Letter in a Battle

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

"I've learned a couple of Scot marching songs and one filthy ballad. They get a heluva bang out of singing them. They gripe like we do, and fuss at superiors, like we do, so I guess the two armies aren't so unlike, and the men themselves have much in common, except the speech. . . . I always enjoy hearing them talk. Some of the Scots especially. One said yesterday, 'Say, you chaps have some bloody fine expressions. One that I think is particularly delightful is "I'm gonna wise you guys up."' . . . They have some funny ideas of America. But then I guess we had some funny ideas of Britain . . .

"It's hot and dry here -- just like home, feels just like June 8 on the strip. I get plenty homesick, but the nights are cool and beautiful, and fine sleeping under 2 blankets, and I've long ceased to mind a bumpy ground bed. The Britons can't understand why we don't have cots . . .

"As I told mother, my only consolation in going back to the company is the hope of a pile of mail. I hope it's there. This has been such a swell vacation that I shouldn't worry much about going back. The rest of those poor officers in the Co. have been harassed straight through.

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

"Send me some more pictures of the kids & you & Geo. . . . God, I wish I wuz home."

Back with his company, in Bizerte, Tunisia, about 20 miles northwest of Tunis -- a direct line across the Mediterranean from Sicily -- he thinned out the pile of belongings and mail he'd accumulated since the Moroccan landing. He sorted and burned many letters from home, keeping only ones he could carry in his sack.

"I felt awful sorry when I got your last letter," he wrote Rachael in early July. "I should never have worried you by mail with my sore feet and general troubles. Anyway, all the hard work is over now and we've been having a breather -- the proverbial calm, I suppose. But we have had a little time for the past few days to look after our own affairs. I'm sending home a bunch of excess stuff in footlocker. Can't send any letters so I was sorting out my letter collection -- followed your correspondence from last November up to date & realized again how much it has meant to me. Mom is the faithfulest writer in the world, but I'm afraid that yours are always my most prized. We always seem to see things the same way and get the same laffs and your letters are just like you. It's fun to read through 2 dozen letters and watch the kids grow up while your daily worries stay about the same -- to go thru appendicitis operations, planted gardens, cold weather to early desert spring; kittens, hot weather and excess squash. And thru it all you worry about me.

"Remember this, the United States Army does EVERYTHING for its men. With all the hard work and lack of freedom we don't lack for anything that we really need (except a few days at home). So cut out the worry warting and relax. There's only one thing that I worry about -- that you folks worry about me. So if I know that's out. I'm a free man . . .

"Tonite is hot. The days have been all hot and dusty but this is the first hot nite -- our first Sirrocco or hot wind from the south. The general said it was a good omen. To me it was just reminiscent of the hot dry wind across our desert. You must have it every nite. Remember the hot wind on your face as you drive across the desert to the coast? Same dry heat, but really feels good to me.

"And quit trying to fight the war. Can't help matters to fidget. You run your home, raise the kids & don't worry about 'thwarting someone' & don't feel guilty about any comfort you have. Remember that the only sense any of us can see in this is that it makes it possible for you to do just that. I know that people there are putting out plenty. The kind of stuff that's been pouring in to us doesn't just grow. Tell George to forget about joining the Army. To join the Army isn't going to get him over here into the fight any more than my wanting to get home gets me home. And he's due for harassment any time he deals with the Army -- only when he's in uniform it gets much worse.

"There's really nothing I can write except I hope you replace all the letters I have to burn up now."

In early July, Murdock and his regiment were positioned in Tunisia for the July 10 invasion of Sicily, which involved more divisions of British, Canadian and American troops than the D-Day landings in France would a year later.

"When I left camp in the dark the other nite," he wrote to Rachael July 8, "I left my letters to be mailed, and stuffed all other papers in my bag. Now I find your letter still here, so I'll add to it and leave it aboard -- also a copy of Dirty Gertie (Stella's only rival) and a load of love.

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