Letter in a Battle

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

"Tomorrow nite in the wee hours we hit Sicily with a bang and get set to give 'Musso' a hot foot. I know there won't be time to write tomorrow -- it will take plenty time and effort to tie up the loose ends and get this outfit of mine ashore -- don't know how I'll ever get them where we gotta go but I betcha we get there and shoot up Italians on the way.

"The General said, 'You picture it all in your minds, but no one can say how it will be. It may be a thousand times easier than anyone had imagined.' Me? I'm ready for anything but betting on the 'thousand times easier' -- with all the air power I've seen overhead. (They've been coming back in all evening), a sea full of ships -- and plans, plans, plans -- Hell, we can't miss! Anyway you'll know what happened long before you get this note. We had an air raid the other night that was the prettiest sight I ever hope to see, but I'll write Ben about that. Time's short."

Later that evening, he wrote Ben, "We are just now getting underway to dodge across the sea & hit -- hard. We've been aboard several days & dodging around from port to port to heckle the Jerry, I suppose. Now we are picking up steam for the big jump.

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.

"We had an air raid the other nite . . . that was a real show. Just like the movies. Was awakened by the racket and went up on deck. The sky was full of searchlights and tracer bullets floating up to the point of a cone where I couldn't see anything. Then they picked him up in the lights. He tried to get out, like a fly in a web, but about 20 beams had him crossed, and the whole country side started spouting fire (we were anchored well out in the harbor & the plane was right overhead). And there were big tracers from 40 mm AA and heavy flashes from 5-inch guns. And then he got it, wobbled first, pulled out, then smoke came out the tail. Climbed, stalled, fell into a spin, leaving a trail of smoke, and landed with a terrific flash about 300 yards from our boat. The lights followed him all the way down. The fire burned on the water for 20 minutes. Boy, what a sight.

"We saw them shoot down three that nite. And the few bombs that did fall hit nothing. Next day German news: 'Allied base bombed, half the invasion barges there destroyed -- and all our craft returned safely.' What bunk. That's the kind of stuff that makes us know we'll kick the hell out of them in the next few days.

"All evening I've been going over navigation plans with the skipper; he's a good guy. The Navy seems to realize this time that its job is to get us ashore where & when we're supposed to get there, a good sign. All plans are good and I honestly think they will work.

"It's fun to be a C.O and in the know. I never was before. I saw the battle order for the whole Allied invasion force. It's gigantic. The General said, 'Hell, they couldn't even think up things as big as this to heckle us with at General Staff school a few years ago . . .'

"It's going to be a big show. I wish you could see it, honest . . . but I'll tell you about it and I know that in a few days we'll all wish we were somewhere else.

"There's so damn much more work to getting a company checked up, instructed & ready to go. My officers are good guys, but I guess there isn't any soldier as lazy as an officer. They're always playing cards or asleep, and I have to keep kicking them to get the job done. Found today that a lot of the explosives we have aboard are without caps and fuses -- because I didn't check on it. So I got an idea. We'll detonate them with hand grenades; use a 15-yard cord to pull the safety pin. It's gotta work. But for the most part we're all set. And tomorrow nite about now I'll be 'Crapari los panto' or else be too worried about getting 140 other guys ashore to notice it . . ."

Murdock's 7th Infantry went into Sicily near Licata, midway along the island's southern coast. It secured the coast for an infusion of supplies and more troops, then advanced across the island's mountainous hide and took Palermo, on the north coast, July 22.

"Yesterday was a good day," he wrote his mother in Washington on July 20. "Ten weary days in Sicily and then we actually spent a whole day in one place, got clean underwear from our baggage, got mail from home and a good B ration supper -- now were fittin' for fightin' again."

Five days later in Palermo, Murdock was sick with malaria, and at one point was hospitalized with a 103 degree fever. His company was guarding the city's central railroad station.

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