Letter in a Battle

Page 7 of 18

"The rest of that day (Tuesday) we organized the Infantry and bombed and shelled the dock area. Early the next morning before our big push on the city we had news of the armistice.

"I was most scared on the rocks that first morning. After that I got used to noise. At least we all know a little bit now what battle conditions are like so when we have another one to go through we'll do even a better job. As for my opinion of how this job was handled I'll have the chance to discuss that with you one of these days."

By November 16, Murdock and the American forces had reached "a very nice little city about the size of Phoenix, architecture mostly very modern," he wrote to Rachael. "Most of the larger buildings and apartment houses are of Paris World Fair flavor, many of them incomplete, due to the war. Wide streets, funny mixture of people, few cars, many bicycles. I can't get used to seeing some well-dressed woman, fancy coiffeur, screw-ball Paris hat, etc., etc. pedaling down the boulevard. We have a little bit of gentle rain most every day. Otherwise the climate is wonderful, like southern California without the fog.

"Don't know how long it will be till we have mail from home, but I think of home a lot. What a funny feeling that night in a barn in Africa when I found my foot locker and opened it and there was my picture gallery of you and George and little David and Janie and Mom and Pop and John -- just the same as before.

"Word has come in that it's O.K. to give our location so -- Casablanca it is. We landed at Fedela and came here in the next two days.

"I'm having fun parley-vooing French but would give my kingdom for a piano."

He went looking for one at the music conservatory in town. "No luck -- but it did remind me of the old days with Mrs. Quaid. Rooms full of laborious scales, sour-faced kids & stern-faced mammas & irritated teachers. Music, the universal language . . ."

The winter of 1942-43 was one of training and waiting for the 7th Infantry. Elsewhere in North Africa, things weren't going as well as the Allies had planned. The German army had reversed some early American advances in Tunisia, miring American and British forces in a stalemate there that wouldn't be broken until spring.

There was talk, wrote Murdock, that his regiment might be shipped to the front, sent home or kept in place. They did the latter, spending the first part of the winter bivouacked in a cork forest along the Spanish Moroccan border, outside Rabat, where they could keep an eye on the Mediterranean supply route through the Strait of Gibraltar.

"I was with the advance detail that came ahead to lay out the area for bivouac two days ago," Murdock wrote home. "We had a swell time, just like scout camp. No 'rank' around to heckle us and at night we built up a roaring fire of cork bark & had a regular picnic. Too bad we can't have bon fires when the troops are in. It's a great morale booster. About 1:30 in the morning I was awakened by a pack of jackals screaming back in the woods -- really gave me the shivers-shivveres-shakes. Had my tommy gun all set but they never came around.

"Hard to imagine being here burning cork, hearing jackals, etc. Lot of Arab natives around, but Hell, they're just like Apache Indians. Do get a jolt now and then when I see them plowing with a team of oxen or one horse and one camel (they say that the camel is strong but too dumb to follow a furrow) . . .

"Been nearly two months now since I saw you and lots can happen in that time. I just hope that worrying about me before my first word came wasn't too hard . . . you can rest all worries now for a while. I'm having a swell time . . ."

Nothing pleased him more, he told Rachael, than her long stories about her children, David and Janie: "I think of them so often as I see the little Frenchies here. The French seem to delight in dressing up their kids, and there are sure some cute ones. The morning of our triumphal entry into [CENSORED] one jubilant mother set her little girl up on the hood of our jeep as we were stopped for a minute with the crowd milling around and the little kid grabbed me around the neck & really planted a smacker. Everyone rides bicycles -- mamma, pappa & all the kids -- seen the babies riding on handlebars (your style) and also in the rear à la rumbleseat. One woman had a pair, front and rear. I'll be sending some French kid clothes one of these days . . ."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow