Letter in a Battle

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

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?

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.

"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.

"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.

"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?

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