“Take cover! Prepare to fire! Medic!”
I was never able to adjust to the frantic cries accompanying my war heroes’ flashbacks and night terrors. As I rolled over to shake him, the smell of sweat mingled with fear repulsed me.
“Wake up honey! Wake up! You’re having another dream!”
“Yeah, was a bad one.”
He swung his legs and feet over the side of the bed, slumping over in despair. Slowly, he moved into an upright position and stared off into space. It had been another night of tossing, turning and counting tiles on the ceiling until nearly daybreak. When, he did finally doze off, the relentless nightmares had returned.
“Gonna’ get a shower.”
“Do you want me to scramble you some eggs?”
“No Pam, no sense in both of us losing sleep. Get some more rest. I’ll just take a quick shower, grab a cup of coffee at the corner and go for a walk.”
I heard the sounds of the shower running, and the click of the door as he stepped inside, shutting it behind him. My man did not sing in the shower; if he had, he would have made up the words as he went along. He learned to do things for himself at a very early age. His dad, when around, neglected basic needs of the dozen children he fathered. He eventually deserted them, leaving the love of my life to fend for himself, his mother and siblings. He hunted small game, killing rabbits and squirrels to fill empty stomachs.
Audie Murphy, the most highly decorated and famed World War II hero incessantly battled depression, insomnia and nightmares, telltale signs of battle fatigue. Doctors at V-A-hospitals charted his symptoms and prescribed sleeping pills, advising Audie to try to forget the war. Easy for them to say… As they sat in starched white coats, trousers and matching shoes, he still saw the world through camouflage eyes.
Audie had a photographic memory, which was a big asset in his role as famed movie actor. It’s ironic; the memory that helped him to remember page after page of script dialogue, would not allow him to nail shut shutters and boards housing bitter memories. His mind served as a movie theater projector, rolling a non-stop documentary of the enemy attacking and buddies killed in action.
I hoped and prayed his doctors would find a safe medication to allow him to sleep. Once, he had been addicted to a prescription for sleeping pills. Through raw courage and fortitude, he rented a motel room and shook the addiction cold turkey. He was able to get clean and became an advocate to countless veterans, raising attention of the nation to needs of men and women who fought a private war behind closed doors.
As he quietly exited the bathroom, I viewed his 5ft.10’’ frame moving in the shadows toward the doorway to the hall. I never tired of seeing his perfect posture and air of confidence as he walked within our home or across the silver screen. It was love at first sight when we met; I was already his fan. His wavy brown hair, impish grin, and hazel eyes set my heart aflutter. I knew the stories whispered behind my back were true, but my love would never die. Was his weakness for gambling a means of escape from the torment in his mind?
My memories never fade. Audie was taking a flight in a private plane with a small group. I answered the telephone and my life shifted from wife to widow in the blink of an eye. There had been an accident. The famed war hero, famed Hollywood actor, my husband, Audie Murphy was dead. Following his funeral, I faced bare facts. I was not only a widow; I was a woman in need of money to pay off my husband’s debts. He had earned millions of dollars as a box office success, but squandered our income on gambling.
Leaving fame and lost fortune behind, I moved to a Virginia apartment and went to work as clerk in a nearby veteran’s facility, Sepulveda VA Hospital and Care Center. My heart ached for the patients and I gladly served them for the next thirty-five years as a patient liaison. It seemed the nation was deaf and blind to their plight. I became their voice in the wilderness of apathy and red tape. I desired no recognition, only pleaded for the well-deserved honor, respect and recognition to all returning veterans.
Audie Murphy died at the age of 46 in 1971.
His wife Pamela died at the age of 90 in 2010.
Audie Murphy was also an accomplished songwriter.
His best-known composition is a country-western song titled “Shutters and Boards.”
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