Letter in a Battle

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

"By gosh if we don't follow through on this war, we'd better begin by stringing up a few at home. I can't see how it could happen, but Dad says he's sure it will. I hope you fellows will make yourself heard from. We've simply got to cooperate in world affairs from now on . . .

"What can we send you in Xmas packages? We are allowed to send one a week per sender from Sept 15 to Oct 15 -- weight not more than 5 lbs. Do send word quick. This may be the last chance for a long time.

"I hope you're feeling well again when this gets there. Letter exchanges are so slow it's terrible thinking all the things that can happen in between letters. I keep hoping for a sudden collapse of Italy and Germany but I guess that's too much.

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.

"Anyway, we're proud of you and I've got mental corns from hoofing it over Sicily . . ."

On August 17, Rachael heard that Murdock's 3rd Division had marched into Messina, and she received a letter he'd written in late July. In early September, with no recent word from him, Rachael wrote to him that war nerves, heat, mosquitoes and general bedlam were besting everyone:

"Since there's a lull in the battle news from Sicily, I hope you are getting a breathing spell -- and hope muchly that the malaria is stopped cold. I know it's a terrible thing in many cases and keeps coming back. People can stand an awful lot when they are well. But being sick in the battle zone must be as bad as it gets. I keep worrying about you. But I guess no need to go into that again . . .

"The political heat here is a terrible thing. Daddy is worried and mad a lot of the time. Everyone is yelling at the 'bureaucrats.' The Republicans claim everything is muddled and no good. Office of Price Administration can't handle inflation. The wrong people are getting the high wages etc. Of course there is a lot wrong, but almost everyone is mad only at the thing that hurts his business or pleasure.

"It seems so awful, when all the best young men in the country are fighting that we can't get together at home. The damned thing is just too big I guess . . .

"I'm enclosing a page from the last Life which mentioned 'Stella the Belle of Fedela.' Also a clipping from each the Republic and Gazette. Wouldn't people look funny if they could hear it sung?

"The Glendale paper had a full column about you. Daddy stopped in and talked with the man. Probably Ralph Hess [a friend of David's] will send it to you. He called me and read your August 1st v-mail, said the paper would print it. Said he about capsized when he read of that small group that landed behind German lines before the fall of Messina. The paper said they were the same group that had landed at Fedela. We were holding our breath over that too . . .

"Last night the invasion of Italy was announced. So far today the 7th Army has not been mentioned. So we're speculating on where you are and what will happen next. I hope it will be fast. There must be big doings afoot in several places. We're thinking about you every minute. Hope the victory announcement will come soon.

"George came in last night with the terrible news that Captain Adams (his best friend at Williams) . . . was killed yesterday in a plane crash near Ajo. He was not a flier -- had recently been made Major and commanding officer of the Ajo gunnery post. His pilot was a veteran of the Solomons campaign and an ace. No one knows what happened. There have been too many accidents lately. The pace is just too fast. But I should be telling you we need fliers. I guess there isn't anyone that appreciates an air umbrella more than infantry men, any way as long as they are in the air, huh?

"I still want to know what we can send in little packages . . ."

After taking Palermo, David Murdock's 7th Infantry regiment broke east along the coastal highway toward Messina.

"It's a P poor war, Ben," he wrote August 6, in a letter he never finished or sent. "We've been sitting here for 3 days doing absolutely nothing. They're shooting a lot of artillery about 6 miles up and we're alerted to move on 15 minutes notice but there seems to be little action -- don't know why the delay. We've got plenty for the job, but I guess somebody knows what's going on. In the meantime, we sit in the dirt & sleep & eat C rations -- thrilling . . ."

Soon after that, Murdock and his company began a week of almost round-the-clock fighting. Retreating German forces made the mountainous coastal terrain a part of their already formidable arsenal. They mined the dry river bottoms and gorges that cut through the hills below the towns, then trained their mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire on the narrow, difficult low ground between the hills.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Pratt, who fought with the 7th Infantry through that part of Sicily, says that to advance troops and equipment along the coastal highway, which was tucked against the cliffs in spots and occasionally blown out by the Germans, the regiment had to sweep on foot through the overlooking mountains, fighting as they went.

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