by Col Mike Howard US Marines (Ret)
Salute Targets Founder & Owner
I first met Audie Murphy on our BarLin Stock Farm (owned by my parents Lin & Barbara Howard), outside Moorpark, California, in beautiful Ventura County, California, in the late 1950s. As a kid, I had just returned from Douglas Ranch Camp in Northern California where we had attended and played with the children of Jimmy Stewart. Mom and Dad pointed out to me that Audie had recently made a great Western film “Night Passage” (1957) with him. I love this film as it not only is a great Western with two of my favorite actors (Jimmy Stewart & Audie Murphy play their roles as brothers) but Jimmy Stewart actually has two wonderful accordion solos in the film: “Follow the River” and “You Can’t Go Far Without a Railroad” (also known as “The Bullfrog Line”). The really special part was that I got to meet and know these two fine men as the highly decorated and much respected WWII vets that they were. They were truly “The Greatest Generation” reps.
Audie and my Dad had become fast friends because of something else: whether Santa Anita (Thoroughbred horse racing) or Los Alamitos (Quarter horse racing) they were typical WWII vets addicted to adrenaline. Audie and his gracious wife Pam Murphy, together with their two sons, would visit our ranch on the east side of Moorpark. This is where my Dad’s Quarter horses were. They would also visit my Grandfather’s BingLin Stables (on the west side of Moorpark) where he and his business partner Bing Crosby, housed their Thoroughbreds. Among the latter was the racehorse Ligaroti who lost by a nose to my Great Grandfather’s legendary Seabiscuit in a famed Del Mar racetrack match race in 1938. Visiting the beautiful Murphy home in The Valley (San Fernando Valley) was also fun for me as it was astride a fancy golf course where the Murphy boys and I could retrieve lost golf balls. These were great memories, and I remember the special, almost reverent feeling of Audie Murphy taking me into his den alongside my Dad and I saw all of his medals, awards, and citations up on the wall.
Yes, Audie Murphy was a class act who knew that the Hollywood world in which he now lived and worked was not the real world. From his humble origins in Texas, to the personal service and sacrifice of WWII, he was well grounded as a god-fearing patriot focused on what made America great: Family, Friends, Faith, Flag and Freedom. He always took the time to stoop down and look a kid in the eye, giving me his full attention when I had a question. The .22 Colt Woodsman he gave me is among my most cherished firearms, along with the personalized copy of “To Hell and Back”, one of my favorite books.
Audie Murphy was the real deal. He helped teach me safe and responsible weapon’s handling with our trusted .22 Winchester Model 62. Our families had great fun shooting water balloons that my Dad had strung across one of our pastures serving as our target range. This area now rests below the beautiful Ronald Reagan Memorial Library, Simi, CA. I never fully appreciated just how blessed I was to be surrounded by such positive male mentors. They were great encouragers. They understood duty. They loved shooting and camaraderie. They were not perfect. But they really cared about us, America, and the freedoms we enjoy.
I sure miss that WWII generation. America was blessed to have some 16 million faithfully serve with over 400,000 sacrificing for our freedom. As a kid growing up in the 1950s & 1960s, I just assumed that every kid’s father, grandfather, and uncle was a WWII vet. Yes, I miss them, and what they taught us about duty, honor and sacrifice. No one represented them better than Audie Murphy. Remember him next time you watch “To Hell and Back”, “Red Badge of Courage”, or “Night Passage.” Pass the word …