Letter in a Battle

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

"Better get my stuff on and get up and take a last look at my maps. I'll censor this and leave it aboard. It may get to you in time for a 'MERRY XMAS and a Happy Noo Year.'"

Ten days later, Murdock detailed the invasion to his brother:

"I wrote you a note aboard ship at midnight before we landed. Get it? We went over the side at [CENSORED] scheduled to land in the fifth wave at [CENSORED]. We had just heard the President's message to the Free French so we knew they would be alert for us. First wave was to hit the beach at [CENSORED]. But as I feared the best laid plans didn't work out perfectly. Our wave was late starting for shore in the first place and about halfway in, the motor of my landing boat froze up and stopped (they -- Navy -- forgot to water it). The rest of the wave went on in. Our last two boats waited till the skipper got the motor going and then found that no one knew the way to our beach. It was just turning light and all Hell was popping ashore, rifle, machine guns, artillery, and then the ships in our fleet opened up on the shore batteries at [CENSORED].

David Murdock spent hours playing with his nephew, David, who had been named for him.
courtesy of Rachael Ellis
David Murdock spent hours playing with his nephew, David, who had been named for him.
David Murdock with his father, John, before leaving for the war in 1942.
courtesy of Rachael Ellis
David Murdock with his father, John, before leaving for the war in 1942.

"I took stock of the personnel in the two boats. I was the only officer (besides our chaplain). I finally argued the Navy kids that were piloting the [CENSORED] that the only thing to do was to get ashore anywhere and then we'd find the rest of our units. We finally landed on a rocky reef and waded, floundered and swam on in. Each man had from 50 to 70 pounds of equipment and ammunition on him and when we hit shore we found that a lot of it had been dropped including all our m.g. ammo and the tripod mount for the gun.

"It was colder'n Hell and we were all alone on the coast of [CENSORED] Africa with 5 and 10 inch shells whistling over our heads. (Our battleships were shelling a French Marine garrison just inland from us.) About then there appeared on the horizon, on a sand dune, on horseback with a cloak flowing in the morning breeze, a lone Arab horseman (just like the movies). I was about to quit and swim back to Arizona. I had visions of hordes of Tuareg tribesmen riding down on us with rifles, but nothing happened. I suppose he was just a curious native wondering what was going on.

"I had the men wring out their clothes (we had all been in water over our heads) and clean up the guns, and the m.g. sergeant and I went down to the reef, stripped, and went diving for the tripod and ammunition (funny sight in the early morning). We found the tripod and two boxes of ammunition and managed to get ourselves stuck plenty by the marine thorns growing down under the rocks.

"We hauled back our finds and dressed and then I saw an excited Frenchman running toward me over the rocks so I grabbed my gun and gave him, 'Arretez! Haute les mains' [Stop! Hands up!]. He was scared half to death but was friendly. He took me around some big rocks to his family who were huddled there, driven from their home earlier by the naval shelling. I gave them a wet chocolate bar and a pack of cigarettes and everyone relaxed. Anyway, he could tell me where we were and I knew the country well enough from map study to see that we were some two and one-half miles away from our beach, clear out of the Division zone of action. By then the sun was up and the men were drying and the shelling had quit, so we started out to find our various outfits. On the way we found other scattered units. The First Aid men patched up a few wounded soldiers -- we had none in our group -- and by 2 o'clock they were all back where they belonged and I found the [CENSORED] Battalion and was able to take first word from it to the Regimental C.P. even though it was 7 hours late. The Regimental group was [CENSORED] hours late landing so everything was O.K.

"On our way up the coast line we ran into no fighting. But the firing was still in progress down toward [CENSORED] and there was lots of artillery fire and plane strafing down on the beaches where we should have landed. Most of the casualties were on that beach. After a terrific bombardment and some hand to hand fighting [CENSORED] surrendered about [CENSORED]. I drove in à la jeep about an hour later.

"Quite a sight, a beautiful little resort city all shot up. Made a tour of their harbor defenses and, take it from me, they were plenty strong. The taking of [CENSORED] was a damn good job by the American Army (with naval support). Most of the fighting had been done by a single Battalion from [CENSORED] regiment -- and our losses weren't so very heavy.

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