Recollections of Bill Moffett as a kid during WWII: for his grandson and family (PART II)

Recollections of Bill Moffett as a kid during WWII: for his grandson and family (PART II)Written July 2017

Introduction: My dad and his family lived in California during WWII. This is a brief look at what life was like for a ten-year-old kid living there at the time. The story is broken into two posts (Part I and II). You can find Part I here, if you’d like to read it first (recommended).

PART II:

Newspaper was another item that was in short supply during WWII in the US, thus helping that situation was a task that fell to my Boy Scout troop. We had a very active troop in our area, both Cubs and regular Boy Scouts. I went all the way through both in all ranks to Eagle Scout. We spent lots of time with paper drives. We went to each house on the block and asked for any old newspapers they might have, then pulled wagons behind our bicycles to carry the papers back to our scout building. There we tied them into bundles that would eventually be picked up by the garbage trucks and hauled away to recycle.

Bill as a Boy Scout

Bill as a Boy Scout in early 1940s (composite photo)

Paper was just one of several types of drives we conducted. Scrap metal of all kinds was vital to the war effort and so we purged vacant lots, old dumps, people’s yards and old buildings looking for anything metal. Tin foil was saved by everyone and rolled into balls. There were contests to see who could get the biggest balls of foil to turn over to the effort. Rubber was another item in short supply, so we had drives to bring in anything rubber; old tires, balls, toys, rubber bands, etc. At that time most of the world’s natural rubber came from South East Asia, and the Japanese had just taken over most of that area. Synthetic rubber was just in the early stages of development. There were bins for recycled items in most of the local gas stations to help people collect stuff.

Another type of drive that we worked on was the government’s drive for money to support the war. We had War Bond drives. Everyone was urged to buy bonds in whatever amounts they could afford. There were bonds in $25, $50, $100 and I’m sure much higher amounts, but that was above my limit. There were drives at school, at work, in scouts, and just about everywhere. Mostly we bought $25 for $18.75 that would mature and pay $25 in 10 years.

Of course, there wasn’t any TV, so what news we got came over the radio or in the newspapers. Additionally, before each movie at the theater, there was a Newsreel that usually updated one area of the war or one specific action or battle that was going on. Dad subscribed to a service that each month put out maps that showed the boundaries between the Allies and the Axis forces worldwide. I kept these on my bedroom wall and updated them as I got news over the radio. I had push pins stuck all over them marking various battles and incidents. It was fun for me to do but it was serious business. Speaking of the radio, kids used to listen to adventure programs like, “Jack Armstrong”, “Captain Midnight”, “The Lone Ranger”, and the “Whistler”. These came on in 15 minute segments starting at 5 o’clock each day.

We did have one “land line” telephone in our house that we could use for local calls. If you needed to make a long-distance call, you had to call a long-distance operator and have her put the call through to the operator in the city you were trying to call. Then that operator would dial the number you were calling. Most of the phone instruments were the “modern dial up” type but in most cases, you had a party line to be shared with another user. You were never sure when the phone rang if it was for your house or someone else’s house. The phone was supposed to ring once for you and twice for the other guy, but you rarely heard which ring it was, so you frequently had to tell someone else to get off the phone, it wasn’t for them. Rural telephones were crank boxes on the wall and shared 8 lines. All rings came thru as someone turned a crank. Numbers were two long cranks and maybe 2 short rings, or maybe one long ring and three short cranks. Of course, you could pick up your phone and listen in on whoever was talking on the main line. If several people picked up at the same time, then the signal got so weak that you couldn’t hear anything.

School was pretty much the same as it is today; seemingly not effected by the war. There were no lunch rooms as everyone had to bring their own lunch, but there were after school athletics, band activities, scouts, clubs and other normal activities except everything had to be over before it got dark so everyone could be home before the blackouts began.

School was about a mile and a half from home so I either walked or rode my bike every day. We didn’t have any school buses. After school most of us played outside with the neighborhood kids. We had about eight or ten kids in the surrounding area and we could almost always get up a game of kickball, football, kick the can, or cops and robbers. Again, we pretty much had to be in once it got dark, but in the summer, we could spend evenings on our or one of the neighbor’s front porches.

I attended Marengo Elementary School, which I started in Kindergarten mid-semester as my birthday was in January. We kept mid-year grades; 1A then 1B, etc. until I reached 6th grade. They did away with the half grades at that time and told me I could either go ahead a half grade or stay back a half grade. I went ahead. Our grammar school was K–6, and Junior High was 7–9th grade. Later, I went to South Pasadena San Marino High School and then Stanford University.

My cousin George who was 7 years older than I, enlisted as soon as he turned seventeen and immediately went off to training and duty in the Navy. Everyone had to serve if they were physically qualified and if you were drafted you went into the Army. If you wanted to serve in the Navy or Marines, you had to enlist before the Draft Board called you for Army service. By the way, there was no Air Force at that time. It was part of the Army and didn’t become a separate service until after the war in 1947.

Cousin George and friends heading to war

Cousin George (on right) a bit older than Bill heading to war.

George served until the end of the war and was in almost all the major sea battles in the Pacific in the last half of the war. There was a system to show if a family had members serving in the military. A small red/white/blue flag with the name and relation of the serving member was placed in the house front window. If the member had been killed a gold star was placed beside the name. It was not unusual to see little flags with the Father and two of three sons on it. Everyone just prayed that they never had an army car with a Chaplin show up at their door as that meant that one of their family had been killed. If the service member was just “Missing in Action”, then the family most likely got only a telegram to let them know. I had two other cousins in the war: one was killed and the other was Missing in Action until the end of the war when he was found in a slave work camp in mainland Japan.

My dad, William, was primarily in the music business in the Los Angeles area. I say primarily because he and his partners had interests in several businesses. The music business sold largely musical instruments, pianos, organs, records, record players and after the war televisions. A secondary business was gold mining and at the time that World War II started they were operating on a site in southern Oregon (Holland, Oregon), just outside of the town of Cave Junction. Mom had relatives in the same area, and we visited them often when we went to see how the mining property and equipment was doing. We usually were able to get priority gas to make 4 trips a year. Their daughter Peggy was a year older than I was, but we had some great times riding horseback and doing ranch work. I learned how to take care of horses and cattle, how to milk cows and how to pitch hay. Cousin George joined us for several of those trips before he went off to join the navy.

Bill at Oregon Ranch

Bill at Oregon Ranch

Dad and Mom liked the area so much that dad bought a nearby ranch of 360 acres at Takilma, Oregon. We planned to build a summer cabin on the place where we could relax while Dad checked on the nearby mine. WWII changed all that and we were forced to shut down the mine and delay any building on the ranch.

Dad never did reopen the mine and after the war he moved operations to northern British Columbia, Canada. During the war, Dad sold about five thousand board feet of timber off the ranch. That sale more than covered what he had paid for the property in 1938, and it was impossible to even see where it had been cut. He sold the ranch after the war. One of the reasons that we had to shut down the mine was because Dad’s partner who was the mining engineer, was selected go to Washington DC and serve on the War Production Board. The board decided priorities for all manufacturing in the whole country. Obviously with the shortages of fuel and strategic materials it was vital to control how we spent what we had.

An additional part of Dad’s music business was to install intercom and loud speaker systems in area defense plants. He was a busy man because there was an abundance of war production factories in the Los Angeles area.

I spent a lot of my time looking at the sky. We had numerous aircraft manufacturing plants nearby and it seemed like there was always a plane buzzing overhead. I’m not sure why, but everyone wanted to teach us to recognize various types of aircraft. Schools, scouts, newspapers, all showed pictures of the various planes with instructions on how to recognize them. I made models of most of them and had many flying on strings from the ceiling of my room.

We used to drive by the big factory at Long Beach and it was completely covered with camouflage. Huge nets were installed to cover the plant, parking lots and surrounding smaller buildings. The nets stretched several miles in all directions. On top of the nets they painted small shacks, cattle, plowed fields, autos, roads, and people. Even the runway was painted to look like a corn field and certainly must have been hard to land on. At the time, I never got to see just how real it looked from the air, but we were told that it really hid what was underneath.

Just prior to the war in 1941, Mom had some health issues and needed help around the house. She hired a young lady to live in with us and help around the house. She was a recent refugee from the Netherlands and Mom liked her a lot. She stayed with us for several years during the war. Her Name was Elva Lang. Mom recovered her health and Elva married and moved on. Mom kept in contact with her for many years.

Granddad Moffett lived with us from before I was born until his death in 1943 at the age of 84. He was born in England and moved to the US (Colorado Springs) were he worked as a tailor, married and raised my dad. Dad and Mom lived next door to each other in Colorado Springs until Mom’s family moved to California. Dad followed not too long after and they were married in 1923.

At about age 7, Mom started me on piano lessons, which I continued for about seven years. I always enjoyed playing ball over practicing the piano, so my progress was slow. Mom and Dad thought that since Dad was in the music business that I should know how to play. When I was in 6th grade, I took up the trumpet and later played in the school band through the 8th grade. I was the Boy Scout bugler for our troop.

Hope you enjoyed this peek into my life.

Bill Moffett

The day B-24 Liberator “White Y” didn’t come home

Tens crews launched their B-24 Liberators into the dark, cold morning air on March 14, 1945 from Pantanella field in Italy. Copilot Lt. William Bradley flew next to Lt. Martz, who commanded the aircraft as they headed to bomb the Marshaling Yard at Nove Zamky, Hungary. Their crew of twelve included two navigators, a radar nav, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, and four gunners. The overall mission was deemed a success, but the only man to survive on Martz’s crew had a dramatic tale to tell.

The crew of Martz (pilot) and Bradley (co-pilot)

Memorial Day, where we remember those who have died in battle, seemed an appropriate time to tell a story about a distant Parks relative, Lt. William Bradley, who died in World War II. My husband had become particularly interested in him (a cousin once removed) after he discovered William and his brother were fellow Georgia Tech yellow jackets. The oldest brother graduated in 1941, and William entered that year as a freshman. William left college two years later in 1943, as many young men did, to go to war.

He was commissioned a 2LT in the Army Air Corp in 1943 and assigned to the 781st Bomb Squadron, 465 Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators. The the unit trained at McCook field Nebraska and operated until the war in Europe ended in 1945.

The only man to survive William Bradley’s last flight was engineer, T/Sgt. Beeson, who told his story about the fateful flight. Today that story and many others are printed in a booklet of the unit’s history published by the 781st Bomb Squadron Association. Below is an abbreviated version of that event told by Beeson in 1987.

The bombing run to the marshaling yard was not different than many others. The flak, while not as heavy as they’d encountered before, had pegged the formation’s location. The crew successfully unloaded their bombs over the target and were preparing to turn and head home. The tail gunner reported flak following their line of flight, bursting closer and closer.

B-24 Liberator over Ploesti oil fields, Romania 1943

An explosion shook their craft. Fire burst on the pilot’s side as flak came up from underneath his seat. A single glance revealed Martz had died. The last thing Beeson saw on the flight deck as he hit the bailout alarm was Lt. Bradley attempting to control the damaged aircraft. Beeson grabbed his chute and dropped into the bomb bay where the bombardier joined him with chute in hand. The plane lurched, and Beeson fell out, facing up where he could see the plane above going around and around. He never saw where it crashed. Other aircraft reported three or four chutes leaving the plane, but the unfriendly Hungarians below with their town in flames likely left them no chance for survival. Beeson lived to tell the tale because he was “rescued” from the villagers’ hands by a German soldier.

So many people have died in WWII and other wars our nation has fought. I appreciate their sacrifice to allow my friends and family to live in this great country.