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Hike to the memorial of an American hero

By Johnny Molloy • Jul 22, 2018 at 4:00 AM

The story of Audie Murphy is an American classic. Known as a movie actor to millions, how he came into such a position is amazing. Born to a poor Texas sharecropper, his mother passed away as World War II loomed. Times were tough, so when Audie turned 18, he joined the Army to help support his siblings. His days of hunting squirrels for food paid off, and Murphy’s expert marksmanship, bravery and leadership stood out. He earned 33 awards and decorations, including the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States. Murphy started out as a private, then rose to 2nd Lieutenant while fighting nine major campaigns in Europe. He was wounded three times in his three years of active service. At the close of World War II, his valor put Murphy on the cover of Life Magazine. Actor James Cagney saw Murphy on the magazine and invited him to Hollywood. Audie’s acting career started slowly but by 1949 he starred in his first movie. That same year, his autobiography To Hell and Back was released and became a bestseller. In 1955, To Hell and Back was made into a movie starring Audie Murphy, and was the most successful picture for two decades. Murphy ended up taking part in 44 films. On May 28, 1971, Murphy was killed when a small private plane he was on crashed into Brush Mountain, up Virginia way, where a monument to Murphy has been erected. A 7.6 mile there-and-back Appalachian Trail hike takes you into the Brush Mountain East Wilderness, where you climb Brush Mountain on piney ridges to the Audie Murphy Monument. A stellar view awaits of the Craig Creek Valley just beyond the monument. Though the hike is never steep, it does gain 1,500 feet from bottom to top. From the trailhead, while you are bracing for a big climb the trail rises and falls, crossing tributaries of Craig Creek before beginning the assault on Brush Mountain. Join a piney ridge with an understory of blueberries, ripe pickings for hikers from mid-June to mid-July. While climbing, glimpses of Brush Mountain loom ahead, while behind you, the rampart of Sinking Creek Mountain stretches across the horizon. After 3 miles you reach the crest of Brush Mountain and a welcome resting bench. The AT heads left on an old closed forest road, where you find a spur to the Audie Murphy Monument. Previous hikers have added pebbles to the spot and well as other personalized tributes. After admiring the monument, follow a singletrack path down to an open rock outcrop and a view. From here, scan across the Craig Creek valley to the wooded wall forming Sinking Creek Mountain. The panorama is a fitting complement to Murphy. To reach the trailhead from exit 141 on I-81 just south of Roanoke, take VA 419 north for .3 mile, then turn right on VA 311 north and follow it for 11 miles to Craigs Creek Road, VA 621. Turn left on VA 621 and follow it for 6.4 miles to the Appalachian Trail crossing at Craigs Creek Road. Parking is on the right at the trail crossing. For more information, please consult my book “Five Star Trails: Roanoke and the New River Valley.”

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