucleus left. The three youngest children were placed in an orphanage. The rest of us scattered, going our individual ways. Boarding out, I worked for a while in a filling station; then I became a flunky in a radio repair shop.
God knows where my pride came from, but I had it. And it was constantly getting me into trouble. My temper was explosive. And my moods, typically Irish, swung from the heights to the depths. At school, I had fought a great deal. Perhaps I was trying to level with my fists what I assumed fate had put above me.
I was never so happy as when alone. In solitude, my dreams made sense. Nobody was there to dispute or destroy them.
After the death of my mother, I was more than ever determined to enter military service. When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, I was half-wild with frustration. Here was a war itself; and I was too young to enlist. I was sure that it would all be over in a few months and I would be robbed of the great adventure that had haunted my imagination.
On my eighteenth birthday, I hurried to a marine corps recruiting station. This branch seemed the toughest of the lot; and I was looking for trouble. Unfortunately, the corps was looking for men, men italicized. A sergeant glanced over my skinny physique. My weight did not measure up to Leatherneck standards.
Leaving the office in a blaze of unreasonable anger, I tried the paratroops. This was a new branch of service, lacking the legendary color of the marines, but it sounded rough. There was another point in its favor: paratroopers wore such handsome boots.
That office was more sympathetic. The recruiting sergeant did not turn me down cold. He suggested that I load up on bananas and milk before weighing in. My pride was taking an awful beating. The sergeant was the first on a long list of uniformed authorities that I requested to go to the devil.
The infantry finally accepted me. I was not overjoyed. The infantry was too commonplace for my ambition. The months would teach me the spirit of this unglamorous, greathearted fighting machine. But at that time I had other plans. After my basic training, I would get a transfer. I would become a glider pilot.
Thus, with a pocket full of holes, a head full of dreams, and an ignorance beyond my years, I boarded a bus for the induction center. Previously I had never been over a hundred miles from home.
Nor had I reckoned with realistic army training. During my first session of close-order drill, I, the late candidate for the marines and the paratroops, passed out cold. I quickly picked up the nickname of "Baby." My commanding officer tried to shove me into a cook and baker's school, where the going would be less rough.
That was the supreme humiliation. To reach for the stars and end up stirring a pot of C-rations. I would not do it. I swore that I would take the guardhouse first. My stubborn attitude paid off. I was allowed to keep my combat classification; and the army was spared the disaster of having another fourth-class cook in its ranks.
But I still had to get overseas; and my youthful appearance continued to cause much shaking of heads. At Fort Meade, where we had our final phase of training in America, I was almost transferred to the camp's permanent cadre. An officer, kindly attempting to save me from combat, got me a position as a clerk in the post exchange.
Fuming, I stuck to my guns; and in early 1943, I landed in North Africa as a replacement for an infantry company. The war in this sector was about over. Instead of combat, we were given another long, monotonous period of training.
Finally the great news came. We were to go into action in the Tunis area. We oiled our guns, double-checked our gear; and prayed or cursed according to our natures. But before we could move out, the order was canceled. The Germans in the area had surrendered.
I took no part in the general sigh of relief. Perhaps now I would react differently.
At this moment, the fluttering roll of an enemy machine gun is causing my flesh to creep. "The devil's own weapon," the veteran had said. "And, of course, I knowed where they was."
Does the enemy know where we are. He could. Easily. We are stretched in an open field; and the cover is something less than adequate. Before us lies a railroad track along which the machine-gun crew has dug in.
The gun has suddenly become quiet. I hear the labored breathing of our men; see Beltsky's worried face; feel my heart churning against the ribs. "What would you have done?" the veteran had said. "I lined up my sights and waited." He had no corner on that little game. It too could be the enemy's.
The order comes down the line.
"Spread out. We're going over the track."
Olsen's mouth sags; and the fear in his eyes is sickening. My jaws clamp; my heart slows down. I have seen the face of a coward and found it loathsome.
The secondary order is passed along in hoarse whispers.
"When you get the signal, make a run for it. Stop for nothing until you find cover on the other side of the track."
Beltsky studies his wrist watch. His hand goes up in a wave. We scramble to our feet and take off.
From the corner of my eye, I see two men in the center platoon reel backward and fall. Then I hear the crackle of rifles; the blast of a grenade. I leap the track. Johnson passes me. "Son," he calls, "get the lead out of your shoes. Them krauts have started a shooting war."
I find a gully, drop into it, and sprawl out. A body thuds on top of me. It is Novak.
"By gah, you excuse," he says. "I see nahthin' when I jump."
"You were coming too fast to take in the scenery."
He has an odd, crooked smile; his nose is bent; and a mop of oily black hair tumbles over his forehead. Carefully breaking a cigarette in two, he hands me a half.
"I don't smoke."
"Nah? You gotta smoke to stay happy. You try it."
"No, thanks. Did they get the machine gun?"
"They get it." His eyes burn fiercely. "But the sonsabeeches knocked over two of our men."
"I saw them."
"When they tear up Poland, that is bad enough. But when they shoot our men, it is too much. From now on, Mike Novak is not to be soft, no chicken heart. He uses his gun."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "To Hell And Back"
Copyright © 1977 Pamela Murphy.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this is a great autobiography about america's most decorated hero. having to help his mother raise his brothers and sisters in the depression after his father left them. he quit school and went to work for a neighbor trying to make enough money to help support his family. his mother died when he was sixteen and after enlisting in the army to support his kin he was sent to the war in north africa and joined the third infantry division and stayed with them throughout ww ii. he saw action in sicily and italy, becoming a sergeant and receiving a battlefield commission. during one battle he was wounded and the wound not only ended his chance of going to west point, but ended his military career. audie murphy ended up receiving the medal of honor and ended up being the most decorated soldier in u.s. military history
Given the times and the year in which this book came out, and compared to all the other autobiographies from WWII, this book is literary masterpiece, and always will be. There's no glossing over the truths about the terrible tragedies the soldiers on both sides suffered during that conflict. Murphy has held back nothing, and puts you squarely in the front line with him. This book should be required reading for all students so that they might appreciate Murphy and what people like him have done for our country, as well as appreciating just how terrible wars really are.
"They can kill you but they can't eat you...That's the Law" one quote that I will always remember from Murphy's book. I saw the movie as a kid and after all the books I have read on world war 2, finally I read the master. You follow Murph through his first action in Sicily to his final months of combat in Germany. He cared about his men and and fought to keep them alive. You feel his pain with each loss of his comrades. He realized that war had made him but would not defined him as a human being. As a Vietnam vet I found a profound kinship with this author and his experiences. They are timeless.
I have always been interested in heros. Audie Murphy was a true hero. I enjoyed the book, but in true A.M. fashion, he did not cover the times when he was decorated or for what battles. I would recommend this book for Military lovers. Very descriptive of what the men go through in battles, no glossing over like a movie would.
Audie Murphy to Hell and Back is extremely interesting an eye opener into his life and others along the way. You will understand what a horrible war this was and his part in it. It's a Must read for anyone who is interested Military history especially World War 2.
One of the greatest books I have even read. I love to read about WWII, but I first picked up this book for my Texas History course at A&M. I had to write a review of someone significant to Texas history, but I found Murphy to be overall important to history. This book gives an excellent perspective to warfare during WWII. Highly recommend!!!
It is a classic true war story about an American hero. It shoul remind all of us how important it is to honor and never forget our veterans.
To bad its a paperback.......much more detailed and absorbing than the movie was. This book takes you through some of the bloodiest and toughest battles of WW II. Murphy was a real hero's hero during the time that there was exceptional gallantry every day of the war. Good reading!!
I've actually never read this version. I read the original version which doesn't have the part written by Tom Brokaw. That version was excellent and I'm sure that this one is too.
A fierce, eye-witness account of combat by a man who was in the thick of the fighting in three theaters (North Africa, Italy and France). I was familiar with Andy Murphy’s career from his biopic and other reading, but was unprepared for the vivid and visceral descriptions of combat and how it affected Murphy and the men he fought with.
Amazing story by an amazing person. A personal account of the brotherhood of soldiers, bravery, and sacrifice. We Americans owe so much to these soldiers. This book is a must read.
Written in ordinary, plain English that carries you through a soldier's journey of what almost everyone of us will never experience. Surely we were blessed with a heroic generation of common men who did what they had to do to try and keep each other alive and win a war. How could thank you ever be enough.
Very good book
America needs another LT. Murphy. What a hero. Very good and easy read. Kept my attention the entire time. I can feel the action when I read the lines, I can feel his exhaustion, and his drive. In my top 5 books I have read.
I enjoyed this book. Murphy was certaintly a great and lucky soldier--- he needed both to survive what he did. I read this and "A Forgotten Soldier" at the same time to get two different perspectives of the war from a soldier's view. It was interesting to see the war from one man's perspective and get a good sense of the sheer difficulty and brutality of the front lines
I saw Audie Murphy in a western movie and liked him, not even realizing he was a war hero. After looking him up, I discovered this incredible memoir. He gets you right into the action so you can see what it was really like in the trenches of WWII. His depictions of himself and the other soldiers were great and you get to see how they acted and coped with the war. Murphy is extremely modest too, not even mentioning any of the 39 medals he got over the course of the war. This is a very personal look at a huge historical event, and helps to understand it much more.
Surprisingly well written war autobiography of the most unlikely-looking war hero, Audie Murphy. He manages to recount his exploits without boasting or embarrassment, which is some considerable feat.
Has to be great Some say Gen MacArthur was the most decorated but I don't think so except maybe for politics. Haven't got to read the book but have seen the movie several times and his story is fantastic.
Impressive American and human being. Well told.