Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PBYs and Spam — Pocatello WWII veteran flew missions over Pacific for two years

Michael O’Donnell/Idaho State Journal 
World War II U.S. Navy veteran Bill Moore, who spent 26 months patrolling over the South Pacific in PBY Catalina airplanes, looks through a scrapbook of old photos from the war at his home in Pocatello.

POCATELLO — The only casualty of U.S. Navy veteran Bill Moore's 26 months in the South Pacific Ocean during World War II was an ability to look at a can of Spam. 

 “They used to send us up on patrol with two loaves of bread and nine pounds of Spam,” Moore said with a chuckle.

As the crew chief of a PBY Catalina reconnaissance plane, Moore would spend up to 12 hours straight scouring the “Big Blue” for signs of Japanese shipping with his crew.

“We patrolled up and down the slot,” Moore said about the stretch of ocean in the middle of the Solomon Islands that was bordered by Bougainville on the west and Guadalcanal on the east.

The actual name for the body of water was the New Georgia Sound and it was used heavily by the Japanese to ship supplies to different islands during the war.

“You had to be on the lookout for Japanese all the time,” Moore said.

Flying high over the Pacific Ocean was something completely different for a young man who grew up in the cornfields of Minnesota. A native of Fairmont, Minn., Moore enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after graduation from high school. He was just 17, but lied about his age.

The war with Japan had not begun yet — it was May 1941. Moore said he joined up because of family tradition and the fact that times were tough for his father, who was raising eight  children on his own. Moore's mother had died young.

“Dad was working two jobs,” Moore said.

His father had also been a captain in the U.S. Army during World War I and had always regretted that he didn't get to serve overseas. He was a member of the local draft board in Minnesota.

“Dad was very insistent that we get into the service,” Moore recalled.

Moore and four of his brothers all signed up for military service, as did his sister, who became a Navy nurse.

During World War II, five of the Moore boys were in the military at the same time — one in the Marines, one in the U.S. Army and three in the Navy.

“We were very fortunate,” Moore said. “All of us came home. Dad was so proud of us.”

As soon as he graduated from high school, 17-year-old Moore finished his basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois, and then entered trade school, where he learned to repair airplane fuselages and engines. After graduation, he was assigned to San Diego, California, where he ended up loading torpedoes on old submarines.

Then on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that crippled the Pacific Fleet, and led to a U.S. declaration of war against Japan.

“We were the first convoy into Pearl Harbor after the war started,” Moore said. “The Arizona was still burning and that was a sickening sight.”

In Hawaii, Moore joined the Navy Air Corps and became part of the VP 21 Patrol Squadron. At first he was part of the ground crews who kept the PBYs ready for action. Moore remembers how he had to swim out to the floating planes and attach wheels to the plane so it could come up on dry land.

Before long, Moore became a crewman; then a gunner; and then crew chief.

The PBYs had great cruising range because with full fuel tanks they could remain in the air for 14 to 16 hours. But they were slow compared to Japanese fighters. And the PBYs were armed only with a .50-caliber machine gun on each side and .30-caliber machine guns in the nose and tail.

Whenever the crew spotted enemy fighters in the distance, they generally took evasive action and left the area. But sometimes they were pursued and fired upon. Bullet holes in his PBY's wing tanks forced them to replace the rubber bladder inside of them on one occasion.

“Some of those bullets came awful close,” Moore said. “The funny thing is we were calm as could be.”

During all of their missions, including those when they rescued downed pilots in the ocean or recovered the bodies of dead pilots from friendly islands, Moore said that the dreaded Spam is what kept them going.

“We had a hot plate so we could fry it,” he said. “But I never got so sick of Spam in my life.”

During one of his missions to the island of Munda, Moore linked up with his brother Tom who was serving with the Marines. Tom had suffered a minor wound from shrapnel when the Japanese launched an air attack on the landing field on the island.

“I walked into the supply area and there was my brother,” Moore said.

Tom’s platoon leader let the young Marine spend the night on Bill’s PBY.

“That night we watched the Japs bomb the island on the wing of my plane,” Bill recalled.

After serving two years in the Pacific, Moore had a chance to become a Navy pilot and seized the opportunity. He attended Navy flight school in Illinois and then Pocatello, where he met his future wife, Betty Jensen, and they married.

His final stage of flight training before earning his wings took place in Memphis, Tenn., while Betty was expecting their first child. They eventually had one daughter and three sons.

“Just as we were about to graduate from Memphis the war ended,” Moore said.

Moore had the opportunity to receive an honorable discharge.

He jumped at it and returned to Pocatello. He became an electrician and worked for decades at C.L. Electric, the Idaho National Energy Laboratory, Monsanto, Simplot, FMC and other jobs, before purchasing Electrical Distributors, Inc., a business he ran for 18 years.

After selling that company, Moore started Moore Control Systems, which he managed until he was in his 80s. He was also a member of the Pocatello Airport Commission and Bannock Memorial Hospital Board.

 Now at age 91, Moore is taking it easy.

“I didn't retire,” he said. “I just ran out of juice.”

- Source:   http://www.idahostatejournal.com