Letter in a Battle

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

"I wouldn't give a dime for our chances against an organized enemy, yet the Generals in the critique this morning say we 'did a fine job' and I ask, What job? I never did see a job to be done. And we're supposed to be the best division in the country. O Boy. . . ."

Murdock's sister recalls that boot camp was a real jolt to her brother's independent and opinionated nature. "Once he saw what that was about, he knew the only possibility for him was to go for officers training."

He applied for officers training and got lieutenant's stripes the following spring, at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was graduated near the top of his class.

David Murdock played football in the mid-1930s for the University of Arizona.
courtesy of Rachael Ellis
David Murdock played football in the mid-1930s for the University of Arizona.
David Murdock and a companion running through a tumbling routine.
courtesy of Rachael Ellis
David Murdock and a companion running through a tumbling routine.

That summer, he joined the Army's 3rd Division, 7th Infantry Regiment at Fort Ord, California, as commander of an infantry platoon.

Along with millions of other soldiers and their families, the Murdocks spent the late summer and early fall of 1942 wondering where the Army would send him. His brother, Ben, was already working in the Army's Signal Corps as a radar specialist watching the waters off the end of Long Island.

At the time, there was considerable speculation about where Americans would land to begin their attack on Europe. A likely target was North Africa, along the Mediterranean, where the British were fighting German forces in the deserts of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

David Murdock's regiment maneuvered in coastal mountains around Fort Ord, where the terrain and climate were similar to parts of North Africa. At one point, he was given a desk job at the regimental headquarters. But it was a temporary post.

The silence about where he might eventually wind up fed feelings of isolation and helplessness among his family at home.

"Gosh, it seems ages since anyone has written," Rachael wrote to her parents that fall. "I've almost decided the whole family has been shipped out.

"It gets harder and harder for me to figure things out or realize what's going on, you know sitting out here on the desert day after day with nary a change for years. I get all balled up thinking about the war, where it is, David and Ben, where they are, war policies in Washington etc. I'm just not in the picture somehow."

Her husband, George Ellis, was the civil engineer at Williams Field. He left every morning at 6:20 to start the 40-mile drive from Scottsdale. He returned exhausted after 5 each evening.

"He's going to have three passengers after this week," Rachael went on, "and that will help since it costs him $1.50 per day now to go and come. I think when they get the laboratory set up he'll take a cot over and stay over night part of the time. There are so many things to do here -- and he's too tired to do much -- and he only has Sundays off . . .

"I think mostly about David and Ben these days. I know you do too. I'm thankful they are both strong -- mentally and physically -- and hope to heaven they're lucky. They're super guys and I just can't think that fate would let them down. . . . Wish we could all ship out with the 3rd Division and help look after him, don't you?"

Murdock's regiment moved east to Camp Pickett, Virginia, outside Richmond, not far from the embarkation ports of Norfolk, Hampton Roads and Newport News, in October. It shipped from Norfolk with the Army's 3rd Division later that month to join the Anglo-American invasion of French Morocco and Algeria in early November.

"We're right smack in the middle of the Atlantic," Murdock wrote to his family November 1. "The ship is darkened as it is each nite, and I have to use a flashlight to write by. We've been at sea for a week and a day and it's been a glorious pleasure cruise -- calm sea, sunny days, with big clouds and blue water, moonlight nights, starlight nights, some a little cloudy, none cold. One guy said the other day, 'When the war's over and I get married I'm going on a honeymoon over all the country I've traveled since I've been in the Army.' And I think he's got a good idea. They have taken us for some nice rides.

"We're just beginning to feel a little tension in the air. For a week now, no one has acted as tho we were heading for a war. All relaxed. Guys sleeping around all over the deck. Card games at nite. Song sessions. Conferences on enemy intelligence (they've given us reams of information, maps, photos, etc.; hope it's accurate) and plans for the attack (it's all been very carefully planned tho I've grown suspicious of anything that's planned -- so seldom works out). But the whole atmosphere has been very pleasant and easy. I suspect that this next week will see a great change.

"We are in submarine territory, and we hear rumors daily of sighted submarines and unidentified aircraft, tho nothing definite as yet, and no trouble. I don't see how we can get by without some sort of attack before we reach our destination, but we'll see. It will be some excitement. They take every precaution. Cruisers and destroyers patrolling front, flanks and rear of the convoy. A zigzag course and changing pace. Patrols of carrier-based planes. No lights, no smoking from dusk to dawn. No radio broadcast and no reception except by the special ships radios which are anti-detection (or something).

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