Letter in a Battle

Page 4 of 18

Murdock's regiment moved east to Camp Pickett, Virginia, outside Richmond, not far from the embarkation ports of Norfolk, Hampton Roads and Newport News, in October. It shipped from Norfolk with the Army's 3rd Division later that month to join the Anglo-American invasion of French Morocco and Algeria in early November.

"We're right smack in the middle of the Atlantic," Murdock wrote to his family November 1. "The ship is darkened as it is each nite, and I have to use a flashlight to write by. We've been at sea for a week and a day and it's been a glorious pleasure cruise -- calm sea, sunny days, with big clouds and blue water, moonlight nights, starlight nights, some a little cloudy, none cold. One guy said the other day, 'When the war's over and I get married I'm going on a honeymoon over all the country I've traveled since I've been in the Army.' And I think he's got a good idea. They have taken us for some nice rides.

"We're just beginning to feel a little tension in the air. For a week now, no one has acted as tho we were heading for a war. All relaxed. Guys sleeping around all over the deck. Card games at nite. Song sessions. Conferences on enemy intelligence (they've given us reams of information, maps, photos, etc.; hope it's accurate) and plans for the attack (it's all been very carefully planned tho I've grown suspicious of anything that's planned -- so seldom works out). But the whole atmosphere has been very pleasant and easy. I suspect that this next week will see a great change.

"We are in submarine territory, and we hear rumors daily of sighted submarines and unidentified aircraft, tho nothing definite as yet, and no trouble. I don't see how we can get by without some sort of attack before we reach our destination, but we'll see. It will be some excitement. They take every precaution. Cruisers and destroyers patrolling front, flanks and rear of the convoy. A zigzag course and changing pace. Patrols of carrier-based planes. No lights, no smoking from dusk to dawn. No radio broadcast and no reception except by the special ships radios which are anti-detection (or something).

"At night it's quite a sight. After your eyes get used to the darkness, you can see the dark shapes of all those ships, always the same distance to sides, front and rear. Kind of spooky. You can hear and see the foaming water rushing by the sides of our transport, but those others never move: night or day, same place. And sometimes I get to thinking, at night especially, of those thousands of men on the other ships. All those eyes looking out in the dark, just like me, and everyone absolutely confident that somebody knows where we are going and knows enough about the sea and ships to get us there safely in spite of Hell and Hi Water (I mean that literally). Just think of those poor devils riding with Columbus. But then all they had to be afraid of was sea snakes and the end of the World.

"We get a daily mimeographed sheet of news via radio. . . . And each Saturday (or Sunday, rather) they put out a list of football scores. Seems impossible.

". . . I suddenly remembered the other day that next Tuesday (or is it the next?) will be the election. Well, Pop, you won't have any trouble . . . I still hope that this will be your last campaign. I still think you should go back to school teaching. After all, you've seen the inside of our government thru Depression, prosperity, peace and war. There's an awful lot of information you can give to students on what's right and what's wrong with the way we run our country . . .

"I get very homesick each day at sunset. You'd be surprised how much a sunset on the ocean is like a sunset on the desert. It's the only other place where you can see the sky from horizon to horizon. And again when a bunch of guys get out in the dark and start harmonizing, just like out on the strip. All we need is the smell of greasewood & barbecued hamburgers, and George & the guitar, and that laugh of Beryl's [a neighbor] . . .

"Was Officer of the Guard last nite. Some fun inspecting the guard all over the dark ship and down in the holds, but it was worth all the trouble when the moon came up at midnite. Beautiful! Just aft the center of the ship are two big towers about 70 feet up, with lookout posts atop, and two AA guns. It's a queer feeling at nite to look up and watch them sway with the rolling of the ship. They look so stiff. The whole outline of moving shadows is stiff. I keep thinking that they ought to bend a little, like trees. But boats aren't made that way. I climbed up on top of the tower the other day, view was wonderful. I could see the whole convoy. Got a sudden urge to dive off. The water looked so blue and inviting. Same urge you must have had, Rachael, on the edge of the big rock quarry at Iowa City . . .

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow