Letter in a Battle

Rediscovered cache of castoff communiqués captures World War II and 1940s Phoenix

"We fought, maneuvered, moved and defended for over a week, rested two days and then swooooosh -- across the island; found out why they'd been hiking the feet off of us for three months (though I still think they over-did it.) Did 85 miles in two days, took three cities and hundreds of prisoners -- and more than half of it was done afoot -- and the mountains of Sicily are the worst in the world.

"Our company has been under fire several times -- each time we maneuvered and took our position. We (myself included) killed and wounded our share of the enemy, and the company took over 1500 prisoners by actual count, which is nothing to brag about, because the Italians just didn't want to fight. And the whole affair wasn't too dangerous. We had only three casualties, but we were luckier than most.

"I saw the effect of all-out American bombings on cities and civilians. Believe me, it isn't pleasant. I picked up an Italian born boy for an orderly and kept him with me all thru for an interpreter. We were talking to some civilians in the city when there was roar of bombers over head. I looked up with a question. They said, 'Don't worry -- those are American planes. We know the sound of the motors by now.' It was a while before I realized just what that meant, yet they seemed genuinely friendly to us, for all their misery. Why, because they think we bring food and because they know we are fighting H. and M., both of whom they hate violently. The worst of this bombing business is the Americans bomb a city until they get it and then the Jerries start the bombings all over again. But Jerry bombings aren't so terrible any more. I've seen several. Funny thing, the whole spectacle, while always interesting, didn't affect me emotionally at all, thank God. I've always been afraid I'd be terrified. I think I've gotten numb physically and emotionally in the past three months, which is the only way to get and stay alive.

Lieutenant David Murdock in Washington, D.C., 1942.
Lieutenant David Murdock in Washington, D.C., 1942.
This pile of trash in a Tempe alley held Jimmy Creasman's letters, books and family papers.
Vivian Spiegelman
This pile of trash in a Tempe alley held Jimmy Creasman's letters, books and family papers.

"But here's what happened. A big pile of mail caught up with me just after the big push, while we were settled in a lemon grove outside the big city and I had to grab my mail and beat it back into the trees where I could read it and weep. Oh, the mail was wonderful, but it was the first thought of home I'd had for a long, long time . . .

"News from home always much the same, but then so is news from here I guess. This damn war could last another three months or three years, and with my present conception of time it would be all about the same. Doesn't seem possible that it's a year since I saw Rachael and George and the kids out on the desert. Boy, how I'd like to sneak a look at the kids now. Are the pictures on their way to me?

". . . I feel about leaving the hospital as I did about leaving the British Battle School (it was in Africa, by the way) -- chief reason for wanting to go back -- there may be mail for me back at the outfit. I'll drop V-mails from time to time, you all keep them coming.

"Pop, thanks for the note. I think we gave them Hell . . ."

David's mail was getting farther and farther behind what radio reports were daily telling his family about his regiment's actions at the front. His June letter describing the British battle school didn't reach Scottsdale until July 17.

"So out of date," Rachael replied to him July 18. "Even so reading a letter that was [from] you we all felt better and laughed at its Britisher jokes.

"The news continues good but I know the going is tough. It's very hard to imagine sitting out here with nothing more deadly than an occasional scorpion around. Stories and radio dramas paint the picture and one can get the idea -- a little -- for a short time but then it's gone again. People simply can't picture things they haven't experienced . . .

"We're just marking time, waiting to hear your angle."

She filled the letter with the stories he liked to hear about her children and the "normal" life at home.

"Mother writes that Daddy will be coming home soon. Congress has adjorned until September. It will be swell to see him -- wish Mother could come too. It's been over a year since we've seen her. In fact, you've seen her more recently than we have. That sounds crazy doesn't it.

"She says they can't both leave the office at the same time. She hasn't written since the Sicily invasion started."

Later that day, George Ellis typed a note of his own, describing his work at Williams Field, where he was in charge of maintaining the buildings, repairing runways and building some of the outlying posts, such as the gunnery ranges, targets and auxiliary fields in Yuma, Ajo and Tucson.

"I really love it for there is never a dull moment. As for satisfaction, well, when I see those planes taking off about every minute, see the traffic pattern full, and watch those '38's' (P-38s) doing their stuff and realize that I am having a little, though very little, responsibility for it, then I feel a little better. I do feel I should be right over there with you doing this thing from the real side of it, this home work some one else can do . . .

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