Farmersville, Texas, and Holtzwihr, France, are communities separated by thousands of miles but are bound together by the heroic exploits of a young American soldier who once called Farmersville home.
The communities cemented their common love and admiration for the late Audie Leon Murphy on Saturday, May 8 by signing a sister city agreement that both sides hope builds on the friendship and kinship forged by Murphy’s heroics.
It was on Jan. 26, 1945 that Murphy, a young U.S. Army lieutenant, virtually single-handedly beat back a Nazi German attack on Holtzwihr, a tiny village in northeast France near the Germany border. The battle had destroyed about 95 percent of the village. The fight occurred in the final weeks of World War II and for his action in saving the lives of 16 American GIs and for saving the village from the Nazis, Murphy received the Medal of Honor.
Thus, it was fitting that the sister city ceremony that took place at the Collin College campus in Farmersville would occur on the 76th anniversary of VE Day, which the world commemorates to mark the end of fighting in the European Theater of Operations of World War II.
Farmersville Mayor Bryon Wiebold said organizers had hoped to stage the signing ceremony in the Farmersville Heritage Museum, except the response was so great they needed a larger venue than what the museum could provide. Indeed, the event was well-attended at the college, with representatives from the city – in addition to Wiebold – present at the ceremony, as well as other dignitaries representing various organizations. The crowd totaled more than 100 attendees.
Holtzwihr’s delegation took part via Zoom teleconference. Remarks on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean – 5,153 miles away – were broadcast back and forth.
Farmersville’s population is estimated at around 4,000 residents. Holtzwihr’s population count is believed to be fewer than 1,500 residents.
What does Holtzwihr hoped to gain from this relationship with Farmersville? Holtzwihr Mayor Christian Durr, speaking through an interpreter, said “We can learn from our history and not forget the past.” He vowed that Holtzwihr would “keep the memory of Audie Murphy alive for future generations to study and learn.” He called the sister city agreement a “friendship pact” that he hopes generates “respect among the younger generation.”
Among those present at the signing event were historian Henry Bodden, an expert on World War II history and on Audie Murphy’s exploits; he helped initiate the sister city agreement about two years when he visited Holtzwihr. Wiebold introduced three city council members – Mike Henry, Terry Williams and Craig Overstreet – who all attended the ceremony, along with Farmersville school trustee Paul Kelly. Also present were members of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club based at Fort Hood, near Killeen.
Nadine Murphy Lokey, Audie Murphy’s lone surviving sibling, also attended. She had traveled to the event “all the way from Princeton” where she lives, Wiebold joked.
Audie Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971; he was 45 years of age when he perished.
Bodden made the point during his remarks preceding the signing of the agreement that “medals didn’t anything to Audie Murphy.” Bodden said the Army “made (Murphy) wear the medals” when he was photographed in his uniform. Murphy emerged from World War II as the most decorated soldier in U.S. history. First Sgt. Wendy Talton, representing the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, called Murphy “a legend in his own time” and someone who “made a lasting imprint on our history.” She also spoke of his acting career and his songwriting skill. Murphy starred in the autobiographical film “To Hell and Back,” portraying himself in the story of his World War II exploits.
Wiebold said in his greeting to Holtzwihr officials that the cities are “connected by their love of country and the valor of one who personified those pursuits.” He said he hoped that “the bond serves as a hub of peace and prosperity.”
He added: “Though there is a vast distance between us, we are connected together by our love of country, liberty and the pursuit of peace and happiness. And the heroic valor of one who personified such attributes.
“Over 75 years ago, one of our own, a young teenage man named Audie Leon Murphy, left the shores of our country and went to foreign lands to fight and preserve liberty from the advance of an evil regime.
“Your reverence and gratitude for his sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of scores of other young men and women who gave their all, is truly remarkable and I pray that it will be inspiring to our nation, state and local community.”
The communities exchanged gifts after the signing ceremony. Holtzwihr is sending to Farmersville a piece of the armored fighting vehicle that Murphy disabled during the firefight in January 1945. In return, Wiebold said Farmersville is sending a portrait of Murphy, a copy of the Life magazine edition with Murphy on its cover and a commemorative quilt to its new French sister city.
By John Kanelis • [email protected]