Letter in a Battle

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

"According to the radio your dad has just called on the President to get him to straighten out the Japs in the Parker and Sacaton Internment Camps. It seems some of them were causing a little disturbance. . . . Believe it or not, the Italian prisoners from Tunisia are here in the valley cleaning ditches for the Water Users and as happy as they can be. And boy they really work. . . . Each morning I pass them on the way to work and always they are singing even in the hottest weather . . .

"You guys over there are sure doing a bang up job. I wish I were along to help, cause I would be scared to death but I sure would like it nohow -- godam . . .

"Well, Rachael just came in and said that on the Army Hour she just heard that your division was in the Sicily campaign. Give em hell kid and then a little more for me, the next one you get to pop tell him I asked you to do it, will you. Write to Rachael as often as you can for she keeps her ears glued to the radio and her eyes on the road for the postman. Yeh, we got a mailbox now . . ."

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.

Murdock's malaria kept him hospitalized into early August -- a span during which Mussolini was toppled and Italian resistance all but vanished. But the German army was fighting a tough and effective retreat toward Messina, a port city on the northeast coast of Sicily, a short boat ride from the Italian mainland.

"I've tried twice to write a big letter full of Sicilian experiences," Murdock wrote his family from the hospital on July 30. "It's still unfinished. I seem to be busier now than I was after Casablanca. Anyway, there's a lot to tell and I hope to get it sent soon. Right now I am in the hospital taking the malaria cure, but they tell me I can get back to my company in a few days. It's really wonderful to be able to sleep all nite and all day on a cot, a rare luxury indeed. The Mussolini deal was a wow, wasn't it? The air is full of rumors, guesses, etc., etc. But no one knows just what lies ahead. I get more and more respect for the management of our army and armed forces! The big shots have done well by us. Casualties here were light. It could have been terrible, and it wasn't all because of low Italian morale either. Anyway, I've been right in the front of things all the way thru and saw the whole show and my company did its full share and we're still in good shape. I hope the worry strain there hasn't been too heavy."

He left the hospital "malaria cured, but weak as the duce," he wrote a friend. "I need several days of my own mess sergeant's chow and some exercise before I get back on my feet proper. As for Sicily it's not a particularly pretty place, people very unpicturesque and the villages are of colorless grey stone always built on top of a mountain. The mountains are terrific and would present some wonderful scenes if we didn't have to climb over them, that spoils the effect. All in all, I'd rather be in Arizona -- or D.C. -- or anywhere over there. Well, someday maybe, in the meantime, God bless you plenty."

By mid-August, radio was reporting that Murdock's 7th Infantry was 20 miles from Messina.

"So many times it all seems so fantastic," Rachael wrote August 15, "I can't get the picture all straight at all.

"Malaria must be awful, but if you can stay put long enough they should be able to fix it. Don't you have enough quinine to keep it warded off?

"I've been in a complete mental fog lately. Everything around here irritates me and I try to think of something else, but who can think of anything with two kids swarming . . ."

Summer rains had gushed down the washes east of Camelback Mountain and flooded the house. "It was a hellish week. . . . One night after the flood we all went to town to eat. Tried every place in Tempe and Phx, no luck, everything closed. So we bought a watermelon and came home at 9:30 PM and ate it. Found out it was meatless Thursday, everything closed up.

"Ben is gone I guess. Mother sent his overseas address. I've been so busy worrying about you that I haven't worried much about poor Ben but the convoy lanes are relatively safe now. Mother thinks he went to England . . .

"Dad says he's really worried about our post-war policies. He thinks the Republicans will gain control and pull a repeat on isolationism Harding, Coolidge, etc. They hate Roosevelt so they'll be sure to adopt an opposite policy. George says the men in the armed forces won't allow it, but they won't be here to vote. Great god, wouldn't that be awful. Daddy says he's sure that a large percentage of people still believe we should never have gotten into the war -- and blame it on the administration.

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