Legionnaire of the Month
In our continuing series of stories we are nearing the last of our remaining WW II Vets—Willard Moe. When I called Willard and ask if he would talk with me about his service to our country in WW II he said, “Well, I don’t know--I really don’t have much to say or any stories to tell”. His remark reminded me of two of my Uncles who Served in WW II. They are now long gone but likely would have said the same thing. They understandably did not want to talk about some very unpleasant experiences. I think I can understand that and we need to also respect those wishes. Some of the details, although perhaps interesting, are not the purpose of these articles. The 1st purpose is to recognize, honor and thank them for their service to our Country. The 2nd purpose is to gain a better understanding and insight to our history and what some had to go through so we might enjoy the freedom we have today. So with that in mind, let’s get on with Willard’s story.
Willard was born on a farm NW of Garretson on 8-15-25. He attended White Willow Country School but soon moved into Garretson. He continued school in town graduating in 1943. Willard said “we knew the war was going on and knew everyone was going to fight in the war after HS so we didn’t care about school”. Willard was right, sure enough, on Nov 10, 1943 he was sent to Camp Roberts CA for basic training. Unlike today, his Basic and AIT were combined and he spent 17 weeks in Basic/Infantry training at Camp Roberts. After a 2 week furlough back home he returned to Ft. Ord CA before being sent to the Hawaiian Islands. Willard’s Army Infantry Unit took an active role in the Marshall and Mariana Campaign. This military action is not something most young people know about and probably never even read much about it in history books. These Islands were of a strategic location importance as they are only 1,100 miles from Tokyo, Japan. That was within air striking range for the US “Super Fortress” B-29s. Those airbases were critical to the United States.
When the US took control of the Marshall and Marianna Islands we also took over the Japanese Air Bases. This was a huge demoralizing blow to Japan. The US kept “Island Hopping” as we got closer to Japan. Willard said “we knew there was a big plan to eventually attempt to take the mainland of Japan. On August 6, 1945 we heard field rumors about the Atom Bomb being dropped. On Aug 9, 1945 the Swedish Embassy made an official announcement that another A Bomb was dropped and Japan had surrendered. Everyone was hollering and celebrating the good news. We knew that our chances of survival would have been grim if we had to continue on toward mainland Japan. Many questioned Truman’s use of the Atomic Bomb. It certainly destroyed everything in its path and photo’s of the devastation, including those of innocent women and children are enough to make one sick. However, it is estimated that had the war continued on to mainland Japan, 150,000 individuals would have been killed each day the fighting continued. Willard and many others would likely have never come home alive.
Willard did say “I lost a lot of friends and we lost a lot of good men over there. We would have lost a lot more if it were not for the combined effort of the Air force, Navy and Marines all working to support each other. The Air force and Navy bombed everything in our path. The Marines were always “charging ahead. The Japanese would never give up and we never took any prisoners”.
Willard was next sent to Phoenix Islands for more training as part of the 98th Infantry Regiment which was a Replacement Depot. Willard recalls “I was there during Thanksgiving of 1944 and remained there for several months. It was a beautiful coral reef Island and a good place for R&R. The landing strip must have been one mile long and was used by B-24 and 25’s. This made it another airbase of strategic military importance.” (Side note, these islands are the size of California located in the Central Pacific midway between Hawaii and Australia. They are noted for their coral reefs, blue lagoons, natural beauty and tranquility. There is also speculation that this is where Amelia Earhart crashed in 1937?).
After the “unconditional surrender” Willard returned to the Hawaiian Islands. From there, Willard said “I was sent to Occupy Japan. We went over on ships and eventually beached using landing crafts. Everything had been destroyed with bombs and was a mess. The local people were starving and in bad shape. We eventually took over their military barracks. Most Japanese were very friendly. They had little to eat and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Some of the military men were still angry and wouldn’t even let them have left over scraps. We had plenty of food and ate good. I felt sorry for them and would give them the food left over on my plate. The little kids came to learn that we had “Chocolate” in our rations and if we gave them a chocolate bar they were really our friends. I can’t imagine how long it would take them to rebuild what had been destroyed”.
Willard said, “We were scheduled to be sent back home based on a point system. Because I was not married I was not released to go home until April of 1946. We landed in Seattle and from there took a troop train to Ft. Leavenworth KS. There I found someone who had a good car and for $20 he was taking discharged soldiers to Omaha. We all had money including back pay so it was easy to come up with the money. I arrived back home in May and worked for Walt Nordstrom. Then I learned that Oscar needed someone at the Elevator and I started there. I stayed working there for 46 ½ years”.
On Sept. 24, 1949 Willard married Shirley Austin and they raised two children (Jackie and Mike). Willard has been active with Zion Lutheran Church and sang in the Men’s Chorus for over 35 years. Willard said he had opportunities to become more active in the American Legion including Adjutant and Commander but he was busy with other things. He said he remembers using the Legion Building as a Boy Scout long before he ever became a American Legion member.
Although Willard did not feel comfortable talking about some of the details of the war, as I said, that is perhaps not important. What is important is to know that Willard, my two Uncles and many others did what they had to do in war. Willard said it was “our Duty” and we did things we would not do as a civilian. It was also very frustrating to finish “The 2nd War to End all Wars” only to turn around and find the US troops going back to fight in Korea. And there seems to be no end, now we have ISIS. Fighting has been going on since early Bible times and will likely continue after we are all gone. But there is a sense of honor in fighting for Freedom. Willard’s last statement said it better than I ever could. He concluded our visit by saying,” No amount of money could have kept me from doing my duty but I would never want to go back and do it again—even for a million dollars”.
Willard, on behalf of The American Legion and the Garretson Community, thanks for your 63 years of continuous membership in Post 23. Even more important, on behalf of the United States of America and the tremendous freedoms we all enjoy in our country today, we want to thank you for your dedicated service.
Commander Post 23
PS I would like to compliment the individual who wrote the article on AC Halls—most interesting and educational. I have only two remaining WWII Vets to interview (Charles Warren and Dean Lerdal). If you are aware of others, please let me know. Also, if there are close family members who would be willing to “share the story of their WW II Vet give me a call. I know there are more WW II stories that should be told and would be of great interest to our community. Thanks