Based on Audie Murphy’s autobiography, an uneducated boy joins the Army and displays such bravery and leadership that he rises in the ranks while fighting in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany.
Retired General Walter Bedell Smith introduces the story by saying that some individuals display incredible courage in war. Audie Murphy received every honor possible.
At the age of twelve Audie (Gordon Gebert) already could shoot a rifle accurately and kills a rabbit. His mother tells him they will hear from his pa soon. His brother says their mother is worried because they need money. Audie goes to a neighbor and asks for a full-time job. Mr. Houston tells him it is up to his ma. Audie tells his ma, who says he should stay in school. She makes Audie the head of the family.
A few years later Audie Murphy (himself) brings in wood and tells his younger brothers to do their chores. He takes breakfast to his ma in bed. He goes to see Jim Houston, who has joined the Marines. They hear on the radio that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Murphy is working with Mr. Houston, who says the war will be longer than they thought. Audie learns that his ma died, and he cries.
Murphy says he can take care of his brothers and sisters, but they are put in an institution. Murphy tells Mr. Houston he is joining the Marines. They reject him because he is too young, as does the Navy. So Murphy joins the Army.
Murphy takes a ship to North Africa with his regiment. The soldiers laugh at the new youngster. His sergeant notices he was an acting sergeant on the ship, and he appoints him to the same position. Murphy gives orders and inspects the men and their rifles. In the camp a foreigner reviews his facts for citizenship in the United States.
Murphy reports to an officer who reviews his record of being ill after getting shots. He is told he is being transferred from a rifle platoon, but he persuades them to let him stay. They notice he has signed up for all the education he can get, and he sends his pay to his sister.
Murphy goes into a bar where the soldiers are relaxing with women and are drinking. Kerrigan (Jack Kelly) introduces him to a dancer. The radio announces that the Germans surrendered in Tunisia.
They are shipped to Sicily, and Johnson (Marshall Thompson) says they are going to hell and back. Johnson advises Murphy to loosen his chin strap so that he won’t get a concussion. They land on the beach and march on the land. A German machine-gun kills two men in front, and they lay down and shoot back. A soldier leaves to send word and is killed. Murphy crawls forward, and Johnson joins him. They run forward at intervals. Murphy kills a rifleman to save Johnson. He throws a hand grenade that takes out the machine-gun.
They march to Palermo and then toward Italy. A newspaper reports they have been marching against light resistance from the remaining Germans. Lt. Manning (Gregg Palmer) is new and tells them they are going across to Salerno. Murphy is promoted to corporal, and he says he did not ask for the stripes.
They march on a road in Italy. They observe a river where the bridges have been destroyed. At night Captain Marks (Bruce Cowling) is told they are a diversionary force. Johnson is afraid they will be caught in the middle of the river. Murphy asks Johnson why he is no longer married. He says he had to give up school to work, and his wife left him. Murphy encourages him to go back and try again with her. Murphy plans to stay in the Army. Cpl. Murphy is ordered to take his squad across the river. He tells Johnson to report. He leads the others in the water to the shore. They advance shooting and kill some Germans. Murphy sees more Germans coming and has them retreat. They cross back, and Johnson asks why he did not take him. Murphy says he takes too many chances.
Murphy is ordered to open up at 5 a.m. They shoot from cover on the shore while artillery attacks them. Murphy answers a phone and says Manning was badly wounded. Murphy is put in charge. Several boats with men cross the river. Murphy leads his men.
They move up Italy past Naples to Cassino. In the camp they eat in the rain. Two men get in a fight, and Murphy breaks it up. Lt. Manning arrives in a jeep and says they are going to a rest area. Kerrigan says they have been on the line for two months. Murphy is made sergeant and Johnson a corporal.
The men get off a truck in a town. Valentino (Paul Picerni) says he is going to visit his relatives. A boy asks Murphy for a cigarette, and he gives him chocolate. Kovak (Richard Castle) feels bad and goes back to camp. They find pilots dancing with the women, and the soldiers sing to the “Birdmen” and start a brawl. MPs stop it and ask who started it.
Murphy asks for a shoeshine and gives the boy a chocolate. His older sister Maria tells him they do not beg; but she offers to cook for him. He dines with her family. They hear an air raid siren, and the family runs out. A woman takes off Kerrigan’s boots. Brandon (Charles Drake) talks to a woman who does not understand English. Maria comes back to Murphy and says he is crazy to stay there. They embrace. She says her brother was killed by the English, and her father has not come back. She asks if he is afraid, and he says he is all the time. They kiss. On the truck Kerrigan has lost his shoes.
Troops land at Anzio, but it is defended. Replacements arrive for Sgt. Murphy. In a battle in the mud a man is shot, and men carry him back. Murphy is told to take the two-story farmhouse. He tells his men to get ready to go again. Johnson tells Murphy he is bleeding, but Murphy finds it is a can leaking. Murphy gets his Thompson submachine-gun back and leads the charge, throwing a grenade. They enter the building and kill the Germans. A grenade kills the last Germans in the house. Murphy shoots at his image in a mirror and orders others not to tell anyone. Johnson says they can take out the machine-gun, but Murphy says their orders are to hold the farmhouse. Lt. Lee (David Janssen) directs the artillery from ships against the tanks approaching.
The men talk about Kovak, who was killed. At night Murphy takes three men to attack a damaged tank. Johnson tells new men they do not make friends because it is hard when they die. Murphy goes ahead alone, crawling through a gulley. He and the others kill the Germans at the tank.
The next day the Captain commends Murphy and asks him to take a battlefield commission. Murphy says he does not want to transfer, which is the policy. A battle begins, and Murphy says they are pulling out. Tanks are advancing, and they retreat. Johnson says he is hit and dies.
After four months in Anzio they are told they are going to Rome. Col. Howe (Paul Langton) asks Captain Marks why Murphy won’t take a commission. At Rome they read about the landing on Normandy.
They are shipped to southern France. They are attacked in a field. Sanchez (Art Aragon) is wounded, and Murphy gives him a cigar. Two men are killed by a machine-gun. Murphy asks for time to check on Brandon. Murphy warns him to stay down, and Brandon is shot dead. Murphy picks up a German machine-gun and kills Germans. He goes back and sits next to Brandon. Kerrigan pushes a rifle in the ground and puts a helmet on it and then tells Murphy they should go.
Murphy reports to battalion headquarters and is offered a chance to go to West Point. He says he is not qualified because he left grade school. He is given a commission without having to transfer. The men expect it to get tougher in Germany. They see that Murphy is now a second lieutenant. Murphy tells Kerrigan he is a sergeant, and Valentino is a corporal. They move out on two tanks. Germans see them and attack. Kerrigan is wounded in the arm.
Murphy is ordered to take Holtzwihr by the German border. The battle begins, and Murphy calls in artillery against the advancing tanks. Murphy shoots Germans from a machine-gun on a tank while it is on fire. Then he jumps off before it explodes. He is wounded, and Valentino calls a medic.
In a hospital Kerrigan visits Murphy. A nurse tells Kerrigan that the wound will keep Murphy out of West Point. She persuades Kerrigan to leave with a hypodermic.
After fighting in seven campaigns Murphy received many decorations, and finally he is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
This biographical drama depicts the true story of a heroic American fighting in World War II. Many people are killed on both sides, and it seems to be unpredictable luck which determines who is wounded and who dies. Murphy’s story shows that he said little but did much.