When Did Audie Murphy Die?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II.
  • He became a popular movie actor after the war, starring in over 40 films.
  • Audie Murphy died at the young age of 45 in a tragic private plane crash on May 28, 1971 near Roanoke, Virginia.
  • He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in recognition of his heroic service.
  • Audie Murphy’s story of courage and sacrifice continues to inspire generations of Americans.


Audie Murphy is a name that evokes images of bravery, patriotism, and sacrifice. As one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, Audie Murphy became a national hero at the young age of 20 after being awarded every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army. His story seemed almost too remarkable to be true – how could someone so young display such incredible courage and composure under fire? Audie Murphy’s wartime exploits made him a household name during the 1940s and 1950s. After the war, he even embarked on a successful movie career, starring in over 40 films and becoming one of Hollywood’s most popular actors. However, Audie Murphy’s life was cut tragically short when he died at the age of 45 in a private plane crash on May 28, 1971 near Roanoke, Virginia. So when exactly did this American icon, who seemed larger than life, meet his untimely demise?

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Audie Murphy’s death, examining key details surrounding the plane crash that took his life. An analysis of the crash site, investigation findings, funeral, and legacy will provide insights into that fateful day in 1971 when one of America’s most celebrated war heroes was lost. The discussion will also place Murphy’s death in the context of his incredible life story and the enduring impact he had on American culture. By the end, readers will have a thorough understanding of the shocking plane crash that led to Audie Murphy’s death at the peak of his fame and notoriety. The account of his tragic passing provides a poignant perspective on the cost of freedom and service that Audie Murphy exemplified throughout his life.

The Circumstances Surrounding Audie Murphy’s Death

On May 28, 1971, Audie Murphy boarded a private plane in Atlanta, Georgia to fly to Martinsville, Virginia where he was planning to discuss a business deal related to breeder horses. The pilot was Charley Sampson and there were four other passengers on board the twin-engine Aero Commander 680 aircraft. The weather conditions seemed suitable for the flight with just some rain showers forecasted along their flight path. However, shortly after takeoff at around 10:00 PM, the plane encountered thick fog and violent thunderstorms over the Appalachian Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia.

Around midnight, when the plane failed to arrive in Martinsville, authorities were notified. An aerial search was initiated at first light the next morning, which led to the discovery of the crashed aircraft on Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia. All six people on board had been killed in the accident. Audie Murphy’s body was found about 20 yards away from the main wreckage site.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an exhaustive probe into the causes of the crash. Their report concluded that the likely factors were poor in-flight decisions by the pilot when confronted with the deteriorating weather conditions. It was surmised that instead of turning around, Sampson attempted to fly through the storms at dangerously low altitudes which led to the fatal impact on the mountainside. No mechanical or technical failures of the aircraft were identified that could have precipitated the accident.

Audie Murphy’s Funeral and Burial

The news of Audie Murphy’s tragic death at the young age of 46 stunned the nation. As preparations were made to honor him with a full military funeral, thousands of heartfelt telegrams and condolence letters poured in from presidents, dignitaries, fellow soldiers, and regular citizens.

On June 7, 1971, a memorial service attended by over 1,000 mourners was held in San Antonio, Texas. James E. Worsham, a veteran who served with Murphy during WWII, remarked during his eulogy: “Fate never seemed to touch him, although it came mighty close. He had a sixth sense about him in combat that probably saved his life.”

Afterward, Audie Murphy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., in recognition of his extraordinary military service. Murphy’s grave lies in Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11, located near the Memorial Amphitheater. The inscription reads, “Audie L. Murphy, Major, United States Army, World War II, Medal of Honor, DSC, SS & OLC, LM, BSM & OLC, PH & 2 OLC.” He was laid to rest with full military honors that included a rider-less horse, a flyover by military aircraft, and a three-volley rifle salute.

Arlington National Cemetery is considered America’s most hallowed burial ground, reserved primarily for veterans who have served honorably in the armed forces. Murphy was also awarded a special Texas Legislative Medal of Honor by the governor in 1971. The communities of Roanoke and Catawba held memorial services on the first anniversary of the crash in 1972.

Audie Murphy’s Iconic Legacy

Audie Murphy’s death while piloting that small private plane cut short a remarkable life and career. Born into a family of poor sharecroppers in Texas in 1924, he grew up in extreme poverty during the Great Depression. Driven to enlist in the U.S. Army at the tender age of 17, Murphy quickly rose to prominence during WWII due to his bravery and skill as a combat soldier.

He was credited with killing 240 enemy soldiers and his heroic actions during WWII earned him every military combat award for valor available, including the prestigious Medal of Honor. Murphy became the most decorated American soldier of the war – a distinction that solidified his status as a national icon.

The 1971 plane crash that killed Audie Murphy occurred just as he was establishing himself as a successful actor in Hollywood. Following his military service, he appeared in over 40 films, primarily Westerns. Murphy preferred to champion the cause of America’s soldiers and veterans throughout his film career. His autobiography “To Hell and Back” chronicling his war exploits was adapted into a movie in 1955, which Audie Murphy himself starred in.

Over 50 years since his tragic death, Audie Murphy remains a larger-than-life American hero whose courage and humility continue to inspire generations. He has been depicted in music, literature, and film over the decades as the personification of the dedicated and self-sacrificing soldier. The Audie Murphy Presidential Medal of Freedom Act was also introduced in Congress in 2019 to honor Murphy with America’s highest civilian award.

Audie Murphy’s incredible life story tragically ended too soon when he died at just 45 years old on that fateful May day in 1971. However, the legacy of this humble American soldier’s service, valor, and character undeniably live on. His tragic passing in a plane crash cut short a remarkable legacy that had only just begun.

Frequently Asked Questions About Audie Murphy’s Death

What caused the plane crash that killed Audie Murphy?

The NTSB investigation concluded that poor in-flight decisions by the pilot when encountering a severe thunderstorm likely caused the crash. Instead of turning around, the pilot tried to fly through the storm at low altitudes which led to the fatal impact into Brush Mountain. No mechanical failures were identified as the cause.

Where is Audie Murphy buried?

Audie Murphy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia which is reserved primarily for American veterans. His grave lies in Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11 near the Memorial Amphitheater.

Did Audie Murphy die instantly in the crash?

According to initial reports, Audie Murphy likely did not die instantly and succumbed to his crash injuries before paramedics could arrive. His body was found 20 yards away from the main wreckage site on the mountainside. The other 5 occupants were killed immediately on impact.

How old was Audie Murphy when he died?

Audie Murphy died at the young age of 45 on May 28, 1971. His tragic death cut short a remarkable career as America’s most decorated WWII soldier and a rising movie star in Hollywood.

What military honors did Audie Murphy receive at his funeral?

Audie Murphy was buried with full military honors reserved for American veterans who served valiantly. This included a rider-less horse procession, military flyover, three-volley rifle salute, and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

What legacy did Audie Murphy leave behind?

Audie Murphy left behind an iconic legacy as the nation’s most decorated WWII soldier whose bravery inspired generations of Americans. He was a self-sacrificing patriot, humble celebrity, and principled veteran advocate. Murphy’s story of courage and valor in the face of adversity continues to inspire young soldiers today over 50 years after his death.

How did Audie Murphy die?

On May 28, 1971, Audie Murphy died in a private plane crash into Brush Mountain near Roanoke, Virginia. He was 45 years old. Murphy was flying from Atlanta to Martinsville on business when the plane encountered a severe thunderstorm and crashed, killing all 6 on board.

Was Audie Murphy’s death preventable?

Audie Murphy’s tragic death could likely have been prevented if the pilot had turned the plane around instead of attempting to fly through the dangerous thunderstorm causing low visibility. The NTSB cited poor in-flight decisions by the pilot as the primary factors in the crash.

What was Audie Murphy’s net worth when he died?

Though estimates vary, Audie Murphy’s net worth at the time of his death in 1971 was estimated to be around $2-3 million, which amounts to $13-20 million in today’s dollars. Most of his wealth came from his successful 20-year acting career and wise investments.


The untimely death of Audie Murphy in a 1971 plane crash marked the end of an era and silenced one of America’s most celebrated war heroes and emerging movie stars. On that fateful May day, the nation lost a courageous soldier, selfless patriot, and humble icon who inspired generations with his valor and sacrifices in service. Though just 45 years old, Audie Murphy left an indelible legacy that continues to resonate over 50 years since his tragic passing. His story remains both inspirational and cautionary – a reminder of the fragility of life even for the mightiest of heroes. While Audie Murphy is immortalized in the collective conscience of Americans, his death in a preventable accident also reinforces the need to honor his spirit by safeguarding the freedoms and values he fought so valiantly to defend.

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