As we celebrate Veterans Day, we need to remember all of those men and women who fought to keep our country free. It is interesting to note that there was a special relationship between movie star and war hero, Audie Murphy and another war hero from Graysville, Tennessee.
First of all, some of you might not know who Audie Murphy was and how he was connected to this area. Murphy was not only a movie star, but one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II. He was born in the state of Texas, the seventh of twelve children. His father abandoned the family when Murphy was very young. He dropped out of school during his fifth grade year and got a job picking cotton to help support the family.
Then his mother died when he was sixteen. Murphy had an ambition of becoming a soldier, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was inspired to pursue this ambition.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942, serving in the Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operations. Murphy also received every U.S. military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, and was decorated by France and Belgium. After the war, he had a very successful twenty-one year acting career making many films, and starring in the television series Whispering Smith. Murphy was married twice, and had two sons. He was killed in 1971, when a private plane in which he was a passenger crashed near Catawba, Virginia; he was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Now that everyone is aware of whom Audie Murphy was, what is his connection to the Rhea County area? In order to answer that question it is necessary to look at the life of a man named Clifford Hambrick, a native of Graysville, Tennessee. Staff Sergeant Clifford Hambrick was a Melungeon, and the son of Everett Hambrick; he was with the group called Darby’s Rangers during World War II. Colonel William O. Darby led Darby’s Rangers which evolved into the U.S. Army Rangers. This group led the Allied invasion of North Africa, which completely changed the war for the allies. According to the History of Rhea County, Hambrick was decorated with the Purple Heart, Presidential Citation and the Expert Combat Infantry Badge. Clifford was wounded in North Africa, and was one of twelve survivors of the group. After being discharged from the service, Hambrick returned to his home in Graysville, and soon married Rosalee Ford from Chattanooga.
How do Audie Murphy and Clifford Hambrick connect? Some family members have stated that the two of them met after the army brought them back to the states to sell war bonds. It was during that time when Hambrick and Murphy became friends; and a family member even thinks that Murphy traveled to Graysville in order to visit Hambrick. However, that has not been proven, and is only speculation at present.
Clifford Hambrick brought fame to the town of Graysville; writers from Collier’s Magazine wrote an article about him which appeared in the November 11, 1944 edition of the magazine. A motion picture was made in 1958, which was based on the 1945 book, Darby’s Rangers, and was written by Major James J. Altieri, a veteran of Darby’s group. The film starred James Garner (who later played Maverick on TV) as Colonel William O. Darby.
Clifford Hambrick is no longer here to tell about the African, Sicilian and Italian invasions, along with the many other battles he fought in. This just shows us that we never know what heroes or “stars” might be living among us, but that everyone has something to contribute to society. Clifford Hambrick loved his country and was willing to fight for it; and he did the job well. We should remember that one of the highest decorated soldiers in World War II was a product of Graysville, in Rhea County. Also, being part of Darby’s Rangers made Staff Sergeant Hambrick one of the “elite,” because this group earned the respect and esteem of those who were part of all service units. Remember, we need to study our heroes so we can learn from our past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.