As told to Jim and Judy Hamilton
Arthur Moore at Seymour Johnson Field in Goldsboro, N.C. 1943.
My name is Arthur Moore; no middle initial. I was born in Willits, about 150 miles north of San Francisco. My mother’s name was Bertha Friesendorf and my father’s was Arthur Moore.
She was from Hamburg, Germany, and came to San Francisco to see the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1917. He was a waiter in one of the nice restaurants in San Francisco. They bought property in Willits. In those days there was a train that ran to Willits, and my father went up every couple of months. I imagine his long absences eventually led to the divorce. I also had a brother, William Carl Moore. He was two years older, but was born deaf in one ear and was draft exempt.
I went to Berkeley High School, across the bay from San Francisco. When I got out of high school I moved to San Francisco with my dad, stepmother and brother.
My brother and I lived with them about a year and then got our own apartment. He drove a delivery truck for Coca Cola, delivering to the military camps around the Bay Area. Then he worked for Langendorf Bakery until he retired. I worked for Western Union delivering messages on a bicycle and worked for a printing company as a shipping clerk.
During this time, 1940-’41, they created the draft for all young men. In the beginning they drew the first few numbers out of a hat. My number was in the 900 series. I knew I would be drafted and, if so, might end up in the artillery or the infantry. I wasn’t happy about that, so I enlisted in the Army Air Corps with the hope I could get into aircraft mechanics, and that would give me a career when I got out of the service.
I enlisted Sept. 29, 1941 in San Francisco. My service number was 19053252. Fortunately in processing, I qualified for mechanic school. My mechanic’s skills were only from working on bicycles, but I had four years of woodshop in high school, which included a lot of mechanical stuff. I guess that helped me pass the exam for mechanics school. I was sent to The Presidio in Monterey for processing. From there I was sent to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, across the river from St. Louis, for basic training. From there, I went by train 100 miles south of Chicago to Chanute Field outside Rantoul, Illinois for aircraft mechanics school. The schooling was 26 weeks.
While I was there, the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. Since we were attacked, they figured air power would be a major part of the war, and they were going to need more aircraft mechanic schools.
Halfway through my schooling they asked me if I wanted to teach. I said, “I don’t want to teach. I want to learn the aircraft mechanic’s trade so when I get out I’m an experienced man.” They said, “Well, you have your choice of the first five phases of the school. You pick one of those five or we’ll give you one. Which one do you want?” I picked hydraulics, which I enjoyed while going through that part of the school. When I finished school they made me an instructor and I taught hydraulics at Chanute Field. That was February 1942.
From there they sent me to Goldsboro, North Carolina where they had started a new school. I think that was September 1942. I taught there for two years. I got tired of teaching and I lucked out – they sent me to the Douglas Aircraft Factory in Santa Monica, California to work on the A-20 Havoc twin engine, light attack bomber. When I finished that class they assigned me to an aircraft that was being built. I was supposed to go wherever that plane went. It took three or four weeks before the airplane was finished. By then they did away with that program.
The test pilot on that plane was Douglas (Wrong Way) Corrigan. In 1938 he became famous for flying nonstop from New York to Ireland. However, his original flight plan was for him to return to Santa Monica. He was an experienced pilot and mechanic, but never admitted his error was intentional.
‘That New Red-Headed Gal’
I was being shipped back to Florence, South Carolina. In the process, I had a 10-day leave so I went to Goldsboro, North Carolina and married my sweetheart. Her name was Juanita Hunt, born in Georgia. I had met her at the PX in North Carolina. One day the guys said, “We ought to go to the PX and see that new red-headed gal in there.” Naturally we all had to go. I wasn’t impressed at the time; I just bought something from her. A month or so later she showed up as a clerk at the hydraulic school. She had moved to North Carolina when she was about eight years old. I guess we dated for eight or nine months before we got married.
From there we went to Florence. I wanted to work out on the line, but when I was checking in, the sergeant was checking my records and said, “Oh, you’ve been an instructor.” “Yeah, but I don’t want to be an instructor any more. I’m tired of it. I want to work on the line.”
“Well,” he says, “I’ve got to let Captain Moss know. We have a school here and he needs people.” He contacted Captain Moss and I ended up being an instructor again. I was still a buck private.
We moved to South Carolina, and we were able to live off base. The lady at the USO knew this family who would rent us a room and let us have kitchen privileges once they got to know us. That worked out very well.
While in South Carolina, they came up with a program for all of the instructors of all the different parts: gunners, bombardiers, and so forth. They asked me if I wanted to learn aerial navigation. I signed up and got one flight in a B-25. We had to set up point-to-point locations to get them there. If there was a water tower, that was your point. They went by so fast. That was the only time I had been flying. They wouldn’t take me as a gunner because I had obstructions in my nose, and I couldn’t breathe at higher altitudes. That probably saved my life.
Orders for the Pacific
When I was working at the school in North Carolina, I lucked out and made corporal. Shortly after I made buck sergeant and then staff sergeant because we were way behind as far as rank goes, and I had been in a couple of years by then. I worked in South Carolina for a couple of years as an instructor in hydraulics, engines, and propellers. Then I got orders to go to the Pacific.
I was sent to San Francisco and then went by ship to the Philippines. This was around February 1945. We were on a luxury cruise ship that had been converted to a troop ship. It was fast enough that it could travel by itself and outrun submarines. The ship was nicer than a troop ship, and we got there quicker. On the trip over, we were put into a group of about 25 people of different qualifications.
The captain in charge gave us various jobs. He asked me, “Weren’t you in supply?” “No sir, I was an instructor.” “Do you think you could do supply?” “Sure, no problem.”
So I was supply sergeant for our group, supplying basics: soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste. It gave me a lot more latitude getting around the ship, as I had to go to different areas to get my supplies.
The only fresh water we had was from a drinking fountain guarded by an MP. We were only allowed to use it at a specific time, to fill our canteen and drink. For bathroom facilities they had built a latrine on an open area of an aft deck. It only had salt water, which left you with sticky skin.
The latrine had a slightly sloping roof so when it rained a layer of water would collect. When it rained we would stand naked under the edge and rinse off when the ship rolled our way.
The trip to Manila took eight or nine days. They had just run the Japanese out of there 17 days earlier. They were in the outskirts, but they didn’t bother us because Manila had been secured. We were told not to buy any booze there because the Japanese put poison needles in the bottles. That made you do a lot of thinking before you bought any booze. From there we flew to the island of Mindoro. I was part of the 5th Air Force, 388thMaintenance Squadron.
On Mindoro we had to stand guard duty. Being a staff sergeant, I was put in charge of a squad with rifles, but no ammunition. If there was a problem the guys had to come to me to get shells, which was real brilliant. That probably kept them from hurting themselves. However, everything was under control so there weren’t any problems.
From Mindoro they shipped me to the little island of le Shima, two or three miles off Okinawa. We went by LST (Landing Ship, Tank) in a convoy. People told us, “Ranking people sleep down below in better quarters than enlisted men.”
I wasn’t going to sleep down below. I wanted to be up on deck where I had a chance if anything happened. I pitched my cot on deck in the center of the ship, pulled a canvas off a truck, and made a canopy. That was a good idea because we got into the tail end of a typhoon. Instead of two or three days, the trip took over a week.
Typhoons and Bombs
While on le Shima, another typhoon came through, a terrifically strong one. We were living in tents and were warned ahead of time. I managed to get four axles off a truck and used them on the four corners of the tent and tied it down real good. I tied the center pole to a tree to keep it from whipping back and forth and tearing. When the wind hit, our tent stayed up.
We ended up with six or more people in our tent because theirs didn’t stay up. We had no problems with the Japanese, but we they did send over what we called Midnight Charlies – planes that would drop a bomb just to let us know that they were still around. We had to dig a foxhole, but I only had to get in it once or twice.
I worked there as a mechanic on P-38 engines. That made a lot of sense because I had never worked on P-38 engines before. I had worked and taught A-20 and A-26 radial engines in South Carolina. The P-38 was a different type of airplane. It had two in-line engines and was very powerful. They were like buying a Cadillac instead of a Ford. However, that’s the way the Army works.
One day I went into the Red Cross tent to get a cup of coffee and a doughnut, and a lieutenant came up to me and said, “Sergeant, weren’t you an instructor in South Carolina?” I told him, “Yes sir.” He said, “Yeah. I was one of your students.” Of course, I didn’t remember him at all. He said, “Boy, we can sure use you in our squadron. We are just getting the A-26, and they need people that know something about them to help out.”
I said, “Well, I’ll be more than happy to transfer if you can get my CO to release me.” I guess it didn’t make good sense to my CO, because he wouldn’t release me.
While I was on le Shima the USO brought in Kay Kyser and his band, and Jimmy Dorsey and his band. It was a lot of fun and a big relief from the routine. Also, while there, Ernie Pyle, the writer, was killed. I didn’t learn about that until much later.
When the Japanese surrendered, I was still on le Shima. When we got the word, I was sitting on a log, in the rain, with my poncho and helmet liner over me to keep dry, watching a movie. That was good news. We packed all our gear and got ready to go to Japan as part of the occupation force. Well, we waited, and we waited, and we waited. We would play cards or baseball or whatever to pass the time.
It so happened that I broke my leg just above the ankle playing baseball. The first day I was in the hospital in Okinawa, a nurse came through the ward with a tray of small cups and a bottle of booze. She walked right by me. Naturally I complained, and she told me the doctor would have to OK it, which he did. He said that the booze would enlarge the blood circulation, which would aid in better healing of the bone.
They put me in a cast from my toes to my groin and flew me to Hamilton Field, just north of San Francisco, with a stop at Wake Island and Honolulu. They took us off the plane in Honolulu and put us in the field hospital while they worked on the plane.
The nurses couldn’t have been nicer. “What do you want? What would you like to have?” “I would really like to have some eggnog.” All we could get overseas was powdered eggs. I had about four eggnogs in the eight hours that we were stuck there.
News of a Daughter
As soon as we landed at Hamilton Field, they gave us two free phone calls anywhere we wanted. I phoned Juanita in North Carolina. She was staying with her mother. I called the operator with a person-to-person call. The poor operator had an awful time trying to understand the way they talked; southern phraseology and stuff. The operator finally got a hold of her mother and got the phone number of the hospital in Rocky Mount. That probably took a half-hour or so.
That’s how I found out my daughter Jean was born on January 7, 1946 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Juanita had a very bad cold and the baby was due any time. It turned out she had pneumonia. Her sister was a Navy nurse and insisted that Juanita move up to Rocky Mount with her. That’s where Jean was born.
My broken leg was actually lucky for me. Usually they sent you home by the number of points gained while overseas. I had only been there about eight months so I had zero points. Some of the guys had been there two or three years. If I had to wait for the point system, I would probably still be there. With my broken leg I got to fly home.
From there they sent me by hospital train to North Carolina because that was where I got married and where my address was. I was close to my wife and her family. By the time I got home, my leg had healed pretty well so they took the cast off and gave me boots with a high top that laced up above the ankle to protect the break. They gave me a six-week-pass, and I stayed there with my wife. Finally, I had to go back to the hospital, and they cleared me for discharge. I was discharged in March 1946.
I don’t regret any of the time I was in the service. I told my CO in Okinawa that I would like to stay in the Army if they would give me a permanent rank. During the war all ranks were temporary and they wouldn’t make mine permanent. Also, by enlisting instead of being drafted, they would pay your way back to where you enlisted. So they paid me to go back to San Francisco.
My mother had a flat and she had remarried about three months before while I was still back east with my leg problem. She saved the flat for me. It had three rooms you could rent out, and that paid for the flat. That worked out pretty well. I lived there about a year and commuted to United Airlines.
When I returned to San Francisco, I didn’t have any special privileges. You were on your own and on to the next adventure. I went around to the different airlines in the San Francisco area. The airlines were lucky with all of these trained mechanics returning from the war. They were grabbing up guys like crazy. I put in an application at the Alameda Naval Air Station. I was offered a job there starting at $1.56 an hour. United was paying $1.26 an hour. I decided to go with United. Also, I could fly back east to visit her family. If I was in the Navy, it would have been a lot more expensive.
United Airlines had a big maintenance base there. I was hired right away to work in hydraulics and worked there for 33 years. I started as a mechanic on the line and after about a year and a half, I took an exam and became an aircraft and engine inspector. I worked at that for four or five years and then got a job working upstairs. My son Jack was born while I was at United, on February 10, 1947.
In those days, we were flying DC-4′s, DC-6′s and DC-7′s. I used to write up job cards for the mechanics. Then I got a job in quality control and did that for six or seven years. I got to where I didn’t like that anymore so I got my old job back as an inspector. I did that for a little over a year, and then it was time to retire. I had always planned to retire at 60, and that’s what I did. I never did work on jets. By the time United got jets, I was working in the back shop.
I have kept in touch with a couple of guys after the war. One lived in Alabama, and we visited with him two or three times. Another was living in Seattle, and we visited with him when we were up there with our trailer.
After I retired we sold our house in Redwood City, California, and traveled around the country full time for 12 years with a pickup truck and a 31-foot travel trailer. I kept the loan on the house, so that gave us a good income for many years.
Juanita died in 1996. After she got sick I sold my truck and trailer but kept a little place in Arizona.
My second wife Jean and I had known each other in San Francisco since the late ’30’s. I met her through my dad, who knew her family. When I went into the service there was nothing serious between us. She was my first date, and we had kept in touch all those years. When I’d come home on furlough we would get together.
By then, I was married and Juanita had a chance to meet her. Jean married a Navy man stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. She wanted to be on the East Coast, so she moved there and joined the Marines. As soon as she got out of boot camp, they made her a buck sergeant. (It took me a couple of years to make PFC.) She was transferred to Maine, where she recruited women for the Marine Corps. She did some office work, but mainly she escorted the new recruits to Norfolk or Camp Lejeune.
Over the years we exchanged Christmas cards, which always included a letter. We would visit her and her husband if we came out west. After Jean’s husband died, their son gave Jean a computer and taught her how to use it. After Juanita died, my son and daughter gave me a computer, so I put my email address in my letter, and she sent me a message.
We were married in 2000, and I moved to Twain Harte, California, where she had been living for 40 years.
Service set the stage
I entered the Army Air Corps before I was drafted with a goal in mind. I wanted to learn aircraft mechanics, so I would have a trade when I was discharged.
My plan worked out very well and provided me a good career and two good marriages.