Foreign Correspondence

More letters from the battlefield: A Phoenix soldier witnesses the destruction of Europe in 1945

Jimmy Creasman was a lucky man. The proof was in the piles of letters, photographs and other memorabilia I found scattered in the alley behind his house in Tempe two years ago. They told about how he'd come home from World War II and lived out the promise of his early years. Files of awards revealed a long career of many achievements. Picture albums showed him surrounded by family and friends after the war.

Yet the dozens of letters he wrote home to his wife and family in Phoenix during World War II described the luck that had made all of those things possible. Penned in far-off cities like Marseilles, Avignon, Darmstadt and Würzburg, they chronicled the sweep of American forces through France and Germany in the last months of the war. They underscored just how different Creasman's wartime experiences and fate were from David Murdock's, whose war letters New Times wrote about last week in "Letter in a Battle."

Both men were the same age -- 27 -- when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Both were older than the average recruit and had the beginnings of promising lives. Murdock, a popular and talented local athlete, music teacher and son of an Arizona congressman, was killed leading an Army infantry company in arduous fighting in Sicily in August 1943. He saw the war often from his belly and wrote about it from his gut. Creasman didn't enter the war until its final months, in 1945. When he did, it was as a staffer at his infantry division's headquarters. He witnessed the war standing up. He was able to write about it as a personal travelogue, with just enough distance for him to bring into focus the larger forces and scenes of the war's chaos and wreckage.

Creasman trained in Texas, then joined the Army's Rainbow Division in Oklahoma.
Creasman trained in Texas, then joined the Army's Rainbow Division in Oklahoma.
Jimmy Creasman's favorite photograph of himself from the war, taken in Germany after weeks of no showers and continual advances by his infantry division.
courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Jimmy Creasman's favorite photograph of himself from the war, taken in Germany after weeks of no showers and continual advances by his infantry division.

Creasman's letters conveyed an immediacy about how the war reshaped what he thought he knew about himself, other people, his country and the world.

That immediacy was apparent in December 1997. Standing in the alley talking with me, he spoke of the war years as if they were yesterday.

Creasman had been a broadcaster with Phoenix's KTAR radio before the war, where he worked with J. Howard Pyle, a well-known broadcaster and later governor of Arizona. In 1942, he moved to New York to broadcast programs in Spanish to Latin America for the government agency that would eventually become the Voice of America. The job had qualified him for a draft deferment. But in August 1943, a few weeks after David Murdock was killed, his draft board notified him that his deferment was ending.

Among the first persons he turned to were Murdock's parents. Murdock's father, John, was Arizona's only congressman at the time. Creasman and his wife had studied with him at Arizona State College before he was elected to Congress in 1936. They admired him greatly. From Murdock's standpoint, Creasman had stood out as an energetic student body president in 1934 and 1935 -- a young man as promising as their own son.

Before packing up his family to resettle them in Arizona, Creasman wired the Murdocks in Washington, D.C., to ask their help in landing a military position that would make use of his broadcast experience. It was a long shot. Their own son hadn't been able to convince the Army to let him put his musical talents to use. Yet his death gave the Murdocks ample reason to do what they could for friends from home.

Myrtle Murdock told him nothing could be done to keep him out of the Army. But "I still think that all of us working together should get you where you can be of the most service," she wrote. "Don't thank me. Remember, I'm doing this with eyes full of tears, remembering David."

She sent his credentials to the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Meanwhile, Creasman entered the Army in December 1943. The Army bounced him back and forth across the country. Eventually, he was assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division -- known as the Rainbow Division -- in Oklahoma.

In early 1944, the OSS notified Congressman Murdock that it had passed Creasman's file to two other branches of the military. Creasman's letters don't indicate whether anything ever came of the effort.

By Christmas 1944, he was headed east again, this time with orders to join the war.

"I have hung my stocking here in the berth and have been reading the story of Christmas from each of the Gospels," he wrote home on Christmas Eve. "It makes me feel better, and I needed this because the mood of the men has been childishly unhappy -- they hurt tonight, even sneering at 'Peace on Earth' to cover up that hurt. We all received little gifts from the Chaplain, and it was a good thing, but it didn't help much, and the gifts seemed to embarrass rather than please. So I needed something to help shake off the atmosphere and I have found it in the old Story...."

He left New York on a troop ship bound for France on January 6, and soon landed a job broadcasting the evening's news to soldiers aboard the ship. He wrote long letters home about life at sea.

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