PFC Onclo Merle Airheart


PFC Onclo Merle Airheart

Death 25 Aug 2001 (aged 83)
Trinidad, Henderson County, Texas, USA
Burial Trinidad, Henderson County, Texas, USA
Memorial ID 56874473 View Source

2nd Most Decorated Soldier of WWII

Audie Murphy is famous for being the most decorated soldier in World War II. Along with the Medal of Honor, Murphy won 18 other medals for a total of 19. Onclo Airheart was born in Trinidad, Texas and raised on a rural farm. As a young man, he, like Audie, grew up providing meat for his family by hunting deer, squirrel and rabbits. Onclo (pronounced “Onslow”) enlisted in the Army in 1940 at age 23. When he was discharged after the war in 1945, he had received 18 medals, one less than Murphy. In one of those incredible coincidences of war, almost beyond belief, he was Murphy's "foxhole buddy.” This pair of Texans went through the war, fighting next to each other for days and weeks without break, many times in desperate life-and-death hand-to-hand combat, on the front lines of World War II's most ferocious battles - and they both survived what thousands of other men didn't.

Alongside Audie in B Company of the Third Division while fighting across Europe, Onclo destroyed truckloads of the enemy with a single shot of an anti-tank grenade, rescued a full division of French soldiers and wiped out an impenetrable pillbox full of German machine gunners.

Once, while scouting ahead of the rest of their company, Airheart and Murphy ran smack into a large force of enemy soldiers. While under fire, they confused the Germans by dashing back and forth from tree to tree, making the enemy think there was a large force confronting them. Eventually, the German forces ceased fire and raised a white flag. It was quite a shock to the 180 enemy soldiers who surrendered to be taken prisoner by only two American soldiers!

Another time, Murphy had been wounded and was out of action so Airheart was left to continue fighting alone. At a place called Christmas Hill, for three days and nights without food or water, he remained in position fighting until French soldiers informed him the hill had been seized. He had killed dozens of the enemy and was so exhausted he had to be helped to an aid station.

Toward the end of the war, Onclo received the last of his 18 medals, the Bronze Star. He earned it when he and Murphy (who had recovered from his wounds and returned) faced intense enemy sniper fire in Germany. Murphy began shooting at the crew of an ammo truck while Onclo used a rifle grenade to destroy the truck and then with a single shot, killed a German messenger who was running to alert reinforcements.

He was interviewed by a reporter in 1975 for the 30th anniversary of the end of the war. When asked what made him fight so hard, he said, “We had to fight to live, and we wanted to keep the fighting from reaching America’s shores. Those big, old guns the Germans had – they would have tore New York up. And I wanted to get the mess over and get back home. That’s the only way we were going to end it.”

For the rest of his life after the war, Onclor lived with many harsh memories. He was interviewed once more in 1995 by a reporter for the Athens Review who succinctly said, “Airheart tells of times when men lived stark, desperate lives that could end the next moment. Students of history read of names like Christmas Hill and the Battle of the Bulge, but Airheart sees them in living color.” He remembered the losses among the Americans at the Battle of the Bulge, “There were only six of us from our whole unit left when it was all over.” The interviewer reported that “amazement that he survived still clings to his voice, along with the sadness in his heart for his lost comrades.”

As most people know, once the war was over, Murphy headed to stardom in Hollywood. Onclo returned home to little Trinidad, Texas to work on the family farm. A few years later, Hollywood was making “To Hell and Back” a biographical movie about Murphy. Onclo was contacted by his old friend who asked him to play himself in the film. Onclo declined because it was planting time and he needed to work on his farm. As Onclo himself described it to that 1995 interviewer: “He said he wanted me to go into show business. They was gonna put me in it. But I told him I’ve got my mules and plow, and I’m fixin’ to go to the field.”
And so Onclor Airheart remained obscure. Even after his death LIFE magazine declined to mention his name. In an issue that summarized the 20th century, the magazine ran a few lines about Audie Murphy as the most-decorated soldier ever. Then they added, “We understand one other soldier from Texas is still living and has only one medal less than Murphy.” No name, no recognition. Even after the editors were informed of Onclo’s name and address, they replied they had “no interest in information of this kind now.”

Onclo went unrecognized for his war service, but maybe that lack of acknowledgment meant nothing to Airheart. Like most military service members then and now, he’d done his duty and simply returned home to live out the rest of his life.

Audie Murphy died in a plane crash in 1971. Onclo Airheart, the second most decorated soldier in history, quietly passed away in Trinidad, Texas in 2001.
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Military marker says PFC while private marker added later has Staff Sargent with some of his military postings comments on his having 20 decorations:


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