Letter in a Battle

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

". . . and you can imagine the chaos in a city after weeks of terrible bombings, hunger, etc. then sudden turnover of military power, the chance to loot Fascist stores (the R.R. station was a Fascist headquarters.) Refugees coming back home, people going back to work, suspected soldiers/civilians, fear for abandoned munition and explosive dumps . . .

"As for this big story of the landing, the news has told it pretty straight. I won't repeat. A few unpublicized difficulties might be interesting.

"The day before the landing was a rough day. Wind blew all the barrage balloons off the tank transports and the L. C. I.'s (Infantry) rolled and jumped and tossed all day. Everyone was dead sick. I stayed on my feet all day because I thought I had to, but damned if I could get anyone else up. And there were so many little details that weren't finished and at 4:00 the next morning we had to fight our way ashore -- imagine the feeling. However, the sea calmed at midnite and when we saw the searchlights, shell flashes and machine guns everyone roused out and the details took care of themselves in a hurry. Artillery landed around us and m.g. bullets sprayed the boat once on the way in. No one hurt, and on the beach we had no fire at all. I can't understand it either. Had trouble landing, as usual. Lost a ramp from the boat. Skipper was a little nervous and got us 300 yards off the beach and on some rocks, waves were too high to use the rubber emergency boats so we swam, floundered and crawled in just like the last time, but never lost a man and but very little equipment. We had two small skirmishes, caught a few prisoners and were five miles inland on our objective by noon.

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 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.

"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.

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