It is pretty fascinating how many books deal with Audie Murphy and the Vietnam War. Below I will list several books which I am currently reading which cover this topic.
Audie Murphy visited Vietnam in the late 1950’s to act in the first film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel about French involvement in Vietnam (The Quiet American, 1958). I highly recommend the Graham Greene book as well as the 1958 film. The 2002 film version starring Michael Caine is also worth watching. The idea of Audie Murphy as the character of The Quiet American because of what he stands for in terms of his real life military heroism definitely adds a special element to the film that any other actor (director Joseph Mankewicz initially wanted Montgomery Clift) could not bring to the role. It is one of Audie’s finest performances and he holds his own quite well with acclaimed British stage actor Michael Redgrave who is superb in the film.
There is a book called A Thinker’s Damn by William Russo which dedicated entirely to the making of The Quiet American which I highly recommend. It’s available both in print form and in digital format. Audie and everyone else involved in the making of this film had a difficult time during the shoot. The conditions in Vietnam were quite difficult, Audie suffered an attack of appendicitis which interfered with the shooting schedule, author Graham Greene criticized the film adaptation before he even saw it, etc. It is a fascinating read which delves into many different aspects of the making of this film. I will link here to an interview with Audie after the film was completed which gives you some idea of what he experienced on location. Please note that the author of this magazine article gets the name of Audie’s costar wrong, it’s Michael Redgrave, not Michael Rennie.
One of the best books that I have read regarding American cinema and the Vietnam War is Looking Away Hollywood and Vietnam by Julian Smith. It has long been out of print but copies can be found through online bookstores (Abebooks.com is one of my favorites).
In relation to Audie Murphy, this book from the late 1970’s delves Audie’s film persona and personal myth in relation to the Vietnam War. The author makes the point that Audie’s character in The Quiet American is in some ways the first American victim of the Vietnam War. It would have been interesting to see an updated edition of this book because when it was released only Apocalypse Now was in production, none of the other great Vietnam War films of the 1970’s and 1980’s (The Deer Hunter, First Blood, Platoon, and so many more) had even been released. Still, it is filled with very interesting insights and there are several chapters dedicated specifically to Audie Murphy.
Many of the men who fought in Vietnam were inspired to join the military because they grew up in the mid 1950’s with the Audie Murphy legend as exemplified in the film version of To Hell and Back inspiring them to become heroes themselves. Here is just one article about that very topic: Veterans recall meeting Audie Murphy at Majestic premiere
A book of poetry called Audie Murphy Died in Vietnam (the theme being that the idea that valor as personified by Audie Murphy died with the Vietnam War) which I also would highly recommend is also out of print but can be located if you look hard enough at online used booksellers. It is not about Audie specifically but he is obviously the inspiration behind this volume of poetry by the poet McAvoy Layne.
Speaking of inspirations, David Morrell, the author of First Blood and the other Rambo novels was also inspired by Audie Murphy. Yes, you read that right, Rambo was based in large part on Audie Murphy. I highly recommend the brief, affordable (99 cents) e-book by David Morrell called Rambo and Me: The Story Behind the Story to find out more about how Audie Murphy inspired David Morrell when he was creating the character of Rambo. Also, be sure to read the novel First Blood, it is outstanding!
Audie Murphy in relation to the Vietnam War is quite interesting because by the time of Audie’s death in May of 1971, his myth and the idea of valor in combat as exemplified by Audie Murphy was already under siege (especially after the My Lai massacre in Vietnam). Audie Murphy himself mentions the Vietnam War during a speech he gave at the Alabama War Memorial in 1968. Listen here: