Letter in a Battle

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

"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"So out of date," Rachael replied to him July 18.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.

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.

"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 . . .

"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 . . ."

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."

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