Letter in a Battle

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

Murdock was also an admired leader, said the soldier, who "wore the skin off his feet" on the long marches right along with the rest of his company. "When we got home, do you think he dismissed us without any concern? Not him. He said, 'Fellows, you're great soldiers. It's gonna take men like you to win this war.'"

There was plenty of singing at the memorial service for Murdock. It was held the evening of September 19 at the First Methodist Church in Glendale where David had directed a choir. The long train trip across country prevented Murdock's parents from coming from Washington. But Rachael, George and 500 others were present. She wrote to her parents afterward:

"It is a picturesque church copied from one in Belgium," Rachael wrote to them, "made of brick, choir loft at the rear, high peaked ceiling, tall colored glass windows & ivy covered walls. . . . The light was beautiful, coming from a low sun through the colored glass. The church was filled to overflowing and it was terribly sad, but sweet."

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.

She sat with George and family friends down front. "The Orpheus men sat facing the audience." The church choir was in the loft at the rear.

Some of Murdock's former students had made a lyre of flowers and put it alongside two other bouquets on the dais.

When the Orpheus men first started singing David's suite of music, "I thought I couldn't stand it," Rachael wrote, "and the 'Desert Night' was just a part of David there again. Those soft sweet little melodies in the piano accompaniment just tore me apart. They were so familiar. The men sang well, but as much as they loved David, they would have sung better if his gorgeous shoulders had been in front directing."

Howard Pyle, the KTAR broadcaster, gave the eulogy. He spoke for 16 minutes about, in his words, "Our David" -- the community's son, whose loss was more than just one family's.

"He prepared his words himself," Rachael told her parents, "and it was a masterpiece . . . I'm going to write him soon and try to tell him how fine it was."

The weekend after the service, Pyle gathered up information about Murdock's death and sent it along with a letter to Jimmy and Dorothy Creasman in New York.

"Even yet it seems unreal!" he wrote. "The assignment to handle a tribute to him hit me squarely in the middle of a very soft spot in my heart, but somehow I managed to get through it. . . . More could be said, but what good would it do."

Next week: Jimmy Creasman sees a very different side of war.

Contact Edward Lebow at his online address: ed.lebow@newtimes.com

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