Letter in a Battle

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

"Been nearly two months now since I saw you and lots can happen in that time. I just hope that worrying about me before my first word came wasn't too hard . . . you can rest all worries now for a while. I'm having a swell time . . ."

Nothing pleased him more, he told Rachael, than her long stories about her children, David and Janie: "I think of them so often as I see the little Frenchies here. The French seem to delight in dressing up their kids, and there are sure some cute ones. The morning of our triumphal entry into [CENSORED] one jubilant mother set her little girl up on the hood of our jeep as we were stopped for a minute with the crowd milling around and the little kid grabbed me around the neck & really planted a smacker. Everyone rides bicycles -- mamma, pappa & all the kids -- seen the babies riding on handlebars (your style) and also in the rear à la rumbleseat. One woman had a pair, front and rear. I'll be sending some French kid clothes one of these days . . ."

To kill time between maneuvers and dull stints of writing citations for acts of bravery in the Fedala fighting, Murdock took excursions that came as close to tourism as army life permitted. He sang as often as he could with a local choral society in Rabat. He struck up friendships with local shopowners, one of whom provided -- under the counter -- needles for his company's record player. He bought leather and clothes and fabrics from others, and sent them home to Rachael. And once he went into surrounding mountains on a boar hunt with local muckamucks. Like most soldiers, he longed just to get the war over with and go home.

The 7th Infantry landed at Fedala, Morocco, in November 1942, then moved to Algeria and Tunisia before hitting Sicily in July 1943
The 7th Infantry landed at Fedala, Morocco, in November 1942, then moved to Algeria and Tunisia before hitting Sicily in July 1943
"Stella the Belle of Fedela," written by Lieutenants David Murdock and Tom Marnette, became the 7th Infantry's marching song during the early half of its war in North Africa and Europe.
"Stella the Belle of Fedela," written by Lieutenants David Murdock and Tom Marnette, became the 7th Infantry's marching song during the early half of its war in North Africa and Europe.

"Funny what things one misses most when they're taken away," he wrote his family. "You should have heard the shout that went up when we had white bread for supper the other night. Usually it's C ration biscuit (a compressed graham cracker with the consistency of masonite). There is now a quartermaster bakery back at the supply base but they can't supply all the units at once. Anyway, we'll all love white bread when we get home -- and a lot of other things, too . . ."

His company had two other soldiers from Arizona, Lieutenant Coy L. Morgan and Sergeant Thomas Kiernan. "I see them both every day," he told his mother. "Tom Kiernan is the Colonel's stenographer and works in the same office with me -- a plenty smart chap -- served in the Ariz state legislature, I hear. I thought it might be a nice thing, Mother if you sent a note to their folks in the state saying that their fellows are plenty OK. Lt. Morgan's wife lives in Prescott I believe . . . and Sgt. Kiernan's folks are in Winslow . . ."

Mail lagged anywhere from three to seven weeks behind. Yet the one common event shared by both worlds was the lunar phase.

"The full moon is around again," he wrote. "I tell you, you can't beat these nights anywhere. 'Moroccan Moonlight,' a good song title, huh? Which reminds me. A Lieutenant here had a brain storm, a one-verse ditty, 'STELLA THE BELLE O' FEDELA,' I compounded him a tune and the darn thing is growing into an epic. Two bits she becomes as famous as 'Mademoiselle from Armentaires . . .'"

He wasn't far wrong. The tune, co-written in December 1942 with Lieutenant Tom Marnette, became the 7th Infantry's marching song during its early fighting in North Africa and Europe. He sent copies of the lyrics and score to his mother, who copyrighted it in his and Marnette's names.

The big news that winter was a secret January meeting of Allied leaders in Casablanca. There, American and British leaders agreed that once the Axis forces were pushed out of North Africa, Allied armies would next target Sicily.

"You asked about Roosevelt's visit," Murdock wrote his parents, "I think I told you, he visited us. The men had to hike out five miles to meet someone, and, of course, they were well rewarded for their effort. It was a thing to be remembered forever. The picture (newspaper) you sent of the Sergeant shaking hands with F.D.R., he is one of our men. Me, personally, I didn't get to see him. The Adjutant had to be present at the formation so I had to stay in charge at camp, I'm sorry to say. But everybody told of the terrific amount of protection, precaution, and secrecy that attended the whole thing. It was a wonderful thing. The civilians . . . were quite disturbed to think that he had come and gone and they didn't even know it. . . . As for the location of the actual meeting in Casablanca I've been there several times."

Murdock organized singing groups that caroled from Christmas 'til Easter. He picked up a small flute in Rabat and often walked among the cork forest playing more of his "growing tunes" -- just as he had at home in the Arizona desert. He jumped at every musical experience he could.

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