For most people living today, knowledge of World War II is through history books, old films and photos. And while many of these recollections are interesting, most of them can't compare to the stories told by Gloucester Township's own Harry Moore.
A World War II vet who served in the Army, as well as one of the main organizers of Pony League Baseball, talking to Moore about his experiences in life is almost like jumping into a time machine. Through his vivid memories and very detailed descriptions, he brings many of his experiences from 60 years ago back to life.
Joining the Army
Moore joined the Army in 1943 at the age of 17. He was working in a glass factory in his hometown of Washington, PA, prior to joining. After going through his physical, he was sent to Pearl Harbor for amphibious and jungle training.
“We had our first combat there,” he said. “One night saboteurs broke into our compound and started shooting. They had us run into a cane field to stop it. I ran into barbed wire with my one (bad) eye and I was in the hospital.”
Despite the injury, Moore was not sent home. He was sent to join an anti-aircraft artillery group because of his proficiency with the machine gun. Moore was chosen to fight with the artillery because of his excellent talent at shooting down enemy aircraft. He even impressed a general during his training.
“A two-star general comes in to inspect us and check what we were doing,” he said. “He asked me to set the head of the gun. So I was showing him, had my screwdriver and was putting it on when a B-25 came along. So I just slapped the head cover down, whirled the gun around and knocked the general right down.”
Later, during an assembly, Moore was called to the stage. Worried that he may be in trouble, Moore was instead praised for his instincts and for doing the right thing.
Leyte and Okinwoa
Most of Moore's combat involvement took place at Leyte Island in the Philippines and at Okinawa, which was considered one of the largest amphibious battles in U.S. history. While the two battles had their differences, the brutality of the war was apparent in both.
“I landed on Leyte Island in the first wave,” he said. “Now the reason we went in on the first wave was because (the Japanese) were all over the surrounding islands and they were bombing us. So we got the anti-aircraft in to shoot their fighters down.”
Moore's artillery group remained at Leyte Island for the entire battle in late 1944. For a little more than two months, he fended off enemy aircraft, night after night. Moore noted that he had to get on his gun as soon the bombs started to fall on the beach.
It was relentless, the nightly Japanese bombings of Americans on the beach. Many of the soldiers that Moore fought alongside didn't make it home. Numerous times, he had to clean up the area of bodies.
While Moore was wounded in a few different battles, he just narrowly escaped more serious injuries on many occasions.
“There was one time during a really bad bombing raid on Leyte,” he recalled. “The general yelled out, 'Get on your gun!' So I went to get on and start shooting and another guy came along and pushed me aside and said, 'That's my gun!” A minute later, he got a bullet, right in the gut.”
After Leyte, Moore was sent to Okinawa, one of the larger Japanese islands. All branches of the U.S. military were there and it was the Army's job to split the island in half, along with the Marines.
“We were going to split the island in half,” said Moore about the Battle of Okinawa “The Marines went north and we went south. The southern end was where all of the fighting was at.”
“We were told the first three days to kill anything that moves,” he added. “If there's a dog that moves, shoot it.”
Okinawa was downright brutal. Because all of the fighting in the south, the Army bore the brunt of the war. The Japanese were using caves that were originally made for shelter from hurricanes to hide from artillery. This made it tough for the machine guns to get them.
“You could shoot at them all day and not get anyone,” he said.
Moore also recalled the determination of the Japanese. He remembers Kamikaze pilots who were crashing into the Navy's ships and carriers. The Japanese fighters even included children who fought to defend their homeland.
Eventually, the U.S. would take Okinawa in June of 1945. Moore remembers talk of the war not being over—everyone was preparing for the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
However, that invasion never happened.
The end of the war
According to Moore, the Army was prepared to enter the main Japanese islands in the days following the dropping of the atomic bombs. However, they never stepped foot there.
“We were on the beach,” he said. “We were ready for an invasion, to invade the Japanese main island. We were on the beach getting our equipment and stuff ready. When it happened that night, there was a lot of shooting going on. We didn't know what it was until we learned that the war ended.”
Moore said that hundreds of soldiers were killed that night, mainly from shooting their guns into the air in celebration of the end of the war.
At the end of World War II, soldiers were sent home based on a point system. Soldiers received points for certain achievements during the war. Because Moore had so many points, he was in the first group to come home.
“They piled us into cattle ships,” he said. “We were allowed up top for a couple hours a day, but the rest of the time we had to stay underneath in our cots. A bunch of guys were getting sea sick on that.”
Moore wasn't fond of the treatment he and his compatriots received on their way home. Once their ship landed, they were put into cattle cars on a train that was headed east. He was eventually given his discharge papers and $21 to take a bus home.
After the war: Pony League baseball
Moore returned to the glass factory after the war and eventually got a high-paying position with an international union. That job also led to a passion that he has to this day.
In his hometown of Washington, a group was looking to establish a new youth baseball organization called the Pony League. The first league officially formed in 1951. They enlisted Moore to help get the new league off the ground.
“They contacted my international union to help get this Pony League started,” he said. “So I attended meetings, but I was just a little guy. I was not part of the big brass.”
“We started with six teams,” he continued. “Now we have over 30,000 teams in 17 different foreign countries.”
Moore served on the board of directors for many years. He helped establish the league's by-laws and constitution, and helped organize a scholarship fund to send players to college.
Unlike Little League, Pony League allows kids ages 5-18 to play. Moore believes that the age brackets help the kids develop better.
“Ours is a better outfit in that we have our kids on two-year brackets,” he said. “There's two years between each group. It's a big difference between the two-year groups and the three-years.”
Every year, Moore returns to Washington for the Pony League World Series. He is, in many ways, a local legend there. Today, his name resides on the new building at the complex as well as on a commemorative brick there.
Memories that will never go away
Moore, who will turn 87 in November, has told his wartime and life stories to many different people, old and young. Unfortunately, there will be a day where people will no longer be able to hear these stories told firsthand.
However, Moore has something that others don't. Attached to poster boards that he uses in presentations to high schools are a couple hundred pictures from the battlefield. These were not interpretations or mock photos, but rather real pictures taken in the heat of battle, some of them graphic. Moore also has pictures of his friends in the service, some of who did not come home alive like him.
In addition, Moore has photocopies of an old journal he kept while at war. A firsthand account of grueling battles, long sleepless nights and brutal imagery that one can't find anywhere else.
In these artifacts, one can put the pictures and stories together in their mind. These items will remain living testaments to Harry Moore's life and will allow his story to remain alive forever.