Letter in a Battle

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

Later that evening, he wrote Ben, "We are just now getting underway to dodge across the sea & hit -- hard. We've been aboard several days & dodging around from port to port to heckle the Jerry, I suppose. Now we are picking up steam for the big jump.

"We had an air raid the other nite . . . that was a real show. Just like the movies. Was awakened by the racket and went up on deck. The sky was full of searchlights and tracer bullets floating up to the point of a cone where I couldn't see anything. Then they picked him up in the lights. He tried to get out, like a fly in a web, but about 20 beams had him crossed, and the whole country side started spouting fire (we were anchored well out in the harbor & the plane was right overhead). And there were big tracers from 40 mm AA and heavy flashes from 5-inch guns. And then he got it, wobbled first, pulled out, then smoke came out the tail. Climbed, stalled, fell into a spin, leaving a trail of smoke, and landed with a terrific flash about 300 yards from our boat. The lights followed him all the way down. The fire burned on the water for 20 minutes. Boy, what a sight.

"We saw them shoot down three that nite. And the few bombs that did fall hit nothing. Next day German news: 'Allied base bombed, half the invasion barges there destroyed -- and all our craft returned safely.' What bunk. That's the kind of stuff that makes us know we'll kick the hell out of them in the next few days.

David, right, and his brother John Ben Murdock, who served in the Army Signal Corps, on furlough in Washington, D.C., in 1942
courtesy of Rachael Ellis
David, right, and his brother John Ben Murdock, who served in the Army Signal Corps, on furlough in Washington, D.C., in 1942

"All evening I've been going over navigation plans with the skipper; he's a good guy. The Navy seems to realize this time that its job is to get us ashore where & when we're supposed to get there, a good sign. All plans are good and I honestly think they will work.

"It's fun to be a C.O and in the know. I never was before. I saw the battle order for the whole Allied invasion force. It's gigantic. The General said, 'Hell, they couldn't even think up things as big as this to heckle us with at General Staff school a few years ago . . .'

"It's going to be a big show. I wish you could see it, honest . . . but I'll tell you about it and I know that in a few days we'll all wish we were somewhere else.

"There's so damn much more work to getting a company checked up, instructed & ready to go. My officers are good guys, but I guess there isn't any soldier as lazy as an officer. They're always playing cards or asleep, and I have to keep kicking them to get the job done. Found today that a lot of the explosives we have aboard are without caps and fuses -- because I didn't check on it. So I got an idea. We'll detonate them with hand grenades; use a 15-yard cord to pull the safety pin. It's gotta work. But for the most part we're all set. And tomorrow nite about now I'll be 'Crapari los panto' or else be too worried about getting 140 other guys ashore to notice it . . ."

Murdock's 7th Infantry went into Sicily near Licata, midway along the island's southern coast. It secured the coast for an infusion of supplies and more troops, then advanced across the island's mountainous hide and took Palermo, on the north coast, July 22.

"Yesterday was a good day," he wrote his mother in Washington on July 20. "Ten weary days in Sicily and then we actually spent a whole day in one place, got clean underwear from our baggage, got mail from home and a good B ration supper -- now were fittin' for fightin' again."

Five days later in Palermo, Murdock was sick with malaria, and at one point was hospitalized with a 103 degree fever. His company was guarding the city's central railroad station.

". . . and you can imagine the chaos in a city after weeks of terrible bombings, hunger, etc. then sudden turnover of military power, the chance to loot Fascist stores (the R.R. station was a Fascist headquarters.) Refugees coming back home, people going back to work, suspected soldiers/civilians, fear for abandoned munition and explosive dumps . . .

"As for this big story of the landing, the news has told it pretty straight. I won't repeat. A few unpublicized difficulties might be interesting.

"The day before the landing was a rough day. Wind blew all the barrage balloons off the tank transports and the L. C. I.'s (Infantry) rolled and jumped and tossed all day. Everyone was dead sick. I stayed on my feet all day because I thought I had to, but damned if I could get anyone else up. And there were so many little details that weren't finished and at 4:00 the next morning we had to fight our way ashore -- imagine the feeling. However, the sea calmed at midnite and when we saw the searchlights, shell flashes and machine guns everyone roused out and the details took care of themselves in a hurry. Artillery landed around us and m.g. bullets sprayed the boat once on the way in. No one hurt, and on the beach we had no fire at all. I can't understand it either. Had trouble landing, as usual. Lost a ramp from the boat. Skipper was a little nervous and got us 300 yards off the beach and on some rocks, waves were too high to use the rubber emergency boats so we swam, floundered and crawled in just like the last time, but never lost a man and but very little equipment. We had two small skirmishes, caught a few prisoners and were five miles inland on our objective by noon.

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