To Hell and Back

To Hell and Back by Audie MurphyGuest Reviewer: Rafiq E. Mandal

Full Title: To Hell and Back: The Epic Combat Journal of World War II’s Most Decorated G.I.
Audie Murphy
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (2002) [First published in 1949 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston]
Number of Pages: 274
How long it took me to read: 2 weeks
Where I bought this book: Amazon
ISBN: 978-0-8050-7086-6

Like a Moth to a Flame

5 Real Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy—that’s how it started. I read an article on about men who encountered a truth stranger than fiction. At the top of that list, was a name that I had never seen nor heard of before. His story was unbelievable. Younger, shorter and skinnier than the rest of the men he stood beside, he killed an entire platoon of German soldiers and routed several tanks using a machine gun on the top of a burning American tank that could have exploded at any moment, in the bitterest winter in the European wilderness, suffering from a haunting case of malaria, all by himself. He sounded like a superhero, but after a little research I quickly found out that he was as real as I was. So I wondered, what kind of person was the most decorated soldier of World War II? How did he fight and survive? Who knew him? And so, opening Audie Murphy’s autobiography, I hoped to find some of those answers.

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Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “The peculiar ethics of war condone our riddling the bodies with lead. But then they were soldiers. Swope’s gun transformed them into human beings again; and the rules say that we cannot leave them unprotected against a barrage of their own artillery.” (p.45)

4. “Sorry for me? I’m sorry for you. I got only twenty years. If I serve the whole sentence, I’ll be just thirty-nine when I get out. But what happens to you? Why, you poor sonofabitch, you go back into the lines. You attack. If you live, you attack again. And keep on attacking until you’re dead. What’s twenty years compared to a corpse?” (p.134)

3. “Brandon and I have a single can of beans between us. As we sit dipping our spoons by turns into the tin, a shell hits nearby. Dirt showers over us. We are unharmed but the bean can, which Brandon still holds carefully in his hand, is filled to the brim. We remove the dirt, and resume our breakfast.” (pp.160-1)

2. “Sure. You’ve learned a lot of useful things. You can pick off a man at three hundred yards with an M-1. You can toss a grenade further than anybody else in town. You can sleep among corpses; bathe in ditch water without any complaint a-tall. As civilians, we’ll be in great demand.” (p.51)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1.During my first session of close-order drill, I, the late candidate for the marines and paratroopers, passed out cold” (p.8)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“In a gripping story, the last flickers of life always bring sympathy from me, even towards the German soldiers that I was made to hate. Through Audie, and the rest of his comrades, I felt the painful and guilty agony of witnessing a slow death. What could the terms “friend” or “foe” really mean in that instance? At the edge of life, we become nothing more than simple humans, trying to breath as death draws a cold chill up our spines. The imagery reminded me of a story about my grandfather as he neared the end of his life after a long fight against cancer. He had told my mother once, ‘I don’t really want to die.’ It was a side of my grandfather that I would never get to know. I had never thought of him as anything more than my grandfather, even when he died and I watched his casket lowered into the earth, until I heard that story from my mother. The lenses we look through do not change what each person ultimately is. We all have our differences and our quirks, but we are all human. Eventually, we can relate.”

“A soldier must be experienced with death, whether it be the death of his enemy or the death of his friend. During World War II, Audie witnessed and became affected by the many deaths that he experienced. His best friend died under a machine gun burst fired by an enemy that feigned surrender, bringing him to tears after he had slaughtered those enemies in a fit of rage. He watched a brave sergeant take round after round while continuing to storm into the next enemy emplacement, giving him a different view of the definition of a hero. He even recounted a deadly story of friendly fire on the field, and attempted to retain a jaded indifference as he sent the distraught soldier responsible for the murder back to report the incident. How does someone continue to survive these experiences? Even after the regretfully short time he is granted to mourn each of them, Audie stayed driven to fight the war. But with each death he witnessed, I wondered what he was really fighting for after his friends had all gone? Was he simply fighting for the sake of fighting? I can’t help but wonder about some of our soldiers who are away from home as I write this. I hope that they can hold onto their reasons for fighting for as long as possible.”

“I hear the voices of each of Audie’s friends, and laugh at their jokes as if they were next to me. I feel a deep sadness and grow angry when they die, and I realize that the story is just as much about Audie as it is about every soldier with whom he served. With each friend left behind and with the book quickly emptying of life and familiar names, I start to wonder if I really want to know about the next new recruit that joins the company. I’m starting to find relief in the way Audie treats them as just faceless additions; that way, I don’t really notice when they pass. It’s a cold thing to realize that the story has now changed from a fight to end the war to a fight for survival.”

“The idea that the setting or the plot might be fictional never comes to mind; it’s become more than just a story. It’s an experience. Through Audie’s eyes, hands and heart, I live through the events and the ideals that stem from this retelling by the most decorated soldier from World War II. And after the experience is finished, I can remember the events so vividly; it almost feels like they’re my own memories. I can remember being in Anzio when Antonio was gunned down by that bloodthirsty Kraut’s machine gun. I watched Brandon die with a mixed feeling of anger, sadness and shame. I remember the whistle of the mortars and the looks of the new recruits. I remember the fear and paranoia I felt every second I sat in a ditch—all because ‘I’ was there.”

1 Comment

  1. I have seen the movie ” To Hell And Back many times, but I have not read the book. I have always admired Audie Murphy.

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