Photo courtesy of Anastasia Zhenina via. Unsplash.com

If the unassuming cover of William F. McMurdie’s memoir didn’t catch my eye as I browsed the stacks of the local discount bookstore, his title certainly did.

Hey, Mac (etc.) tells the tale of the author, back when he was eighteen year old “Bill” McMurdie. McMurdie received his “Order to Report for Induction into the United States Army” on 17 April, 1943.

A tall, thin, redheaded teenager with glasses, McMurdie didn’t have much interest in being a soldier. Of course, with the United States fully committed to the Allied cause in the Second World War, his interest level didn’t signify.

After his initial training, McMurdie was chosen for the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) and sent to school…until February of 1944, when the government decided that the program was taking up too much manpower. The U.S. needed men on the battlefield, not in the classroom.

The program was dissolved, and he and his classmates were put into the infantry.

In October, McMurdie shipped out in a convoy to England, then on to France. By winter, he was shivering on the line in the Ardennes Forrest.

“Photograph of American Infantrymen and a Horse Trudging behind an Armored Vehicle in the Snow-Covered Ardennes Forest” Image courtesy of the U.S. National Archives

(If you’ve watched Band of Brothers you know what that means, don’t you?)

“I went to sleep a little after midnight. Then, all of a sudden I woke up to a wham, bang, boom, crash. It sounded worse than the worst thunderstorm I’d ever been in. It was 5:30 in the morning, and artillery and mortar shells were hitting the trees and ground in the forest all around us…”Lord help us, because it is too late to move now.” (McMurdie 75)

McMurdie and the rest of th 394th were caught in Hitler’s last major European offensive, later dubbed “The Battle of the Bulge.”

McMurdie’s book takes readers through those cold, miserable days in the forest, on breathless patrols through minefields and villages, and finally up to the Rhine River and beyond. (Side note: This section was of particular interest to me- the author was wounded and left the area of the Rhine just twelve days before my grandpa’s division took up positions there.)

His wartime experience didn’t end on VE day.

The United States instituted a system of points to determine which soldiers were sent home first. As McMurdie’s points were low, he served during the occupation of Germany, returning home in February of 1946.

As a first-hand account of a World War 2 infantryman, McMurdie’s book is excellent. He deftly weaves together historical detail and personal anecdotes.

Some are humorous, such as the evening he received a series of frantic calls from the man assigned to duty in a lonely outpost.

“Sarge, something is coming toward me. What do I do?” I looked out toward the enemy lines and could see absolutely nothing unusual and I told him so…There was absolutely nothing out there. He pleaded with me to call the Lieutenant…Finally, the Lieutenant came back. He said, “All I see is the moon rising.” “Oh,” we heard Bishop say, “The moon.” (McMurdie 102-103)

Others are heartbreaking.

“I looked to my right and saw bullet after bullet hitting Ison, and Sgt. Davies trying to pull him behind the tree. It was the most tragic sight I have ever seen. I felt so helpless, and could see that Sgt. Davies was doing all he could…for me, PFC Robert Ison still lies beside that tree in Germany, a husband and father who had indeed given his life so his children and the rest of us could live in freedom. And always the question, why him and not me?” (McMurdie 78)

I appreciated the fact that McMurdie did not attempt to gloss over his personal struggles, or the ugliness in the world around him as he shared his tale.

He told of times when he was frustrated, and inclined to grumble.

He shared stories of the discussions he an other soldiers had about the state of racial segregation in the military, and how impressed he was when he had a chance to see a patrol of Black troops in action- it was “some of the best soldiering I ever saw.” (McMurdie 132)

He also spoke of the struggles he faced as a Christian, reconciling the horrors he saw all around him and his constant physical danger with his faith.

“And this was something that I thought about quite a bit. Could I expect God to keep me alive, just because I believed that he had sent His Son as the promised Messiah and the Savior of the world? Thinking about the teachings of the Bible, I realized I could not necessarily expect to come out alive. But I did come to where I was confident that the Lord would care for me, and even if I did die, He would take me to be with Him in heaven…this gave me a certain sense of well-being I cannot really explain. Also, one prayer of mine was the same as many others, “Lord, just don’t let me get shot up so that I am a cripple for the rest of my life.” (McMurdie 101)

Maybe that last quote sums up McMurdie’s account of his war best.

His writing is honest and direct as he gives his views on the war, on the aftermath, and on the good and the bad in the people he came into contact with.

However, his story always comes back to the hope he held on to during the dark days.

Do you have any first-hand historical accounts that you’ve enjoyed reading/watching of late? I always like recommendations! 🙂

Many thanks for visiting!


  1. That looks like a fascinating book! Makes me laugh about the advanced training thing, a flaw in the US Army’s way of organizing meant that most recruits with notable intelligence or aptitudes went into some specialty (airborne, armor, engineers, etc) or another, leaving “the rest” for infantry. By cancelling some of the advanced options it freed up some promising candidates for infantry, unfortunately it came late so many of them either didn’t train as long with their units or went into the replacement pool.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really a good one.
      Agreed, the whole advanced training idea and how it played out is interesting- another example of what a logistical mess coordinating such a large group of people must have been!

      Liked by 1 person

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