Part 50: To hell and back
By Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek and his son, Glen Palecek
I just got done reading the book “To Hell and Back” by Audie Murphy. Murphy was the most decorated soldier in World War II. He earned some 21 medals and is credited with killing, wounding, or capturing some 240 men. After the war, Murphy was a popular actor and played the leading role in many movies. Dad never stared in a movie, but he did earn seven combat battle stars.
Murphy’s book is very interesting to me because all the places and battles he describes are the same as the ones told to me by Dad. Yes, Murphy’s 3rd Division fought along side Dad’s 45th Division throughout much of the war. From North Africa to the beachheads of Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Southern France, Murphy was there and so was Dad.
While Murphy’s book has many similarities to what you have been reading in this series, it is, on the other hand, uniquely different. You see, “To Hell and Back” is strictly Murphy’s memoirs. It is a collection of first-hand accounts of the action he saw. He describes in detail how he used a variety of rifles, machine guns, and other small arms to kill enemy soldiers. He describes how, one by one, all the soldiers with him were either killed or wounded. Murphy himself was wounded in the hip and like Dad, spent time in the hospital because of sickness.
“To Hell and Back” describes the soldiers’ war to the extreme. Unlike all other books I know of on this war, there is almost nothing of the generals’ war (an overview of what was happening). This book has no bibliography or references because none are used. The writing is somewhat clumsy, but somehow this helps make it even more real. Also, Murphy expects the reader to know many Army terms and situations, and never bothers to explain them to the uninformed reader.
When the book “To Hell and Back” came out after the war, it became an immediate best-seller and was soon made into a movie starring Audie Murphy as himself.
Murphy was part of a rifle company similar to the ones which accompanied Dad’s Battalion Headquarters company throughout the war. His book makes you realize just how lucky anyone had to be to survive throughout this war. Like I wrote before, all members of rifle companies who saw action throughout the war were either killed or almost killed. There were no others. Seeing the man in front of you, behind you, or beside you fall was a common occurrence and all members of rifle companies who lasted throughout this war in Murphy’s 3rd or Dad’s 45th divisions had this happen many, many times. Brave, brave men who attacked the enemy again and again on foot knowing each day could easily be their last.
If you are trying to learn the history of World War II, “To Hell and Back” is not the book to read. However, if you want to learn what the fighting was like close-up, there is none better.
Dad’s experiences are quite unique, but in a different way. Dad knew the daily life of combat and living in foxholes, but also had a firm knowledge of what was going on overall. How many World War II historians actually were there? Not many, I’m sure. And how many of those who were there spent two years at the front? If any were at the front, I am quite sure none had the overall knowledge Dad had. The soldiers’ war. The generals’ war. Dad knew them both.
I had the privilege to work with Scott Turner who wrote songs with Audie Murphy. Scott produced an album of firefighting songs I wrote and even allowed me to use some music written by Audie Murphy for one of my songs. It is indeed a small world and I am proud of the fact I am a co-writer with Audie Murphy. I have fan-mail for my album from all over the world. But that’s another story and I need to get back to this one.
I haven’t written for a while and I apologize for that. I have been having heart issues, but that situation is better now. I hope to finish this series soon, but first I have stories to tell as Dad finished his campaigns in France and entered into Germany as his 45th Division marched on to where they would eventually liberate the Nazi death camp at Dachau. Dad’s descriptions of Germany are truly unique – quite unlike what you will read anywhere else.