On May 28, 1971, Murphy was killed when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, 20 miles west of Roanoke, Virginia in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed. The aircraft was a twin engine Aero Commander 680 flown by a pilot who had a private-pilot license and a reported 8,000 hours of flying time, but who held no instrument rating. The aircraft was recovered on May 31, 1971. In 1975, a court awarded Murphy's widow and two children $2.5 million in damages due to the accident.
In 1974, a large granite marker was erected at 37°21′52″N 80°13′33″W / 37.364554°N 80.225748°W / 37.364554; -80.225748 (Audie Murphy’s headstone) at 3,100' elevation, near the crash site. A close friend, Captain Carl Swickerath (whose own burial site is now directly in front of Murphy's), represented the Murphy family at the dedication.
On June 7, 1971, Murphy was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. The official U.S. representative at the ceremony was decorated World War II veteran and future President George H. W. Bush. Murphy's grave site is in Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11, located across Memorial Drive from the Amphitheater. A special flagstone walkway was later constructed to accommodate the large number of people who visit to pay their respects. It is the second most-visited grave site, after that of President John F. Kennedy.
The headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington National Cemetery are normally decorated in gold leaf. Murphy previously requested that his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier. An unknown person maintains a small American flag next to his engraved Government-issue headstone, which reads:
World War II
June 20 1924
May 28 1971
Medal of Honor
DSC – SS & OLC
LM – BSM & OLC
PH & 2 OLC
Key to abbreviations:
- DSC: Distinguished Service Cross
- SS: Silver Star
- LM: Legion of Merit
- BSM: Bronze Star Medal
- PH: Purple Heart
- OLC: Oak Leaf Cluster
An Oak Leaf Cluster signifies a subsequent award of the same decoration. First Lieutenant Murphy was one of very few company-grade officers ever to be awarded the Legion of Merit. That decoration is usually awarded only to officers of the rank of lieutenant colonel and above.
Questions arose about the nature of the plane crash that claimed Murphy's life. In April 1971, Murphy had sought the release of his friend, Teamster Union president Jimmy Hoffa, from federal prison on conviction in 1964 of jury tampering. (Murphy had tried to persuade Edward Grady Partin of Baton Rouge, the Teamsters business agent who had provided immunized testimony against Hoffa, to recant his earlier claims.) Following Murphy's death, Arthur Egan, who had worked with Murphy in the bid to get Hoffa freed, said he suspected that the fatal plane crash was not an accident. However, Hoffa was freed seven months after Murphy's death and no forensic evidence has arisen to suggest the plane crash was in any way connected to the Hoffa case or not the result of an accident.
Read more about this topic: Audie Murphy Legacy, Later Life
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