Casualties of War

Well-known KTAR broadcaster Howard Pyle had a resonant voice and a sermonizing way with words that made him a radio natural. He was the voice of the sunrise service that KTAR broadcast every Easter from the rim of the Grand Canyon. He was the voice of the station's popular poetry recitals. He knew his way around a pulpit.

So it wasn't surprising, in early September 1943, when Congressman John R. Murdock asked him to deliver a eulogy for his son, David, who had been killed in combat the month before in Sicily.

"The Congressman was here when the announcement was forwarded from the War Department," Pyle wrote to his friend and former radio station colleague Jimmy Creasman.

Creasman had moved to New York a year earlier to work for the government broadcasting agency that eventually became the Voice of America.

"He had been in my office for a few minutes just after he returned to the Valley for the Congressional vacation," Pyle wrote, "at which time he said... that David was in an African hospital recovering from malaria. Later I heard that although he had been undergoing treatment for fever it was the opinion of the family that he had gone back into combat and having heard nothing from him they were considerably disturbed. Then came the news of his death and you can imagine what a shock it was."

Murdock's death was a jolting reminder that the war reached beyond the community's traditional barriers of status. It seemed to sweep up big and small, rich and poor, educated and illiterate without favor.

In his 29 years, David Murdock had become "a symbol of leadership in the school, church, music and athletic life of that community," Pyle told the more than 500 mourners at the First Methodist Church in Glendale. "His handsome face was like the page of an open book, clean, but with so much of consequence written there."

Yet few in the audience that warm September evening understood the impact Murdock's death had on Pyle himself.

Earlier that year, in May 1943, Pyle had attended a broadcaster's convention in New York and confided to Creasman that he was tiring of the radio business.

"He has the political bug," Creasman wrote home to his parents in Mesa. "...He aspires to run for Congress against [John] Murdock a year and a half from now [November 1944]. He is confident that he can win, but hasn't quite made up his mind to run.... He hints that should he go to Washington he would want me as his secretary."

Creasman told his folks not to talk about Pyle's plans. "It's too far away to think about...."

The death of David Murdock pushed it even farther away.

"Politically, my urge has been dulled a bit by the Murdock tragedy," Pyle wrote to Creasman after the memorial service. "I'm certain you understand what I mean. Someday maybe, on the other hand perhaps not at all."

Pyle philosophized to his friend, " I live along and serve in the various ways that are my privilege I become more and more convinced that being a BIG somebody in the eyes of my contemporaries or historians to follow is not particularly important. Doing a lot of little tasks reasonably well may be a lot more important than attempting what I must admit would be the pretentious in my case. The little I am able to do for members of the Comrade Class -- the Murdocks and dozens of others like these may after all be the reason for my being."

Pyle never did run against Murdock. But the political bug didn't leave him. He was elected Arizona's governor in 1950 and reelected in 1952. He lost a third bid in 1954.

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow